In this Q&A interview with Silver Disobedience, Lina Shuliar shares her career journey with us, sharing how her early interest in drawing led to an incredible career in tattoo artistry.
I understand your first passion was art; how did that passion develop?
As a kid growing up in eastern Russia, Sakhalin Island in the Sea of Okhotsk, not far from Japan (I’m giving you a little geography lesson, in addition to an art lesson!), I was often left alone as my parents both worked and my father worked a lot in Japan. Unlike many other kids, I used to prefer being alone, rather than hanging out with other kids in my neighborhood. Instead of seeking play dates, I enjoyed expressing myself creatively by seeking comfort in the company of my art supplies and sketch pads. As a precursor to what would become my career, I even used to draw on my dad! I was a little different from the other kids, and my art work helped me unlock my inner self. My father traveled a lot for work and his travels often took him to Japan, and although I learned to cope with his absences, I certainly enjoyed the gifts he would bring home with him. Gifts from Japan and other Asian countries always seemed so special to me, a bit non-traditional (like me) and far ahead of their times (also like me!). Little did I know then, but the intricacies of Japanese art would have an incredible influence on the tattoo style that I now work in, which is known as dark art. Following high school I attended university in St. Petersburg where I earned a degree in architecture, which ultimately had a profound impact on my later work.
What was the tattoo scene like in St. Petersburg?
St. Petersburg is a city with cultural diversity, history and architectural landmarks that it is often referred to as the cultural capital of Russia. It’s an incredible place for an artist and was the perfect place for me to develop my skills. As an architectural student, having been exposed to so many incredible architectural masterpieces in this amazing city, I view each of the tattoos that I create almost like buildings themselves. Each tattoo must also have structure within an overall landscape, and they must have longevity.
Not only did this city’s iconic architecture play an important part of my artistic development, I became a part of its diverse artistic community, where a wide, influential and educated circle of mentors and peers shared their impressions and criticisms of each other’s art. Ultimately this community helped all of us to refine our skills as tattoo artists. I learned from them an was also able to share my Japanese influences with them. In addition, St. Petersburg’s tattoo festivals, unlike those in other parts of the world, include workshops and training sessions, and are perfect places to meet other artists, ask questions, learn new techniques and exchange ideas.
As part of my learning experience, I was exposed to tattoo artists in St. Petersburg who specialized in “black tattoos.” The popularity of this genre reflects the city’s “gloomy vibe” since it is almost “always night and always cold” with winters that are long, freezing, snowy, and overcast, and last for about nine months of the year! Thankfully the positive vibes of my fellow artists helped get me through those long, dark winters!
Your signature style is dark work, tell me about that.
My “dark work” style was for sure influenced by my architectural training and the precision that I learned from my rigorous studies. It’s also deeply inspired by my exposure to Japanese art from the days my father worked in Japan and brought me back souvenirs from his travels. My dark work is a fantastical rendition of tattoo art. It combines the lure of characters, creatures and symbols that may be from a client’s favorite movie or cartoon, with a creepy, fantastical, witchy type of vibe. It’s sort of like fan art; it’s fun and meaningful and based on something of importance to the client. Typically it can take hours upon hours to complete these works of art, and I generally schedule multiple sessions per client– usually around five. Tattoos are always your story, so it’s important for me to get to know my clients pretty well and help them communicate their story (And you can imagine that I get to know them during these many hours!). While it’s important to keep in mind that tattoos are always my client’s story, I usually add a piece of my own story as well to the tattoos, sort of like a “signature.” While this is certainly not the same exact example, the artist Al Hershfeld, who was well-known in the New York theater and art world, would hide his daughter’s name (“Nina”) in his drawings (most of which were black and white… but not “dark”!). While I don’t hide my own name, parts of what I love can be found in my creations as well.
What’s next for you?
I am currently living in New York City, and have traveled to many places around the country, where I have met with many new clients and other tattoo artists. I am currently “inking” a book that will feature other artists who work in the dark art genre. The working title is “Darkwork” and it will be a collection with work from the growing community of artists around the world. I am really excited about this venture and with the future of the movement. If all goes according to plan, the book will be ready this year. I’m looking for a very, very bright year ahead for the dark work movement
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