Fong Vang, Award Winning Tattoo Artist

By Xeng Moua

My name is Fong Vang and I was born in Thailand. I am a Body Art Technician. It’s a fancy word for Tattoo Artist. And yes, I do enjoy my job. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do something related to art but couldn’t decide on what exactly.

I remember constantly drawing on every sheet of paper I could get my hands on in first grade. I’m not sure if I was creative back then. I’m not sure if I’m creative now. I think I was just more observant then most people. I’ve always had a very carious mind. I love to learn.

In the beginning I wanted to be a concept artist. Which is pretty much the guy that designs and build the world for video games and movies. The idea of designing fantasy worlds and characters was always so fascinating to me.

After high school I attended Century College for Visual arts. While I was in college, I did a little bit of tattooing at home. After college I soon realized that a concept artist might not be the path I would like to take. And so I started doing a lot of research on how to become a professional tattoo artist. After enough research and portfolio building, I was ready to start my journey.

The skin is a very complicated medium to work with. It is constantly changing and it’s never the same experience with each individual. Also, the idea of creating art on skin was very intriguing to me. To know that people are walking around with your artwork is pretty cool.

I have a very competitive spirit. I’ve lost track of how many competitions I’ve been in but the first time has always been the most meaningful. It was at my first tattoo convention and it was at the Black Bear Casino in Carlton, Minnesota. I did a spontaneous tattoo of a bloody girl on a client’s thigh. We decided to enter it into the horror competition seeing that we had just finished in time. I didn’t know what to expect since I was still an apprentice. This was about seven or eight months into my career. I remember being extremely nervous, but to my surprise, I ended up taking first place.

My favorite tattoos are portraits, because it’s challenging but at the same time very rewarding. When I first started out my tattoo career, I knew I wanted to be a portrait artist. I’ve heard people say portraits are one of the most difficult things to do, so I wanted to take on that challenge. What better way to stand out then to do what everyone else trying to stay away from.

Technically I did have a few mentors, but I would consider myself “self-taught” for the most part. Owning my own shop has always been a goal of mine if I was ever to become a professional. I wanted to have the first Hmong-owned tattoo shop in Minnesota. Another reason for that was because I wanted to show the up and coming artists that it’s possible. I wanted to be able to open doors for them. And I couldn’t do that If I didn’t have a shop of my own.

 I don’t really have a meaningful reason behind the name of my tattoo shop Inkarnate Tattoo. I just thought it was a really cool word. Incarnate means to manifest into something, to symbolize it. And I find that to be true with tattoos.

I’ve learned a lot these past few years about myself because of the people I’ve met. I’ve also made many new friends because of this industry, and I am grateful for that. I just wanted to follow my passion and do what I enjoy. Besides, I was never any good at anything else. Growing up I always felt different. I was extremely shy and not very social. I could never fit in. And after a while, I just quit trying. I realize that I should just do what works best for me.

 I’ve always hated how closed minded our culture is. I wanted to show everyone that tattoos are not always gang related. It does not always mean the wearer is a criminal. That’s one of the main reasons why I chose to do portraits. For example; I think a father would be less likely to say it’s a gang related tattoo if it’s a portrait of his wife. But I wouldn’t say I overcame it yet. We are far from that. Although I am happy to see how much progress we’ve made. Tattoos are much more common these days and are slightly more acceptable. So we’re definitely heading in the right direction.

My advice to those out there struggling to achieve their dreams is to believe in yourself and don’t be afraid to fail. Find your passion and don’t worry about what others think of you. Society will judge you regardless of what you’re doing. We spend so much time trying to please others, and not enough on ourselves.

It is especially difficult in our culture because of our traditions. But I am a strong believer in living a life that’s fulfilling. The earlier you find your calling, the higher the chances of success.

Often times people say I am very talented, I don’t believe so. I think it all comes down to how hard you’re willing to work for it. Talent is a poor excuse. People say, “he’s better than me because he’s more talented”. Most people won’t admit that maybe they’re better because they worked harder.

In today’s society, distractions are everywhere. We spend most of our time on our phones, playing video games and hanging out with friends. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we abuse it. Discipline and procrastination are two of the biggest hurdles I’ve ever dealt with and to this day I still struggle with it. So make sure to know what you want and go after it. Because no one will do it for you. And lastly, be willing to make sacrifices. Lots of it.

I would love to travel and tattoo outside of the U.S and to also compete in their shows. It would be awesome to win a tattoo competition in a different country. I would also love to try a color portrait one day when I’ve built enough courage. For now, it scares me when I think about it.

To get in touch with Fong Vang, check out his Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/fong_vangtattoos/ and his facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TattoosbyFong

Seng Alex Vang

Seng Alex Vang is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at the University of California, Merced. He is also a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Geography & Ethnic studies at California State University, Stanislaus where he teaches courses in Asian American studies.

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