087: Intersection: Alison Zou, Tattoo Artist

Updated: Jan 16


In the previous episode, we met Sana Riyazali Merchant who discussed the ways in which history and culture influence her work, the interesting challenges associated with drawing on hands as canvases and how her medium (henna paste) is uniquely tricky to work with. She also discussed how she helps share stories through her art and today’s guest agrees.


Allow me to officially introduce you to today’s guest: Alison Zou.


Alison Zou is a tattoo artist based in Toronto, Canada. Her art career began with an apprenticeship at Chronic Ink Tattoos in 2012. While learning to become a tattoo artist she also began studies at the Ontario College of Art & Design, University, through the Drawing and Painting program (OCAD-U 2014-2018). Alison became a full-time tattoo artist and developed her fine-line tattooing style, focusing on anime and manga subject matter (2018-present). In July of 2021, Alison opened Duskwood Ink, a tattoo studio located in Markham, Ontario. Presently she continues to explore the possibilities of fine-line tattooing, undertaking even the most complex manga panels.


In our conversation, Alison and I discuss how she entered into the tattoo industry, the technicalities of fine-line tattooing and what her own, personal tattoos mean to her.


Key Ideas Discussed:

  • Alison has always been artistic but she never knew if she could be a tattoo artist because of her strict parents/culture

  • When she came to Canada, there were more open minded people here

  • A friend of her Mom's owns a tattoo supply store and encouraged Alison's mom to let her get into it

  • Manga and anime-style tattoo - line work, some shading, greyscale; the subject matter excites her

  • Placement is a challenge - the physical canvas changes (ribs, knees)

  • She works with thin, delicate lines

  • Practicing on fruit skin (bananas, oranges, grapefruit, pomelos) - but it's not close to what real skin feels like; practicing the positioning of your hand/arm; then she tattooed people for free or practiced on herself

  • Every part of tattooing excites her - talking to client, creating the piece, tattooing, pictures of finished piece

  • She never feels tired going to work

  • Clients will come to her knowing exactly what they want to do - they often want an exact copy of something from manga or screen shot from anime

  • She does lots of research by watching lots of anime

  • She used to get tattoos because they had meaning to her (or she'd try to force meaning) but now it's often just because she likes the artist's' style (she flew to Barcelona for an afternoon for one of her pieces); the importance of showing respect to the original artist

  • She wants her work to continue as it is right now; she's happy


Among many insights gained, Alison reminds us about the research that’s needed before she begins her artistic practice. In the next episode we meet Lillian, a filmmaker who shares Alison’s feelings about the role that research and planning play in her art.


Stay tuned…


Secondary podcast episode art that contains the text ‘Episode 087 Intersection: Alison Zou, Tattoo Artist’ on a blue background and half of a yellow paper boat.

A photo that depicts Alison's work; a half arm sleeve of different scenes.

A detailed scene of a character navigating a city with intricate line work throughout.

A colourful depiction of Sailor Moon, created by Alison Zou.

An intricate warrior piece tattoo, by Alison Zou.

The first is a digital illustration that depicts Alison Zou’s point of intersection between ‘storytelling’ and ‘research’. There are two overlapping circles connecting these themes and a straight line connecting her to the place where these circles meet. When connected with the 16 other artists these circles form a map.

The complete map of the colourful, intersecting circles that represent the 17 artists and their connections to one another.


About Our Guest:

A photo of Alison walking in the park holding a can of Coca-Cola while looking down and smiling.

Alison Zou is a tattoo artist based in Toronto, Canada. Her art career began with an apprenticeship at Chronic Ink Tattoos in 2012. While learning to become a tattoo artist she also began studies at the Ontario College of Art & Design, University, through the Drawing and Painting program (OCAD-U 2014-2018). Alison became a full-time tattoo artist and developed her fine-line tattooing style, focusing on anime and manga subject matter (2018-present). In July of 2021, Alison opened Duskwood Ink, a tattoo studio located in Markham, Ontario. Presently she continues to explore the possibilities of fine-line tattooing, undertaking even the most complex manga panels.




Music (public domain via Free Music Archive): Chad Crouch - Rainbow


Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle


Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo byAlex onUnsplash

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