A tattoo artist by profession, 28-year-old Zhuo, a native of Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, is perhaps the most instantly recognizable resident of Shanghai: her fluorescent green, floppy mohawk and heavily inked frame skull, neck, chest, arms and hands all covered with black tats distinguish her as a counterculture icon of sorts.
Her provocative outward appearance can best be likened to the visual antithesis of the traditional Chinese value of blending in with a faceless sea of peers and comrades. But Zhuo, or Ting as she prefers to be called, is actually a perfect example of China’s push toward modernity. Her ability to combine Chinese and Western ideals and cultural references has allowed her to pursue her individuality, while creating a burgeoning independent business.
After dropping out of Harbin Normal University’s visual arts program, bored by the mundane nature of Chinese education, Ting decided to pursue her passion for body art, accepting an apprenticeship at one of the few tattoo studios in the Heilongjiang capital.
Cutting her teeth at several local studios by studying the techniques of local artists and visitors from Beijing and Guangzhou, Ting quickly scaled the ranks to become a full-fledged tattoo artist, and opened her first shop, Wen Yi Fuxing.
It was during this time that Ting met Dylan Byrne, the man who would eventually convince her to move south and open Shanghai Tattoo. In addition to managing all day-to-day operations at their Cool Docks-based studio, Byrne is an avid fan and collector of Ting’s tattoo art, recognizing in her a unique artistic style and ability.
“Her style is [always] developing; she does her own interpretations,” says Byrne. “The way she uses negative space, background effects and textures, you know it’s done by Ting.”
Eager to grow as an artist and digest foreign influences to improve her ability, Ting, moved to Shanghai in 2006 to open her first incarnation of Shanghai Tattoo on Zizhong Lu.
Recognized by the local media and the city’s expat population, Ting was immediately given the chance to not only ink an increasing number of foreigners and learn from their tastes, desires and requests, but she also used the opportunity to study Western styles, a study that has greatly impacted her growth as an artist.
“I like European and American-style realistic tattoos, or large Asian-style tattoos,” says Ting, who has moved away from simple tattoo styles, graduating into more-advanced techniques to draw portraits. “I like [to draw] something special.”
As her business continued to grow, Ting, along with Byrne, decided to leave their comfort zone in the city’s central Luwan District and open what has become Shanghai’s premiere tattoo studio in terms of size and hygiene.
While the new, remote location in the city’s South Bund would have killed most other small businesses, Shanghai Tattoo managed to increase its customer base to the point where they’ve employed two other full-time artists to meet the demands of Ting’s busy schedule. She is generally booked up to six weeks in advance and no longer practices tribal tattooing.
In just two and a half years since the opening of Shanghai Tattoo 2.0, Zhuo Danting has become the face of Shanghai’s tattoo community.
Featured in tattoo publications around the world and regularly invited to attend some of the most prestigious tattoo conventions in the world, Ting is finally arriving at the point where she realizes that her next logical career step is to test her worth at the international level.
“The thing about Ting is she is so naturally talented I would venture to say that I have never seen someone as gifted in their trade as she is,” says Devin Gallery, a three-time customer. “Guys back home in the [United] States who have been working [as tattoo artists] for 10-plus years [aren’t] capable to do anything close to what she was doing."
While Gallery is adamant about Ting’s world-class abilities, Byrne is eager to see her take to the international stage, and currently making arrangements for Ting to show at the International London Tattoo Convention next September.
Despite this constant push to become better and bigger, Ting is collected and focused on the important things: improving as an artist.
“For the artist, the tattoo is not only a job, but also a responsibility,” explains Ting. “My tattoos are my lifelong friends ... I have deep feelings [for them]. I wouldn't know what to do without tattoos."
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