Artists: Tamara Santibanez
What year did you start tattooing?
I started tattooing professionally in January of 2010.
How did you get into tattooing?
I was always interested in the craft but was in school full-time for printmaking, not thinking that would lead me to tattooing at any point. I lived in a series of punk houses and there was always someone making homemade tattoos around. I started doing hand-poked tattoos here and there, and eventually I got a machine. I was doing terrible copies of images from record inserts on my roommates, who were wholly unconcerned with the quality of them. eventually, I decided to be more serious about it. I took up watercolors, started painting flash, drawing from old references, and copying classic tattoo images, as well as trying to convince more people to get tattoos that would help me learn the basic techniques.
Where did you apprentice?
I didn’t have a formal apprenticeship. I knew a couple of the people at Three Kings Tattoo because I did a silk-screened poster for them to promote an event in trade for getting tattooed by Alex McWatt, one of the owners. I had done a tattoo on a friend of mine who went into Three Kings to get tattooed a day or two later, and they saw the fresh tattoo and asked who did it. When they realized it was the same person who had made the posters, they called me and asked if I wanted to come tattoo there under their supervision.
Do you have any special training?
I have a BFA in printmaking from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. I studied a handful of things before finally finishing a program, including fashion, fiber arts, and illustration, but printmaking is what finally stuck.
What conventions have you worked at?
I have yet to do any conventions. I travel to do guest spots at specific shops rather than work conventions. Maybe next year!
How do you describe your style?
I would say it’s a more decorative, illustrative version of American Traditional, often with heavy West Coast Chicano influence.
What inspires you as an artist?
Seeing other people who excel at what they do and have a genuine love and dedication for their craft—whether it be woodworking, tattooing, printmaking, jewelry making, tailoring. New York is a great place to live for that because there will always be someone out there doing what you do a million times better. It’s so easy to take a look around and recharge your energy, light a fire under your ass, and remind yourself not to sleep on doing what you love.
What sets you apart from other artists?
I think you can sometimes guess at the people who are self-taught rather than apprenticed. You can probably look at my drawings or tattoos and see little bits of stylistic habits I have here and there. Also, I sort of love doing cover-ups.
What other mediums do you work in?
Painting, drawing, printmaking, and some textile work intermittently. Printmaking is a medium I love so much, and the parallels between it and tattooing are so strong that it makes a lot of sense to me to keep doing them concurrently. Both require a lot of patience, attention to detail, a lot of process is involved, and they both have incredible, colorful histories.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
I try to keep several projects going on at once outside of the tattoo shop. I also do some freelance illustration work as it comes, for record covers, T-shirts, show posters, and the like.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
First and foremost, the people at Three Kings Tattoo—Alex McWatt, Myles Karr, Matty No Times, Daniel Albrigo, Jason June, Jeremy Sutton, Annie Lloyd, Josh Egnew, Dan Trocchio, Andy Perez, Ron Wells—are people I look up to and learn from constantly. Everyone at Saved [Tattoo] as well—Thomas Hooper, Cris Cleen, Anderson Luna, Stephanie Tamez, Michelle Tarantelli, Scott Campbell, Seth Wood, Zac Scheinbaum—is an inspiration. Bailey Hunter Robinson is always iconic. Charles Chatov is an old friend who helped me from the very beginning and has progressed like crazy himself over the years. I am fascinated by following what people who specialize in lettering are doing—people like Norm, BJ Betts, Big Meas, Big Steve—as it can be so mystifying how they do it so well and make it seem so effortless. Last but certainly not least, I owe so much respect and gratitude to the female tattooers killing it in the industry. Some favorites are Marie Sena, Valerie Vargas, Virginia Elwood, Cristina Garcia, and Marina Inoue.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
It’s exciting to get asked to put a new spin on something for a client, like if they have a request for a very specific and unusual element they want to incorporate into a tattoo. Basically anything you might not have thought of on your own and now have to figure out how to make it happen. The most fun part is the challenges.
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you give them?
I tell people to make sure to be well rested, have eaten well, bring a snack and water. Getting tattooed is exhausting, and if your client is prepared to sit well it makes your job that much easier.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
I’d love to do a Japanese-style dragon. Japanese traditional is something i have done little to none of, and the dragon is one of my favorite images in that style.