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For centuries, the only ways artists could study the work of masters were by visiting museums, buying books, or if they were lucky, studying under them in real life. Now social media allows anyone access to the greatest artists from every corner of the globe with the touch of a button. Based in Manila, Philippines, Aaron Olaguivel grew up in a part of the world where realism tattooing would take decades to make its way East and tattooing is still largely frowned upon by the older generations.. Yet, upon seeing artists like Nikko Hurtado on social media, Olaguivel knew he could make tattooing a fine art in the Philippines. Based on his impressive portfolio, we’d say he’s doing a pretty swell job.

How were you introduced to tattooing as a career and did you have a traditional apprenticeship?

When I saw a fresh tattoo and got a chance to witness for the first time how tattoos were done, I was hooked and that's how it all started. I remember going to the tattoo supply shop and buying my equipment piece by piece, because at the time that’s all I could afford.

I didn’t do an apprenticeship, but I learned the basics from a friend who had some experience. I started doing tattoos using pig skin and learned from videos and articles online. As a self-taught artist, it is very challenging to know the right techniques in color, outline and shading. Luckily, I got to know great artists who shared their techniques with me along the way.

What is the tattoo scene like in Manila and the Philippines at large?

For some people, particularly the older generations, tattoos are still taboo, especially in the provincial areas of the Philippines. Getting a tattoo in the Philippines used to be frowned upon, as there was a negative notion that only criminals or drug addicts have tattoos. Here in Manila, tattoos are now considered an art and a way to express oneself.

What drew you to realism and who are some of your favorite realism artists?

Making something photorealistic is both fun and challenging for me. There are many different styles, designs and concepts within the genre; I love bringing all of them together on a moving canvas.

I've always been blown away by realism artists like Nikko Hurtado, James Tattoo Art, Jurgis Mikalauskas, Ben Kaye and Karol Rybakowski.

What appeals to you about tattooing Hannya masks and how do you put your own spin on them?

Aside from having powerful and mysterious symbolism, Hannya masks convey different emotions and that’s really what appeals to me. As a realism artist, I like to bring out the whole package of its character and make it look as terrifying as possible.

What other art mediums do you work in?

I do oil paintings and color pencil drawings. I’d been using these mediums before I started tattooing and I think they helped me with combining colors for my tattoos.

If you could no longer tattoo in your current style, what other style would you like to try out?

If realism wasn’t an option, I might try new school.

What advice would you give to your former self?

Set your goals, keep going and always compete with your own skills.