Kian Forreal started making his own tattoo equipment when he was 15. "I'd been drawing since I was kid, but my path diverged when I got my first real tattoo," he says. "I fell in love with tattooing and haven't looked back."
Forreal, who works under the traditional Japanese tattoo name of Shodai Horisumi, is known for his intricate irezumi, a traditional Japanese tattoo style featuring folkloric scenes, mystical animals and nature inked in heavy lines. Since March, Forreal has also added four boutique spirits to his CV: a seasonal collection of gins made in collaboration with Sydney's Archie Rose Distilling Co.
Horisumi-Winter, the second instalment in the series, is available for pre-sale today (May 18). Its design is an intriguing process: Forreal does the artwork for the label before any plants have hit the still, and after he's done Archie Rose uses the artwork as part of the inspiration for the gin.
Each release reflects a different season in Japan (check out the collection's autumn gin). For Horisumi-Winter, Forreal painted a falcon on a lonely tree branch, and Archie Rose decided on a combination of sencha and genmaicha teas, Tasmanian kombu and Fuji apples to reflect the haunting design. "It perfectly complements the colder months," says Archie Rose founder Will Edwards. "The tea distillates evoke that universal experience of the warmth of a cup of tea."
Just 3,000 bottles of the Horisumi-Winter gin have been made and the first 200 bottles come wrapped in a traditional Japanese furoshiki cloth. We caught up with Forreal to discuss the inspiration behind the designs.
Did you teach yourself how to tattoo, Kian?
Almost. I grew up in Canada and learned how to tattoo on the mean streets of Toronto. I learned the ins and outs in some of the better street shops when I was a teenager. It gave me a platform to hone my drawing skills and become a better artist.
How different is designing a gin label to tattooing a person's body?
There are so many nuances when your medium is a three-dimensional arm, for example, and your design has to make sense all the way around. Paper is much easier, obviously, but I didn't want the labels to read like labels. I wanted them to have the same 3D momentum of a tattoo sleeve - the design going all the way around in a continuous sequence that tells a story.
What did you want Horisumi-Winter to say?
It's an ongoing battle to say more with less. I was really focused on keeping it simple, yet still elegant and engaging. I wanted it be cold and barren and hint at the vastness of a lonely winterscape. No matter what angle you look at it from, there's a feeling that the falcon on the branch is watching you. It overlooks the entire composition.
How do you start each design?
After researching the symbols I want to incorporate, I usually start with a rough design, then refine it and bring it to life. The first sketch might only be with markers on tracing paper - just shapes and lines to get a feel for how it will come together. Then I'll use a red pencil to make it more defined, and finally I'll move to ink on watercolour paper. When it's exactly how I like it I'll colour with illustrative markers. Each label takes me about 20 to 30 hours.
There are four gins in the Horisumi collection. What's been your favourite season to draw?
I'm a big fan of flowers and snakes in Japanese artwork and so for summer I created a label incorporating those two motifs: a ghost-like snake wrapped around a peony. That's definitely become my favourite one. I can't wait to see it on the bottle.
Horisumi-Winter, the second gin in the Archie Rose x Horisumi collection (700ml, $99), is now available for pre-order from the Archie Rose website.
Horisumi-Winter will be available from June 1 at Archie Rose Distillery Co, 85 Dunning Ave, Rosebery, NSW, and through their website.