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Black-and-grey realism tattoos have advanced leaps and bounds in a very short time. Artists like Oscar Castano are churning out mind-blowing work on a daily basis, forever altering what we thought was possible just 10 years ago. With his thoughts set entirely on advancing his art, the Columbian born Castano has left his shop in Pereira to come to the United States. Castano is currently working out of Under Skin Art in Bergenfield, New Jersey, as he surrounds himself with amazing artists from whom he is hoping to absorb even more knowledge. In a relatively short time, Castano has established himself as a stand-out artist in the field, winning multiple awards at tattoo conventions. We spoke with Castano about how he found his love for art, his affinity for tattooing animal portraits and much more. 

When did you first develop an interest in art?

Since I can remember, I have always liked everything related to art such as drawing, painting, sculpture. But I began pursuing art during high school.

How did you go about becoming a tattoo artist?

It was all a matter of luck and being at the right time and in the right place, it never crossed my mind that I wanted to be a tattoo artist.

At the time I started everything was more complicated, there were no technological aids and the only way to learn the art of tattooing was to have a mentor. Little by little I learned from him, when I was 19 years old I started serving my first clients and so I started working full time as a tattoo artist.

What led you to black-and-grey realism?

After exploring all the styles, I realized that what I was most passionate about was being able to achieve high contrasts, lights, shadows and volumes only using blacks and greys, but what motivates me the most is being able to see how these types of tattoos heal.

Would you consider doing color in the future?

Yes, it is a possibility that I do not rule out since I did it for more than 10 years and I enjoyed it a lot, but I wanted to dedicate myself only to working in black-and-grey after having found a great passion for this style.

Tell us about how you sometimes use color within a black-and-grey piece.

Sometimes I use them in cases where I want to highlight a specific point of the design and I try to make that small portion of color generate a great visual impact.

What's something you haven't tattooed often that you'd like to do more of?

Japanese style is a style that I am passionate about but I have not been able to work much on. I first need to learn about this culture and surround myself with artists who do this style so I can learn from them, then I can attempt to do it myself.

What are some of your favorite tattoo motifs to come back to over and over?

They are definitely animal tattoos. I can do them many times and I would never get bored of doing them because making their small details, textures and achieving their deep and challenging looks is something I'm really passionate about.

How do you go about finding your references?

Generally when I make animals I look for photographers who specialize in taking photos of animals and nature and I also rely on some search engines such as devinart or Pinterest that allow the search for different references.

You have taken home many awards from tattoo conventions, do you consider tattooing to be competitive in nature?

From what I have been able to see in the conventions, if it is, the vast majority of artists are always working on great pieces with which they can compete and obtain a trophy. This generates in each artist a great satisfaction on an artistic and personal level.

What do you take into consideration when you are judging at conventions?

In general, we always meet at the jury table to choose the parameters that we are going to use to judge, but personally I look at the orientation of the tattoo, the handling of contrasts and lights, cleanliness and finishes, composition and fluidity in the area of the body where the tattoo is worked on, creativity and the proper treatment of the skin among many other points.

Tell us about some of the challenges found tattooing in the US while you own a shop thousands of miles away in Colombia.

This part for me has been easy, on the one hand because tattooing in the United States was a great dream and on the other hand because my shop in Colombia is being managed by a great trusted and very competitive artist who is at the forefront. This allows me to develop my career in these United States without that being a concern.

Where do you see your art going in the future?

The United States is a country where there are high-level tattoo artists. In the future I see myself sharing and learning from them, absorbing every drop of their art and knowledge.

This country will allow me to develop my skills and also continue to improve day-by-day because my great challenge will always be to surpass myself and in this way continue to offer my customers high quality pieces.