House of Ruin
Location: Joshua Tree
Years practicing: 5+
Specialty: Artful stick-and-poke
Aidan Koch is best known as the author of three book-length comics and as an artist whose dreamlike illustrations have been shown in galleries from L.A. to Paris. But in the past few years, Koch’s stick-and-poke tattoo practice, which she does under the nom de needle House of Ruin, has developed a devoted cult following in the underground art and fashion communities. “If you know, you know,” says Brooklyn-based artist and writer Diamond Stingily, who has “about 10” of Koch’s delicate ink drawings. “Aidan’s work is so distinct to her,” Stingily says of Koch’s appeal. “She doesn’t do anything for clout. She respects her craft.”
What is your signature style?
I do stick-and-poke. I have a fairly loose style, but it’s line-oriented. I’ve always had an approach to mediums, including drawing and painting, that is more suggestive than technically precise.
What do you look to for inspiration when you’re drawing new designs?
When I was first starting, the designs mostly came out of work I was drawing for textiles. They were small collections of disparate objects, figures, animals. Friends would see them and ask, “Can I get that?” They have a feeling of being like little artifacts. This imagery tends to come from my love of antiquity and anthropology. I recently did a piece on a friend that was from a sketchbook I kept while traveling in Egypt. He got a snake motif that I saw in a tomb. The process of translating this directly from an ancient wall to a piece of paper to someone’s body was so powerful and felt expressive of our physical connection to time.
What’s your best advice for someone who wants to get their first tattoo?
Something that feels really valuable now is trying to make the actual experience memorable and pleasurable. It’s still great to put thought and meaning into a design, but I know so many people whose favorite pieces are some of their “shittiest,” and that’s because of who did them or where or when, not what it is.
How has tattooing evolved in the social media era?
I think anyone who looks at tattoos on Instagram has seen how it’s blown up over the last six years. [Social media] has supported stick-and-poke—which was previously regarded as amateur or DIY—becoming a recognized form of tattooing in the Western tattoo scene. And it has diversified the field and opened up what feels possible. It’s a tool, though—a good place to grow from but not a healthy place to get trapped in.
A version of this story appears in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of GQ Style with the title “Fresh Ink.”
Photographs for Smith Street Tattoo Parlour by Amy Lombard
Photographs for Horimitsu by Kiyotaka Hamamura
Photographs for House of Ruin by Michelle Groskopf