Color is exceptionally powerful. It makes us feel in ways that cannot be put into words and defines the impact of the art world. What would Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” be without the striking contrast of swirling blues and yellows? Or how about the vibrant green apple of René Magritte’s “The Son of Man?”
In tattooing, color is one of Koral Ladna’s most powerful tools, as it helps her bring her art to life. Ladna packs her work with vivid greens, pinks, oranges and blues, which come together in a stunning signature style she’s coined cosmic colorism. We caught up with Ladna to learn more about how her tattoo journey began, how her style chose her and how she thinks her work will stand the tests of time.
How did your tattoo career begin? I learned to tattoo when I was backpacking through South America in my 20s. I apprenticed under another traveling tattooist and I learned the old foundations of the trade—how to build a machine and how to work with limited supplies in complex conditions. I did my first tattoo in Cartagena, Colombia—it was a blue butterfly with some initials. A few months later, I got my first tattoo shop job in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico.
How did you develop your signature style? Initially, completely by chance. A few years back, I used to work in a walk-in tattoo studio and one day, a client walked in and said, “I want a Flamingo. I love color and I want something cosmic.” I thought, “OK, what would this cosmic flamingo look like? What does it mean?” I only had 30 minutes to come up with the design. So, I did, and that was my very first cosmic colorism tattoo. I’ll be honest, I became fascinated with this design. Shortly after I started getting more and more requests for tattoos in that “cosmic” style. Little by little, I created a design method and a color palette. It was sort of like creating a new language.
Tell us more about how cosmic colorism became your signature style. There’s so much that can be said through color—each color is a feeling, an energy, a vibration. Each color appears differently depending on what color is next to it. It’s the combination of colors that makes the image have that “chemical reaction.” To me, color represents the cosmic energy of the subject and bearer of the tattoo.
Have you always tattooed in color? Since I worked in a few different street shops in my career, I have been lucky enough to try almost every style. From single needle fine-line to 25 mag solid black tribal to black-and-grey to dotwork and many more. Believe it or not, when I first started tattooing I thought one day I would end up being a black-and-grey artist.
What’s the key to packing bright colors? First of all, it’s important to pick the right color tones for the skin you are working on and create contrast. I always modify my palette depending on the person’s skin color, undertone, pigmentation and lifestyle. The rest comes down to color theory, and you can create contrast by using complementary colors. I always remember that a mid-range bright color looks that much brighter next to a dark color or black. Secondly, in order to pack the color solid, that just requires patience and a good machine. Finally, it also depends on the skin and each individual immune system. Sometimes to achieve truly long-lasting solid color you need a second session, which is always available to my clients free of charge.
How do you ensure your tattoos will stand the tests of time? There are a few factors that protect the longevity of a tattoo. One of them is size—I don’t do tiny tattoos. My style has a minimum size and I never go below it. The other is contrast—I aim for my work to have a mixture of blacks or dark tones that will make the image last for a lifetime.
Which artists have made the greatest impact on your style? I’m Ukrainian, so I grew up surrounded by traditional folk art, all of which is very colorful, geometric and draped in symbolism. I’m also fascinated by folk art of all the countries I have lived in and backpacked across. I’ve studied backstrap weaving and chicha lettering in Peru, embroidery in Guatemala, thangka painting in Nepal, beadwork in Mexico and so on. For me, all traditional art forms have a common thread, which I’ve somehow woven into my vision as an artist