Chronic Ink plagiarism

Popular Toronto tattoo studio in turmoil after allegations of design theft

A popular Toronto tattoo studio has suspended one of its founding artists and will be donating the proceeds of an ongoing pop-up to charity after being called out for ripping off the work of a New Zealand-based illustrator.

Artist Jiayue Wu (who goes by "Yue") was shocked on Monday to learn that a modified version of one of her pieces had been used to promote Chronic Ink in two Toronto malls without her knowledge or authorization.

"So a tattoo artist really traced/painted over my Ahri piece, put it on a storefront in Canada and then proceeded to seen and unfollow me after I messaged him about it," wrote Yue on Instagram Monday. "Classy, Tristen Zhang of Chronic Ink."

Yue included images of the work being used on a storefront at Yorkdale Shopping Centre, as well as an overlay showing how truly similar the work was to something she had previously published

"The piece is also being used as promotional banners on their website, the mall website and the mall itself," the kiwi artist continued. 

"It's honestly just disappointing to see this happen, from his instagram it looks like he's a fully capable artist who could have made his own piece but instead decided to do this and even sign it as if he made it himself."

In the days that followed, Yue was able to get a hold of the makeup and aesthetics brand Beautyco., which had partnered with Chronic Ink for a pop-up at Yorkdale and had been unknowingly displaying stolen artwork on its own social media channels.

The storefront displays showing her work at both Yorkdale and Square One Shopping Centre were immediately covered up.

"I am in the process of negotiating a resolution with the assistance of a lawyer," said the illustrator in her most-recent update on Instagram.

Zhang posted a public apology to his own Instagram account on Tuesday, noting that he had "rushed to create a piece for our pop-up."

"I should have created something original and I didn't. This was a mistake and I am very sorry," he wrote. "I also want to say that no one at Chronic Ink and none of the other artists were aware of the situation until yesterday. I'm sorry I've let them down but I will do better."

Still, Chronic Ink couldn't shake the bad vibes that arose from the situation.

"In light of what happened, we don't feel good profiting from this [Yorkdale] pop-up. What we learned on May 6th has really soured us and we want to make an honest living, so we are going to donate every dollar profited from this pop-up to a charity," reads an official statement published by the company on Friday morning.

"We've been chatting with [Yue] since the day we found out this has happened and we've asked her to pick a charity of her choice," the note continued. "She gave us three choices and we ran a vote with our artists at the studio and we'll be donating to Forest & Bird, a charity dedicated to protecting the Fresh Water of New Zealand."

The statement, signed by the "Chronic Ink Family," also indicated that Yue would be compensated for her artwork and that details were now being worked out with the illustrator.

"Finally, and this was certainly the hardest decision of all to make, we are suspending Tristen indefinitely and effective immediately. We'll be calling all his clients today," continued the companywhich has permanent locations in downtown and midtown Toronto, as well as Markham.

"As you all know Tristen was one of our cofounders and he's put 11 years of work into this studio so we really needed some time over the past 3 very sleepless nights to figure out what's the right decision, and not rush and make one out of anger," the statement continues. 

"Eventually, the decision was still to suspend him. Right is right and no person should be above that."

Lead photo by

Jiayue Wu

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