Confessions Of Hollywood's Most In-Demand Tattoo Artist

Photo: Courtesy of Kenneth Capello.
Brian Woo, better known as Dr. Woo, is the go-to tattoo artist for celebrities like Drake, Miley Cyrus, and Zoë Kravitz. To celebrate his TV debut tonight on Viceland's Tattoo Age, he opened up to R29 about his relationships with his famous clients, the odd story behind his moniker, and why he doesn't believe his own hype. The following interview was told to Lexy Lebsack and edited for length and clarity.
An Offer He Couldn’t Refuse
"I grew up in L.A. and got my first tattoo when I was 14; it was a little dragon on my ankle, which is now on the side of my calf because I had a growth spurt. I got my start when I was offered an apprenticeship with Mark Mahoney, who had been tattooing me for eight years. I was a fan of getting tattoos, but I didn't think I could ever be a tattoo artist. I compare it to getting a scholarship to a great medical school — even if you weren't sure about being a doctor, you'd probably take it.
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“Getting my start at [Shamrock Social Club] on the Sunset Strip, I've seen some crazy things — from huge fights breaking out in the middle of the street to celebrities coming in and out. One time, a girl passed out in the bathroom before her appointment; she must have taken something to calm her nerves, and I had to literally break down the door like a movie when you throw your shoulder into it.”
Photo: Courtesy of Viceland.
Dr. Woo is famous for his delicate line work.
It's All In The Details
There's the old, traditional style of tattoos, which is bold and can be done in colour, but fine line started in the ‘50s in the Los Angeles prison system. They're thinner gauge needles and create a finer tattoo with more details. My style was influenced by L.A. and by Mark, who is one of the founders of the single needle tattoo style. I would describe my style as super delicate with a lot of small details in a smaller space. It's not too bold or invasive and it gives an option to people who don't want to be totally covered in tattoos; it's more of an accessory.
On Becoming The "Doctor"
“At Shamrock Social Club, it's kind of a rite of passage: Once you go from apprentice to tattoo artist, you have to get a nickname. Mine started when one guy said there was an old movie that had this evil villain called Dr. Woo, but the character ended up not even being named Woo!
“As a first generation American, my parents immigrated here [from Taiwan] so their kids could be lawyers or doctors, so that was also a running joke — finally my parents have a doctor in the family! When I first started, my parents weren't psyched about my career path, but now they're super proud, which is kind of cool.”
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Photo: Courtesy of Viceland.
Dr. Woo giving a client a calf tattoo on tonight's episode of Tattoo Age.
Draw The Line
“Celebrities go through life being hounded constantly, so I just treat them the same as everyone else. Being tattooed is such a personal thing between the artist and the client, and I take it very seriously and I’m very protective of all my clients. I don’t talk about the tattoos I do on celebrities, but if someone asked me about a random client’s tattoos, I wouldn't tell them about that either.
“A lot of other tattoo artists like to use the hype of the celebrity to promote themselves, but I just like to be about my work. I want people to look at a Dr. Woo tattoo and be like, ‘That's dope!’ I want them to like my work, not the fact that I gave a celebrity a small cross tattoo on their ankle. That doesn't really define me as an artist — if I tattooed a celebrity and they got a dot or some shit, ya know? That's just hype, and hype doesn't last forever."
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