Tap Tattooing at Big City Tattoo: Polynesian Skin Art Interview
The Legend, Sua Suluape Angela
Video interview by Reviewer Rob
Six years ago, in 2014, Reviewer TV visited Angela at Big City Tattoo (San Diego and possibly California’s finest female tattoo artist/shopkeeper) and she described the proper technique for applying the ancient Polynesian skin art. Watch and be amazed! With your host, Reviewer Rob. Note: we recently transcribed the video to allow readers to see it in print. However, if you like to avoid reading, the video file is embedded at the bottom of this post. ~Editor
Rob: This is reviewer magazine we are here with Angela at Big City Tattoo on University in San Diego, and she is doing the drawing part of the tattoo that she is doing on somebody. This is going to be a Polynesian style tap tattooing – right?
Angela – Hand tap style tattoo. With Samoan it’s, ah…I was traditionally schooled in Samoan style, we are actually doing a blend of Samoan and Tahitian and uh, on Marty here. Hold on..
Rob: That looks like that would be a drawing of some kind of weave or something, I guess..being Polynesian they probably weaved something when it comes to you know, their housing or something, like bamboo.. Er, not bamboo, but whatever.
Angela: This is a flower and this is a representation of the beauty in life and this is actually for his wife. And um, we are going to do some shading in this, and uh, up here is actually um “weaving of the ancestors”.
Rob: Again, so ancestral worship?
Rob: Okay. So I was going to ask if those were masks or something, but those are representations of ancestors?
Angela: Those are his actually the..Yes, but Tiki is tohu, the tattoo god of Tahiti.. So the tiki faces you can see, they are actually holding hands because this is his wife and his sister.
Rob: Ah! Where did you learn this, Angela?
Angela: Um. I had an opportunity in 2000 to uh, when I was in Tahiti, to study many of the Tahitian styles.. and I met at that time..ah, Sua Suadalupe Ale’avaapatello from Western Samoan. Who after a period of time, asked me to become his student to learn the Samoan style, to become the first woman. We taught the traditional Samoan tattoo and um, so I went to Western Samoan, I lived there for about a year and a half studying the traditional tattoo styles and then I applied what I learned in Tahiti and what I learned in New Zealand.. I still have a lot to learn, though. And uh, I also learned many patterns while I was in Hawaii studying under my teacher there and then, um, recently I’ve been brought into a group that has taught me quite a bit in the Filipino styles as well, the ancient Filipino tattooing that they’ve only recently found mummies in the mountains of the Philippines covered in tattoos.
Rob: Oh, wow! Hey, is there any way we could maybe – just, turn down the music just a little bit? Because I don’t know how much the background noise, er the background music is gonna affect the sound pick up.
Jennifer: Yeah, sure.
Angela: And just to let you know, my name is Suadalupe Angela. I’m actually Samoan chief and when the title was bestowed upon me, it was told to me, my family, and everybody that was there that “Angela” no longer became my first name, it actually became my second name, and Suadalupe became my first name.
Rob: Okay, so to be proper, people should address you as Suadalape or Suadalape Angela.
Rob: Okay. Remember that folks!
Rob: And uh – and the name of your mentor, of your teacher, what was his name again?
Angela: Sua Suadalupe Ale’avaapatello
Rob: Okay, so you kind of took on a variation of his name? So like, a familial thing
Angela: It is..it is a family title, yes, the Suadalupe title and it’s also a surname. So it’s both. So like, officially, my teacher would be Sua Suadalupe Ale’avaapatello Suadalupe
Rob: Wow! That’s a mouthful
Rob: You know, so when I was a kid, I first was learning about Hawaiian culture because I surfed, you know, and there was a lot of articles about Duke Kuhanamoko and um, people would always add, you know, smile when you say that, after you Duke Kuhanahanamoko..I still can’t stay that!
Rob: Duke Kuhanahanahamoko
Angela: It took awhile, yeah!
Rob: But um,it being kind of a uh, a warrior society, was that sort of a sign of distinction in honor, the more tattoos you had?
Angela: Excuse me, pardon me… *answers call* Mom, how can I help you? Hi Mom, yes.
Angela: I’m being filmed right now, Mom, how can I help you?
Rob: We’re doing a documentary!
Angela: *in background* Okay, because we were going to come by and talk to um Dave, to come by and do that. Okay? Talk to you later. Okay, then don’t do it – do it later. I love you.
Rob: Have we introduced everybody here? Ooh, well do you want to…well, what’s your name?
-Camera turns right-
Marybeth: My name is Marybeth.
Marybeth: Yes, I am Angela’s key stretcher, I’ve been, uh, helping her for eight years.
Rob: Stretcher? What do you stretch?
Marybeth: Ah, stretch the skin. Um, it’s Jen and my job to hold the skin.
Jennifer: Should we even go into nicknames?
*Marybeth and Jennifer laugh*
Marybeth: To hold the skin taught
Rob: Okay, like a canvas?
Rob: Like a canvas has to be tight
Marybeth: Yeah, so that the comb can go in and out of the skin…can go in and out of the skin without getting caught or..
Rob: The what? The cone?
Rob: Okay, got it.
Marybeth: ..that she will be tattooing with, that she puts the ink into. Or, you know, that she dips into the ink.
Rob: Okay. Is that a hard thing – to hold the skin?
Marybeth: Uh, it changes
Jennifer: It can be, yeah, it definitely can be. It can be a little trying. *waves* My name is Jennifer. Um, and it can definitely be a little difficult at times, because we have to hold the stretch and its really.. kind of important not to move because then it can affect the mark that the tool makes..
Jennifer: Because, you know, there’s really no eraser in tattooing.
Rob: Right, right. So you get one shot, huh?
Jennifer: Exactly. So it’s very important that we know how to stretch and that we hold the stretch properly and Angela has taught us very well. I’ve been with her for a year less than Marybeth has.
Angela: It’s not just like anybody can just jump in and start stretching.. I mean, if you have an experienced stretcher you may be able to, you know, use somebody if you needed another stretcher and maybe show them a few things, but not for big pieces, not for the really important things. A good stretch is very important to the tattoo. If you don’t have a good stretch, you know and it’s also important in machine tattooing, because when a machine artist.. they’re actually stretching the skin as well, with both of their hands while they’re tattooing. So stretch is important in all the tattoo. Otherwise, you’re just hitting them as hard as you can until you get them into the..get the material that’s in the.. You know, the invasive part, into the skin. Without a good stretch, you can get a lot of problems, and I’ve been very lucky to have two girls that will actually care as much about the tattoo as I do and do a really great job stretching.
Rob: Has there been any recent advancements in the industry when it comes to color? Because I know that used to be kind of a thing, people would lose color in their tattoos after, say, a few years.
Angela: I don’t know if – are you talking about tattoo in general, or about the traditional style?
Rob: You’re right, that isn’t specific to traditional, just in general.
Angela: In general, yes.
Rob: Ya know, in Portland, they’ve got.. the tattooists there use a lot more color than down here. At least that’s what I’ve heard.
Angela: In…pigments have advanced, I mean they, but it was also more – not just the pigments advanced in the tattooing industry, but it’s also the technique that’s being applied. I mean, what they used to use is a single – they even actually used to use a single needle tattooing, which is hardly even used anymore because you get it pretty tight and it’s about the same as a single needle, but so it’s how it’s applied, the way it’s applied, and how much it goes into it. And I did an actual proper five year apprenticeship underneath my husband who’s a tattoo master. And there’s people out there who have been tattooing like, six months, and then go out there and start tattooing people and they wonder why the tattoos don’t look as good as somebody who has been doing it for like, fifteen years. It really comes down to the experience, how they were taught, who taught them, and what they were taught. Just because you spent six months under somebody does not mean you’ve learned everything that person can teach you. And the same thing with both modern tattooing and traditional tattooing.
Rob: When did you start tattooing?
Angela: Oh! Oh my god. I started machine tattooing, I believe, in late 2001, almost 2002, and then I started hand tapping in late 2002. It took me longer for the hand tap because uh, I actually could not use the boar’s tusk tools in which I was taught with, that my husband took him about a year and a half to create the surgical stainless steel tools in which I use today. So, that’s the main difference of what I do versus what my teacher does is the surgical stainless steel single use auto-cleavable tools. And then people don’t have to worry about getting a.. Something wrong with their tattoo, like an infection or disease. Unfortunately, with bone tools, you still run that risk, even though..
Rob: Bone tools, is that with uh, the traditional style of Polynesian?
Angela: Yeah, the boar’s tusk tools bone in the Samoan styles are very traditional. I was a person, that when I went to Samoa, I did bring with me the education that I had with blood borne pathogen awareness and I got, uh was very.. er, that’s what I taught to them was keeping it a clean and sanitary environment through my family’s, the people who tattoo over there, other artists who are doing it – I can’t guarantee that because I don’t know how they treat their tools.
Rob: So you contributed a little bit of learning for them. In teaching them a little bit, it sounds like.
Angela: I had to.
Rob: Didn’t Pamela Anderson… didn’t she get uh..
Jennifer: I’ve heard about that, I, I think she..
Marybeth: Japanese style, didn’t she?
Jennifer: No, it was just a, it was just..
Angela: No, I’m sorry, that’s a misnomer. And I have to put my cents in.. You cannot. She supposedly got Hepatitis C through tattoo. I have to put this down right now, I taught the awareness and prevention of blood borne pathogen diseases and in order to catch the H-C, the Hepatitis C virus, you have to swallow a tablespoon of somebody’s blood to get it.
Jennifer: And her tattoo was on her ring finger…
Angela: Her tattoo was this tiny little thing, and no professional artist would re-use the needle twice, that is disgusting and we-
Jennifer: Even with a married couple.
Angela: Even with a married couple, that does not matter.
Jennifer: It does not matter.
Angela: And if she was going to get Hepatitis C, she would have gotten it from other things.
Rob: So, she got it in Tahiti though.
Angela: It doesn’t matter. You have to be able to… the only one you can actually catch readily is the Hepatitis B virus – which is the most contagious disease out there that you can get just by going into water that’s bad with an open wound on your body
Rob: Yeah, I heard you can get it surfing.
Angela: You can get Hep A and Hep B, but Hep B takes .03 cc’s of blood to get into an open wound or orifice on your body, which is your nose, your eyes, your mouth. Hepatitis C takes a tablespoon! A physical tablespoon of somebody’s blood to get it, or through a blood transfusion.
Rob: Hm. So, you heard it here, folks!
Angela: And so that, that is one of the biggest misnomers that upsets the tattoo community.
Jennifer: And you can get vaccinated for A and B, and we are all vaccinated for A and B.
Angela: And all of our children are mandatorily vaccinated for A and B, so all of those adults out there who haven’t had it, you should just go down and get it. It’s just a good idea.
Rob: There’s a lot of good vaccines out there that they are just not really pushing and should, probably.
Angela: So, the only thing you’re going to have a problem with in the Hep B vaccine is if you happen to be one of those rare people that is allergic to eggs, because that’s how they incubate the vaccine.
Angela: Yeah, that Pamela Anderson thing sure did make the tattoo industry in a little bit of a tither.
Angela: Oh Yeah.
Jennifer: Didn’t they think she got it because they shared the needle between Tommy and her?
Angela: They shared the needle and at first it wasn’t ..
Jennifer: Wasn’t that it?
Angela: Yes, and at first entirely..
Jennifer: But if you have unprotected sex, you can get it through sexual contact as well, can’t you?
Angela: Exactly, you can get it through sexual contact.
Rob: Tommy and her were sharing a needle?
Jennifer: I think there’s a video on that, as well! I believe so.
Rob: Yeah, yeah, we have proof of that, there’s a video on it.
Angela: But it was first said that she got it out of a shop in Los Angeles. And then it was said she went out from..
Rob: Wait, so the celebrity that was saying she got it out of Tahiti, then that was..
Angela: Tahiti or Thailand?
Rob: No, it wasn’t Tahiti and wasn’t it.. Um.. Wasn’t it.. Uh, she was married to Brad Pitt.
Marybeth: Angelina Jolie?
Rob: Right! Right, that’s the one.
Angela: They said she has Hep C now?
Rob: Yeah, because it turns out that Brad Pitt got sick after they being married to her for a few months..
Jennifer: Oh, no!
Rob: And he might have gotten, and then there was conjecture that she had it and..
Angela: Well that’s interesting, because according to the doctors that I’ve spoken to- it’s very, very difficult to actually get the H-C virus even sexually.
Rob: Yeah, cause I mean she loves tattoos. She’s got tattoos all over, right?
Angela: Some of her tattoos are beautiful.
Marybeth: Yeah, normally Hep C is from a blood transfusion or uh, like from using IV drug use. Not sharing needles.
Angela: Yeah, the H-C virus is very hard to get, so unless she mis-talked about it and it’s actually Hep B, then that makes more sense…but, not Hep C, that doesn’t make any sense.
Rob: Cause all the, all the tattoo artists, parlors and salons that I’ve been to in San Diego, they all look like doctor’s offices. I mean, I’ve been in doctor’s offices that didn’t have as much sterilization equipment.
Angela: Well, we have a very strong sterilization procedure everything that happens for a , the way we clean down surfaces, surface wipes and everything. It’s very regulated, if you go to a professional – professional being key word there, tattoo shop. We are regulated, we do yearly blood borne pathogen courses, it’s not like something we do once in awhile, it’s actually done every year. And its um, it’s something that is very important to our industry. I’ve been been to the dentists where I’ve made them stop and change their gloves!
Rob: Oh, wow.
Angela: ..because they were going to be touching the trash can and then trying to attempt to come to my mouth, after touching the trash can with those gloves, and I’m like, “Um, excuse me, would you please change those gloves? ‘Cause you’re not touching me with those” *laughs*
Rob: Those were San Diego dentists?
Angela: Oh yeah.
Angela: *laughs* I mean, lots of them..any, unless, I mean I have seen it and it’s one of those things that once I’ve said it, now watch your dentist.. and its, sometimes it’s the nurses, it’s not even the dentists, but they just don’t think about that. “Oh, it’s just a clean trash can..” No, it’s not. Nothing’s clean.
Rob: Alright, so I’m going to clip this now so it’s Youtube length.