Inspired heavily by anime and manga, Ooqza's tattoos are a mixture of beauty and horror. Gazing upon her tattoos gives you a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach as you ask yourself whether or not you should find the tattoo cute or terrifying. We spoke with the talented artist to learn how her career started, her design process and her love for demonic girls.
When did you first discover a love of art?
Love for art has always been with me! Since childhood, my mother taught me how to draw. I wanted to become a fashion designer and drew a lot of girls in dresses. My mom was good at drawing so these skills were passed on from her to me. I decided that I would connect my life with art and I am incredibly grateful that my family supported my creative endeavors.
How did you begin your tattoo career?
I come from a very small town three hours south of Moscow, with a population of only 15,000. Until the age of 18 I lived there. I've always been drawn to creativity, whether it's photography, fashion or interior design. I've been very diligent about art, and eventually got a scholarship to university. My family didn’t have much money at the time, so I wanted to take this opportunity so I didn’t have to burden them. Through my scholarship, I was able to study graphic design, and in my third year of university I made friends with a group of guys who loved tattoos. At that time, I didn’t have any, and didn’t even think about getting one. Since I was studying design, they thought I would want to start tattooing. Their motivation was clear, they wanted free tattoos. However, they had a point and it started my interest in tattooing. I went to the store and bought my first, very cheap Chinese tattoo kit. My friends would let me tattoo them for practice, which for me was such a new and exciting experience. Back then, I didn't view tattooing as a serious profession for me, but rather a hobby, a hobby that has stayed with me for a long time. However, when I had just started tattooing, when I didn’t even know how to tattoo a straight line, I decided that I wanted to stand out. I didn’t want to be put in a box, I wished to leave a mark on the tattoo industry. Since then, up until I graduated university three years later, I knew for sure that tattooing would be a part of me for years to come.
What is the tattoo scene like in Moscow?
Very different from other places I’ve been! There are both positive and negative things that are unique to the tattoo culture in Moscow.
It’s normal for beginners to start tattooing at home and move into a studio once they become more established. Also, in studios there are few boss-employee relationships. Instead, tattoo artists rent a place where everyone works on equal terms. There are also many mature professionals here. This is something I appreciate in Moscow.
However, unlike many other countries, copyright issues and the general morals around copying other artists' work is not common knowledge in Russia. It is difficult to explain how tracing or downright copying work found online is a bad thing. I admit that this is one of the downsides in the Russian tattoo industry, but I am hopeful that this will change over time. I myself have ideas on how to promote the importance of artists intellectual and artistic rights.
Overall, I am glad to know that so many tattoo artists from Russia, Moscow included, and the CIS are so influential, from realism to underground tattoos. I am so happy to see such a concentration of talented and ambitious people who dare to experiment with style and express artistic freedom. There is a lot of competition in Moscow, but I think this pushes people outside their comfort zone and builds a creative space. All these elements are part of the Russian evolution of tattoos, from what was previously thought of as a reflection of criminal individuals to a sense of artistic expression and Russian culture. This makes me incredibly honored to be a part of the movement.
Tell us about how you found your signature style and how did you discover it?
My artistic style traces back to the most difficult parts of my life, when I lost my most beloved person in a car accident. The grief I felt truly felt like the end, but it was also the beginning of a new life, formed by my previous experiences.
Tattooing has always been an outlet for me and saved me emotionally from all the failures and difficult moments of life. Every time I felt sad, or even hopeless, I could get completely lost in creating art through tattoos. This is what carried me through so much hardship and despair. And the people who loved my art, supported it and resonated with it truly. Perhaps their interest and love for my work meant that they understood me and where I was coming from. It was, after all, my personal emotions and interests that represented these designs. These pretty, demonic creatures I draw, with both devilish and angelic charm, represent both the pain and the pleasure, the good and the evil in life, and I think that’s beautiful.
When I first started, I enjoyed drawing characters from Japanese urban legends, like Kuchisake-onna, a girl with a slit face. After a while, I started to adapt these interests into my own ideas and concepts, making these elements my own. I also watched a lot of anime and was interested in the concept art revolving around these universes. So, I mixed all these elements from the things that inspired me, to create something completely fresh and new. Now I am able to invent stories and characters on my own, thanks to these inspirations.
All in all, it took me three years to really find my own style, through trial and error. As mentioned previously, I really wanted to stand out with a unique style and image. I wanted people to say “Oh! I know this artist!” Now I see people are starting to copy my work, although they can never copy my signature style and artistic touch. I feel that I have definitely contributed to the development of tattooing. When I started, I didn’t see anyone who did what I did; cyber tattoos or demons and girls in the same format as I. Today, I see lots of it, not just copies of me, but people who have been inspired by me and created their own style from it. It is amazing to see and I am so happy to be able to experience it!
You use color, but sparingly, can you tell us about how you utilize it?
It's about balance. Red is a very strong color and represents a hint of danger or passion, depending on how you use it. The sight of red blood can be frightening, but also awakens a humanity in us. It reminds us we’re alive. This can be interpreted as a warning sign or a sign of love. All my works are built on contrasts in every sense, from the idea to the visual solution itself. Personally, I like it when red is used as an accent to upgrade the work. Full color tattoos are not really my style, as I feel it drowns my vision and concept. Using accent colors, on the other hand, can emphasize and elevate my work.
What are some of your favorite subject matter to tattoo?
My work can be divided into two categories—beautiful, mystical human images, and horror characters. On one hand, I like to imagine that vampires or demons might actually exist. How beautiful they would be—their wings, horns and teeth. I like inventing characters, romanticizing them. On the other hand, the more terrifying an idea, the better! Bare spines, inhuman teeth, crazy eyes, and frightening characters who are bloody, broken and desperate. I rarely draw animals, as they don’t speak to me as humanoid creatures do.
You seem to love tattooing demonic girls... can you tell us why you're so inspired by them?
I do draw men as well as women, but you’re right, I am more interested in conveying the feminine through my art. I associate this with great tenderness, juxtaposed with danger, the fearsome and the demonic. There is a story behind each character, which has led them to become the apparition presented in the tattoo. I often make up a story for them in order to understand the character more. The emotions of the characters are depicted in the tattoo, in their portrait. I think my customers are drawn to my work and my characters because they resonate with their souls.
Who are some of the artists (tattoo or otherwise) you're inspired by?
I grew up watching a lot of anime and reading manga, which paved the way for my fantasy.
Hokazono Masaya is an amazing mangaka and artist! His horror characters have inspired me a lot. I also admire the horror icon Junji Ito. Also, Hitoshi Iwaaki with his manga "Parasite" and Obata Takeshi with his manga “Death note”—some of my favorite stories. I also enjoy the works of Takato Yamamoto, as his girls are, much like mine, empty and sad, with a story in their eyes.
I love concept art and I love creating characters from scratch. Images come to me when I go to bed, and halfway into a deep sleep, I see an idea and a future character. That's how I get the best ideas for my work!
What are some of the most valuable life lessons you've learned from tattooing?
Good question! Perhaps the social skills that are demanded of you as a tattoo artist. You cannot avoid communicating with other people and you develop new communication skills all the time. You learn to distinguish the feelings that a person experiences when looking at a sketch, you learn to understand people. I also learned to value my time and my strengths. I learned not to hesitate to ask or meet people. I learned responsibility. Nobody will live your life for you, and the things you have and earn are the consequences of your own actions and work. Perhaps this is not quite a lesson from tattooing in itself, but lessons from being a tattoo artist and in a tattoo community. For me, though, it is difficult to differentiate these concepts, as they are both big parts of my life and who I am as a person today.
What other mediums of art have you worked in?
Eight years ago, I was actually a photographer, but once I got into tattooing my focus completely shifted. However, in 2021 I was able to revive my interest in photography as a hobby. I have actually had the opportunity to shoot several campaigns for clothing brands. I also tried to work as a designer, but I quickly realized that it was not for me. As I mentioned previously, I started tattooing when I was in university and it quickly pulled all my focus and interest towards it. As time progressed, so did I, and this artistic development really inspired me to keep going in this one direction. The positive feedback I have received from my work has also motivated me greatly into pursuing it further. The fact that people travel from all over the world to get a chance to work with me or get a tattoo from me is so inspiring. My designs have actually been used on clothing from famous Russian brand, so I influenced fashion industry too. Not only that, but I am planning to create my own clothing brand in the future, with my own characters and designs. I have already started experimenting with merch and I am excited to experiment with this idea in the future. In that sense, I am now beginning to dabble in other artistic fields, fueled by my confidence from tattooing. Stay tuned, you might be able to get your hands on some of my designs soon.
Can you walk us through your design process?
Usually, the design process starts with mapping out the customers ideas, what size tattoo they want, as well as the placement of the tattoo. This helps me to understand how I will be working and what will look good for my customer. I will then give the customer a price estimate. Further, we discuss the details that will go into the tattoo. Usually, my customers trust me to decide the details, but I still prefer to discuss these ideas to make sure the customer is happy with the design. After this process, I make a rough sketch, compose the objects and start drawing the general face and shape of the tattoo. I will jump between details as I sporadically fall in love with certain elements of the tattoo, like the demonic wings, or the shiny latex. Small details like piercings will always be my favorite! I love making characters modern or even futuristic, and I do so whenever I have the possibility. These sketches take a long time to develop, approximately 7-9 hours. After I have finished drawing the sketch, I send the sketch to the customer, usually one day before the session to confirm or make minor edits. For the most part I don’t do any major editing beyond this point, since all my clients understand my style and know what to expect.
What is a tattoo you've been dying to do that you haven't had a chance to work on yet?
Recently, I’ve been searching for some new inspiration, and I found it in my childhood memories. When I was about ten years old, my mother and I went to visit her friend in Germany. While I was there, I browsed through the toy catalog and discovered love at first sight: Furby! At the time, I was actually very afraid of them, and didn’t dare to sleep in the same room as one. However, I still gravitated to them and was absolutely in love with their creepy cuteness. Today, I am collecting Furbies from '98 and draw them in sketches. I really want to give a Furby tattoo to someone who loves them as much as I do, and I would love to do a collaboration with Hasbro.
Recently I have also been working on a special tattoo project for an international exhibition in Moscow. It’s a huge backpiece with an extension to the arms and legs. It depicts a beautiful, charming demon girl, with red wings and half her body missing. Her ribs and entrails are visible, and her arms are turning into blades. I really want to make this project a reality. I don’t think I will have to wait long for someone to adopt her though, because she’s amazing!