The Dot Matrix - Ferank Manseed

Published: 29 March, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 210, April, 2012

I swear I only asked one question. One simple question and Ferank was away like a high-speed train carrying royalty. Maybe he is. Thus, in the spirit of the way the interview turned out, I find it best to simply hand over the pen and let the master get on with it.


It all starts with just one dot. This is true for so many things. The humblest and most understated of beginnings. Then, the more dots that I add, the more it becomes…
The thing that I love about dotwork tattoos is on closer inspection, the time and effort invested, is reflected in the detail. I can see each individual mark that the needle has made. The dots resonate and ‘speak’ to me more than a flat solid section of tattooed skin. The textures and the softness that can be achieved strike a chord with my artistic brain.

I believe that creating dotwork tattoos is a discipline. To make beautiful art on skin, one dot at a time, is repetitive and difficult. You will need dedication in order to achieve good results. Because I work always in dots, I tend to do pieces that rely more on pattern and texture than pictorial imagery. I’m obsessed by the tiniest of details. I get excited when I find a new pattern, I play with it and dissect it or try to make it look ‘dimensional’ or maze-like on the skin. I truly am obsessed.

Although there are many pioneers within the tattoo world who create dotwork masterpieces, it still is quite rare. I think lots of people outside of the tattoo industry have no concept of it at all. I still get asked, ‘is it a real tattoo?’ or ‘will it last as long as a real tattoo?’ or ‘how come it looks so different?’

I did a bit of hunting and research into tattooed dots and was quite pleasantly surprised by what I found. The preserved remains of a Scythian Chieftain, known as the ‘Man of Pazyryk’, had many tattoos, including a row of tattooed dots down his spinal column. His remains are more than 2,500 years old. There was also a female Egyptian mummy named Amunet (Priestess of the Goddess Hether) who, when unwrapped, had many things tattooed on her skin, including a design on the abdomen, arms and legs that was a series of dots and lines forming a pattern; her remains are 4,000 years old. That’s quite a long time, 4,000 years, since the first known dotwork tattoo. It seems that, as a tradition, tattooing with dots is older than I had imagined.

Creating pictures out of a multitude of dots clearly isn’t a new art form. In the 1880s, pointillism was championed in oil paintings by the French neo-impressionist, Georges Seurat. His pictures, on closer inspection, were said to have a shimmering effect.

Samuel O’Reilly patented the first electric tattoo machine in 1891. So, dotwork and tattooing in dots is much older than machine tattooing – a lot older. The facts speak for themselves. Tattooed dots have a very interesting past dating all the way back to the early Egyptians.

I am a real sucker for history and tradition, I always have been. One of the oldest tattoo rituals that I know of, is the giving and receiving of ‘love dots’, a ritual practised in ancient Japan; when an emperor fell in love with one of his courtesans, they were forbidden to marry because of their class system, so they met secretly and marked each other on the hand with a solitary tattooed dot that would seal their love forever. When the emperor then walked among the line of his many courtesans greeting them, he placed his thumb on the tattooed dot, with her doing the same placing her thumb on his dot and gazing into each other’s eyes. This small acknowledgement was as much as they could show in public of their secret love for each other. The dot was often placed between the thumb and the forefinger allowing for quite a discreet and secret handshake. A really powerful and beautiful dot tattoo I think.

And we can’t really talk about dots and tattoos without mentioning the ‘Borstal dot’. That one tiny dot on the face told a story, whether you understood the code or not. In my area, a dot tattoo on each knuckle was a coded way of saying, ACAB (All Coppers Are Bastards) and rejecting authority, but to the untrained eye it just looked like four dots. Still to this day, the street gangs of East L.A. and Mexico tattoo three dots in a triangular form to represent ‘Ma Vida Loca’ (My Crazy Life) – a dedication to their gang and lifestyle.

My personal relationship with dots began a long time ago. In the ’80s, I used to promote and organise a psychedelic club night and festival called Club God. I used to hand-draw elaborate, psychedelic posters and flyers to promote the events. The posters were only monochrome photocopies, so I relied on the intricacies and textures of the dotwork to make the posters more interesting – I used to get lost in those dots. The posters would get stolen so often, before the gigs had even happened, that I had to do multiple poster runs. It was a labour of love for me at the time. I was in a psychedelic rock band myself and in between gigging, rehearsing and promoting, I was always drawing each poster. Trying to outdo the previous one with its tripped out fonts and dots. The fact that they took forever to draw didn’t bother me, I found it relaxing. The repetition of drawing with dots can become quite hypnotic, but in a nice way! It’s almost like tantric drumming. Sometimes while drawing like this I would kind of lose myself and end up in a bit of a trance, I love this feeling. And this was just drawing, I wasn’t even tattooing yet, but it was a feeling of being un-focused and focused at the same time.

With the posters, the main thing I was trying to achieve was that the more you examined it, the more you would find new things to look at. This is really the beauty and the quality of dots for me. They allow you to dissemble the form to each singular dot, as if it’s alive. Like fleeting dust particles, intricate, delicate, and bloody millions of them!

Dots on paper look nice, but dots on the skin look amazing! My needle is much finer than my pen. When tattooing dots into the skin, I have a rhythm and pattern to my work that I prefer and the music playing often suits the tempo for my dotting. If I have a large piece of dot shading to do, I prefer to play fast music and follow the beat. It gets the job done quicker! Slow music can really slow me down and there have been times where I’ve had to change the tempo of the music to get finished in a reasonable time. Dotwork takes time, you can see it in each individual dot.

So I guess we have established I have a genuine love for the dots and also for tattoo. My other great love is pattern. Every pattern I see, my head tries to make it into dots, thinking of the different ways to shade it giving me myriad possibilities. Most things can be translated into dots if they are approached with that intention. I think back to the newspapers of my youth and how it fascinated me to examine the photographs with a magnifying glass to see the collections of dots. The dots weren’t visible at first glance when you looked in the newspaper, you only saw the image. The more the dots grouped together, the darker the area became. It seemed like a magic trick to me. Like a secret not everybody knew. I would often be heard to say, ‘it’s all made from dots you know!’ whilst pointing at a newspaper picture.

(I won’t spoil the flow of Ferank, but I managed to move a few leavers at this point and we got to talking about tattooing in the style…)

I had a consultation with a guy recently who was a bass guitarist. He had a tattoo on his arm that was a sort of ‘tribal’ design with a bendy guitar within it. He liked my portfolio and gave me the freedom to come up with an idea for a nice tattoo for his other arm. His only stipulation was that it needed to include a bass clef symbol somewhere within the design.

I had the idea of how bass resonates, being represented by a pattern form in my head. I pictured the bass resonating, making the pattern distort and invert and move. I have a huge collection of repeating pattern forms on file. I scoured them until I found a suitable pattern, then I distorted it using a paint programme on the PC. I presented the idea to the client as line-work, but explained it would all be shaded in dots. I promised I would make it nice for him.

The design, I explained to him, is the resonance of bass. The pattern is being moved by the depth of its throb, with the bass clef floating above it. I think it’s a nice tattoo with lots of detail and I hope it shows my passion for the dots. My client adores it, which is the most important thing. The whole tattoo was made from dots, everything you see here, even the lines, are created from dots. I put them in a dot at a time and dots join to become lines.

I can tattoo beautiful lines out of dots. Do they still count as dotwork tattoos? Obviously in my mind they are still dotwork. I made the lines from dots even if it isn’t necessarily evident. And with a combination of dots and lines you can create anything! I could create tattoos worthy of an Egyptian Priestess.

Aha! I hear you cry. But they didn’t have tattoo machines in Ancient Egypt. It is at this point that I laugh a hearty laugh and smile a cheeky grin and reveal that I tattoo without machines.

It is all by hand. Every single dot.

Bloody millions of them. But that is another story…


The most universal and auspicious symbol on this planet is the swastika, or tetraskelion to use a collective term. Almost all cultures and religions have used this symbol over thousands of years. It is a good luck sign and blessing. Swastika patterns and symbols feature heavily in all my art and tattoos. I am a member of the ‘Gentle Swastika Collective’. We educate, through art, the true meaning of this sacred sign. I recommend you educate yourself regarding this and don’t just take my word for it. There are very informative websites, such as, which are well worth visiting.

‘Yungdrung’ (the Tibetan word for swastika) translates as, ‘unchanging wellbeing’ – the most harmonious and purest blessing. When you see swastika symbols within tattoos, please don’t be quick to judge negatively, look further and educate yourself. Awareness is key. One of the most decorative swastika patterns is called ‘sayagata’. Legend says that this pattern was born from the chest hair of Vishnu. It features heavily in Japanese kimonos and in Chinese and Tibetan art. You will recognise it I’m sure. It is a beautiful pattern to tattoo (especially in dotwork) as are most kimono patterns. The oldest swastika in the United Kingdom is on Ilkley Moor, an Iron Age rock carving known as the ‘Swastika Stone’.

When I tattoo swastika designs, I see it as the ultimate good luck blessing. In my heart, I hold no negativity towards this most sacred of all signs and hope to reclaim its innocence for the future.

Sacred Geometry

There are five platonic solids. They are the tetrahedron, cube (or hexahedron), octahedron, dodecahedron and icosahedron. They were first discovered by the Ancient Greeks. Their forms are the models of crystal pattern that occur within the world of minerals in their many variations. To the Greeks, they represented fire, earth, air, spirit (ether) and water respectively. Their belief was that the platonic solids formed the foundation for everything in the physical world.

This idea was ridiculed by modern science until the 1980s when Professor Robert Moon demonstrated that the whole periodic table of elements, everything we know in the physical world, truly is based on these five geometric forms.

The flower of life is a design of interlocking circles that appears to make flowers within the form. It was etched on the temple walls of the Osirion at Abydos, Egypt. It is a lot more than a pretty pattern, within its form it can perfectly contain all five platonic solids. From a mathematic/ geometric point of view, it is very clever. These patterns and forms are part of what we call, sacred geometry. When we understand these forms and the links and connections they make, we start to understand better the interconnections of all things.

A classic example of this is the spiral. Spiral forms are attractive for lots of reasons, but primarily because they are all linked by the same geometric code. The series of numbers, known as the Fibonacci code, goes like this – 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…

We are always adding the previous number to get the next one. When we draw these ratios on paper, we get the progression of a perfect spiral form. If we study spiral forms within nature, we find they all follow this ratio. It can be seen on seashells, sunflowers and even our very own Milky Way. The spirals connect us whether we know it or not. Interestingly, in humans, the Fibonacci Spiral occurs in our ears. We all have a spiral there, again proving our interconnectedness to all things.

Ferank Manseed

Northside Tattooz
The Basement
Bewick Street

0191 221 0328


Text: Barbara Pavone; Photography: Ferank