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As part of our Day in the Life series, The Style Sheet spends the day with Hong Kong tattoo artist Jenna Chu, who works from Friday’s Tattoo’s eclectic parlor in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui


Thanks to her unique style of work that reinterprets traditional Japanese tattoos with a twist, Jenna has established herself as a sought-after artist after only a couple of years in the industry. While being creative has always come naturally, the initial road to finding her calling was a winding one. ‘I tried photography, jewellery design, even diamond grading… Finally, I ended up in university doing interior design. I thought it was super boring. I really hated it. You need to follow a time schedule. You need to follow rules. I found it very limiting,’ she says. ‘While I was at university, my boyfriend started as a tattoo apprentice, and I thought “Oh, this is actually interesting to me! You can draw something on human skin.” So I learnt more about it, and fell in love with it. I finally felt free — I could draw what I wanted to draw and at the same time learn about history, build on it and create something new.’


Here, we kick off Jenna’s not-so-typical day at noon.

Tattoo artist Jenna Chu of Friday’s Tattoo works in the classic Japanese style

Midday


‘I’m a nighttime person, so I think my schedule is quite different from most! I usually wake up at eleven or twelve o’clock. Usually I get a coffee and take the MTR to Friday’s Tattoo. I like to be in the office at least an hour before any appointments are scheduled so I don’t feel rushed, and I can prepare everything for the session. If I’ve got time, I usually draw tattoos or do research. Although I’m not from a Japanese background, I mainly focus on Japanese-style tattoos because I really love the culture and their drawing techniques. When I started out, I had a hard time getting clients as a lot of people in Hong Kong think Japanese-style tattoos are for gangsters or the Yakuza, but actually it’s a style that’s rich with positive history and meaning.’

The studio is filled with objects and artistic inspirations

Afternoon


‘Sometimes the team orders in food and we eat together, or I just grab some lunch to-go from somewhere like Starbucks. Sometimes clients drop by, or we talk over text messages about what they want to get inked. Often clients don’t have an original idea, but instead want to replicate something they’ve seen on the Internet. That makes me uncomfortable as I don’t want to copy another artist’s work, so it’s an issue I’m constantly navigating. Usually I have to explain that I can take some influence from someone’s work, and mix it with my own style, to make something new. I generally find people in Hong Kong are looking for tattoos that are small, fine and cute and that are placed somewhere hidden, like on their ribs or back.’

Chu mixes inks for her tattoos

Early Evening


‘Often, sessions with clients don’t start until five or six o’clock, when most people start to finish work. Usually, I just take one client a day as the process takes two to three hours, often more, and I want to make sure I’m really focused and alert so I can do a good job. The longest I’ve worked on a tattoo is two to three days. I don’t really get nervous anymore but the first time I tattooed someone I was super scared! I was still a new apprentice when my boss told me I needed to find someone that would let me tattoo them. I was like “What?! I don’t even know how to set up the needle!” Luckily, it went fine — well, the person getting tattooed thought it was fine — but I felt like I could have done a better job. I still feel like that sometimes. I want to the best tattoo artist I can be.’

Most tattoos take a few hours, so Chu usually does one each day

Evening


‘Once I get out of the studio I usually meet up with my boyfriend for dinner, which sometimes isn’t until nine or ten o’clock. He’s also a tattoo artist. Neither of us likes routine, so usually we go somewhere different every night. Our conversations used to always be around tattoos, but now we don’t really talk about work — we’d rather just relax. I used to get so stressed because I put a lot of pressure on myself and was constantly thinking about how I could be a better artist, so I find for my well-being I need to switch off. If I just focus on tattoos the entire day I feel tired!’

Chu spends time each day researching and creating designs

Late Night


‘In the evening when I’m back home, I usually do some more work — preparing designs for clients and researching tattoos in books and online. I love Hide Ichibay and Filip Leu, both famous Japanese-style tattoo artists, and read books on ukiyo-e, which are important to the history of Japanese tattoos. You need to know the history and the elements and drawing techniques before you can reinterpret. Then, if there’s time, I’ll often watch Netflix or play video games with my boyfriend until two or three.’

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