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In South Korea, tattooing is an illegal art form. In spite of this, there are thousands of thriving tattooers living throughout the country. Many of these tattooers have made a splash not just in their home country, but thanks to social media, in the international tattoo scene as well. One of these rising stars is Dokhwa, who specializes in micro realism tattoos. Dokhwa began her tattoo career just a few short years ago and she’s already created some of the best pieces in the burgeoning genre. She expertly executes impressive ink on a nearly impossible scale. Her work ranges from celebrity portraits to recreations of her client’s cherished pets to homages to her favorite snacks. We sat down with Dokhwa to learn more about her humble tattoo beginnings, to discover how she built her signature style, and to understand some of the most challenging aspects of creating micro realistic works of art.

When did you become interested in tattooing?

I discovered tattooing and thought to myself, “This looks really fun and I’m going to try it.”

What went through your mind when you were getting tattooed for the first time?

I was so amazed by it, it was incredible.

How is tattooing viewed in South Korea?

Because it’s still illegal, it’s viewed extremely differently in Korea than in other countries. A lot of people still don’t see [tattooing] as a good thing. If you have a lot of tattoos, more conservative people will have an opinion about it.

How does someone become a tattooer in South Korea?

They have a tattoo academy where you can take classes. However, I had a mentor.

How did you develop your tattoo style?

I’ve been making art for awhile and while I’ve been doing that, I was experimenting with a lot of different things. I’ve had the most fun with realism, so I’ve been experimenting with that. I’m constantly studying and trying to get better at it.

Who are some tattoo artists that you admire?

There’s this tattooer named Oozy. When I started tattooing, he’s someone that I really looked up to.

What are some of the most challenging parts about doing micro realism?

I do a lot of portraits and I think faces are the hardest.

What are your favorite parts of micro realism tattooing?

For me, small tattoos are super detailed and this can be really difficult. But once they’re done, it’s really satisfying to see all the details come alive on such a small scale.

What’s your tattoo process?

Because I do mostly portraits, I’m really focused on the accurate details of the piece when I’m making the design. That way, I can make sure the portrait comes out exactly how I want it to.

Do you prefer tattooing in color or black-and-grey?

I have more fun with color.

What are some of your favorite subjects to tattoo?

I love doing portraits of celebrities. Especially when the portrait comes out exactly like the celebrity, that’s really satisfying.