best of new york

The Best Tattoo Artists in New York

Photo-Illustration: Curbed

For Your First Time

Hot Rod Taffy, @Humanrind

The moment between placing a tattoo with a stencil and actually putting needle to skin is crucial — it’s the last chance to move, resize, or change a design. Not all artists handle it equally. “Some try and rush you or won’t resize it,” says therapist Maggie Dunleavy. Not Angel Garcia, owner of Hot Rod Taffy in East Williamsburg. When Dunleavy went in for a pair of pansies, they say, they wavered on both the placement and size at the last minute. “Angel was willing to make a new stencil for the pansy an eighth of an inch smaller to see if I liked it at that size better,” Dunleavy says. “Then I asked them to move it to multiple different spots on my body. They never got irritated. Their tattoo bedside manner is unmatched.” Carson Jordan, a poet, says Garcia’s flexibility carries over to the design itself — they are willing to take on any project, no matter how far out of their comfort zone. “I recently had this idea for a portrait of Fiona Apple in full armor on the subway. When I told Angel about it, instead of hesitating or saying, ‘Oh, I don’t do portraits normally,’ they just said, ‘Yes, I can do that.’ There was no question.” (From $175.)

For Photorealism

Atelier Eva, 29 Havemeyer St.;

Ross Chestnut knew exactly what tattoo he wanted: a highly detailed reproduction of the Maxfield Parrish painting Stars. When he showed up at Bang Bang, a downtown shop run by celebrity tattooer Keith “Bang Bang” McCurdy, with this concept in hand, “the dude at the front desk was like, ‘You don’t want to do that with the person you have an appointment with. You want Eva.’ ” Eva turned out to be Eva Karabudak, a multidisciplinary artist from Turkey with a background in oil painting and figure drawing. Chestnut switched his appointment, and Karabudak reproduced Parrish’s stargazing woman on his arm “like a perfect HD image,” he says. “Since then, I’ve been tattooed by her in five different places, all fine-art re-creations,” including another Parrish and Paul de Longpré’s Study of Roses. (From $700.) “I don’t trust anyone else to do that kind of work and actually make it perfect, so I followed her from shop to shop until she finally opened her own studio.” Each of the 13 artists who work at Atelier Eva, which debuted in Williamsburg in 2020, have their own specialty, including Jason Lu, a black-and-gray expert; Dani, who does florals with the finest lines; and new addition Hailey Kim, who is capable of rendering flowers and food as small as half an inch across in exact detail.

For Inclusive Americana

The Bed-Stuy Tattooing Co., 208 Malcolm X Blvd., Brooklyn;

Grad student Kiwi Keaton first spotted the Bed-Stuy Tattooing Co. on @inkthediaspora, an account that highlights Black tattoo parlors. Impressed with the artist’s style and deft ability to tattoo flowers on dark skin, they decided to go into the shop for a consultation. At the front desk, they were given a book of owner Kevin Wong’s “flash” (pre-drawn) tattoos. (From $100.) Inside, they found traditional American patterns revamped to include a wide range of cultures and bodies, like the bust of a queen with epicanthic folds and a cherub with an Afro. “Look at their noses, look at their eyes, look at the way their breasts are shaped,” Keaton remembers. “Even their tummies — I was like, Yo, that’s my tummy! ” Keaton now has more than five tattoos from Wong — the dragon they originally came in for, a tableau of three Black women linking hands on their thigh, and a Black geisha. “I know she’s a Black geisha,” Keaton says. “She’s got my nose.”

For an Artist Trained in Tebori

Behind the Circle, 1009 Broadway, Brooklyn;

Traditional tebori tattoos are not easily accessible in New York — few artists work in the “hand-carved” traditional Japanese style, which relies on a slender bamboo or metal tool with tiny needles at the tip instead of a machine. Teacher Dashi He had seen teboris in person and thought they turned out brighter and more vivid than machine tattoos, but didn’t think it would be possible to get one without flying 14 hours — until He stumbled upon Takashi Matsuba’s work on Instagram. He immediately made an appointment with Matsuba, who works from the back of Bushwick shop Behind the Circle, past the massage tables, where four other Asian traditional artists at the shop do their work. (From $100.) The process is different from your average tattoo experience in the U.S.: Clients sit on tatami mats, while Matsuba kneels beside them, drawing the design freehand directly onto the body (instead of using a stencil) before he begins tattooing. “I read a lot on the internet about tebori hurting more than machine tattoos, but that was not the case with Takashi,” says He, who decided to get a blue-tailed gray hakutaku, a mythical Japanese creature, at Matsuba’s suggestion. It turned out exactly as he’d hoped — “The color and contrast is so vivid. Better than anything I could have gotten if I’d gone with even the most skilled machine artist.”

For Same-Day Appointments

Fun City, 94 St. Marks Pl.;

Recently, Rob Crowe, the general manager of the Wren on the Bowery, finished work around seven and, over the course of a beer, decided he wanted to get a tattoo. So he went around the corner to Fun City, a carnivalesque space on St. Marks that’s been open since the 1970s (20 years before tattooing was legal in New York). “I popped my head in, said, ‘You busy?’ ” Ryan, a Fun City artist who had tattooed Crowe before (a six-inch scorpion on his wrist, also done on a walk-in), told him to come back in 20 minutes. “Forty minutes later, I had a new tattoo” — a thumbs-up on his wrist, executed in delicate, fine-line detail. (From $150.) “He’s a talented guy, really laser-focused and meticulous,” Crowe says. Crowe, who has been tattooed at the shop 14 times, mentioned the staff’s ability to balance speed with above-average skill. “I’ve never once seen them turn anyone away or tell them to come back another day,” he says. “And still they’re collectively doing some of the best letterwork I’ve ever seen.”

For a Technically Accurate Bat

Moonrise Tattoo Collective, 109 Ingraham St., Ste. 204;

Julia Hayes has a niche tattoo specialty: finely drawn and precisely rendered animals, which tend to look torn from the pages of an old bestiary. “They almost feel like science plates,” says Myllicent Felder, a teacher with four of Hayes’s tattoos. Hayes has handled most every species, including a barred owl holding a mouse in its talons, an arm-length rendering of a white-tailed deer, a trio of cows done just above an ankle, and an intricately spotted frog. For Felder, she recently tattooed a bat below one knee and a bat’s skeleton below the other. “I told her the scientific name of the specific bat I wanted, Myotis lucifugus,” says Felder. “She researched it to make sure she was putting the bones in the exact right place.” (From $100.)

For Highly-Realistic Nipples

Sauler Institute of Tattooing, 61 E 75th St.,

After Antonia underwent a double mastectomy in 2018, she was feeling “a little bit like Frankenstein.” So her plastic surgeon recommended she go see Mandy Sauler, whose Sauler Institute of Tattooing specializes in post-op tattoos: areola and nipple tattooing for people who have gone through mastectomies and top surgeries (bilateral areola for $900, unilateral for $750), highly-realistic-looking belly buttons and fingernails, and post-phalloplasty pigmentation. When Antonia went in for her breast tattooing consultation, she felt immediately at ease with Sauler. “She knows exactly what she’s doing, but she still included me in making decisions, asking, how do you want it to feel, how do you want it to look. I wanted something really natural, as realistic as possible, so she experimented with a few different paint colors first to figure out what would go best with my skin tone.” The end result was exactly what she was looking for: “She’s an artist, and gave my it dimension and depth. To look at it is to think it’s actually there, even though it’s not,” Antonia says.

For Fake Freckles

Laurel, 411 E 9th St,

Early in the pandemic, staring at herself on Zoom for hours each day, Yelena Nesbit, a book publicist, decided she was finally going to do something about her eyebrows. “I had done some over-plucking in the ‘90s, and it never fully grew back,” she says. After relying on brow pencils for years, Nesbit decided to go for microblading, a tattooing process that involves inserting pigment under the skin. She chose Laurel on recommendation from a similarly sparse-browed friend, who’d recently had the procedure there — and came out with full-but-really-real-looking brows. She conveyed to owner Clare Vuillemot that she wanted her brows to look “natural and organic to my shape, revived to their previous glory.” Which is exactly what she got, one hour and a half later. “People cannot believe that these are not my natural eyebrows,” Nesbit says. “Claire is a magician, period, full stop. My whole family is really sick of me talking about how much I love them.” Laurel also offers lip blushing (where lips are tinted a more vibrant pink), permanent eyeliner, and tattooed freckles. Thea Gould, a cook, recently got “a smattering” of the latter on her cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin, all carefully placed to best flatter her face by Vuillemot and her apprentice Shelby. “They look so natural and so cute,” says Gould.

For High-Concept Paintings


When editor Aaron Prieto went to get tattooed by Emma Anderson for the first time, he didn’t have anything specific in mind. He’d seen Anderson’s work, and knew she had a particular ability to create tattoos that look brush-stroked onto the body. “I was just going to pick something from her book, but we wound up chatting for like an hour,” he says, about Prieto’s life growing up in the city, the memory of a friend climbing a chain link fence. Based on their conversation Anderson came up with a red and black piece that combined elements of that fence, gothic lettering, and a melting candle. Though he would have never designed it himself, “it was perfect,” Prieto says. For his second tattoo with Anderson, he sent her some inspiration in advance — a handful of stills from his favorite movies. “I sent her some pictures from Barton Fink and Days of Heaven and was like, Can you come up with a design inspired by that?” She could: a vibrant blue chair, illuminated by a red light. “Her ideas are always just better and more interesting than anything I could have ever imagined or come up with,” says Prieto.

More From Best of New York

See All
The Best Tattoo Artists in New York