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It didn't take long for Ivan Jovanovic to know where he wanted to take his tattoo art. For a while he was dabbling in both color tattoos and black-and-grey but he quickly realized that every time he did a black-and-grey tattoo he was far happier. So he chased his dream and worked his ass off to become one of the foremost black-and-grey tattooer around. We spoke with Jovanovic about how he discovered his love for art, what makes a great portrait and more. 

When did you first discover a love for art?

I discovered my love and passion for art when I started tattooing, which was in 2016. I went to a tattoo studio with a friend of mine because she was getting a tattoo. I asked just for fun if I can learn tattooing and the guy said, ”Let’s find out.” He gave me the pen and printed outlines of a rose and he said, ”Shade this.” I did not really know how to do it, I just imagined in my head and just did it, the guy looked at it and said, ”You really ever draw in your life?” I said no, and he said, ”You can definitely do it.” After that I never stopped drawing and tattooing. It became my love, my passion and my life.

How did you begin your tattoo career? Did you have an apprenticeship or learn on your own?

I started in a tattoo shop, I was there for about 2 months and after that I quit it because they could not do portraits and realism which was my passion. I continued learning by myself, at home, drawing sometimes even 14 hours a day and tattooing pig skin. When I got better I took some seminars in black-and-grey tattooing. And I practiced a lot, a lot of hard work, a lot of time invested and a lot of sacrifice, it was a long learning curve and it still is, you never stop learning.

How did you find your way to black-and-grey realism?

For me it was always the way to go. In the beginning I tried to do some color, but after doing a color tattoo I would do a black-and-grey the next day and I always felt more satisfaction in black-and-grey after doing color so I knew it is what I really love. I understand black-and-grey and I spent a lot of time learning it. It goes without saying that it is a lot harder to do color realism than black-and-grey and I admire and respect the artists who are doing it.

What are some of your favorite subject matter to tattoo?

I love doing portraits, movie themes and special projects that are not standard, where I have freedom to create my own thing.

You do a lot of portraiture, what are the most important elements in bringing a portrait together?

In portraits I would say everything is important, but patience is definitely one of the most vital things. Especially if you want to get the texture, patience is the key. The reference photo is definitely a huge factor, also to hit the emotional face expression is very valuable. If one detail is off it can change that person’s expression and even make the portrait not look like the person from the reference. The important details that can’t be off are mouth, nose and eyes. Also the placement of the portrait on the skin plays a big role in terms of optics, like in which direction the portrait faces, if it is on the muscle which tends to change the facial expression when bent or stretched, etc. The background of the portrait is also very important as it can make a portrait pop and change the effect of the picture drastically. Also the size of a portrait (the smaller the portrait the less details). Those are just some of the very important things for me when I have to do a portrait.

How do you find your references? Do you take your own photos?

I usually find my reference pictures online and put them together using my imagination, but there are some exceptions when the customer demands something personal that I need to take the picture of, or a portrait of a family member, where if possible I also like to take the picture of.

Who are some of the artists, tattoo or otherwise, you’re inspired by?

In the tattoo scene there are so many great artists who are doing amazing work. If I have to say who is my favorite it would be hard but to mention a few for black-and-grey it has to be Yarson, Thomas Carli Jarlier, Auke tattooer, Kindamo. For color is even harder as there are many amazing artists, on the top of my head, that would be Yomico Moreno, Steve Butcher, Nastasya Naboka, AD Pancho, Karol Rybakowski, Nikko Hurtado.

What is a tattoo you’ve been dying to do that you haven’t had a chance to work on yet?

That is a hard question as I want to do so many things. But to name a few, I would like to do portraits of NBA players like Kobe, LeBron, Michael Jordan etc. An “Ice Age” sleeve is also one of my big wishes.