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Italian tattooer Nicole Zulianello discovered tattooing at any early age, 12 to be exact, and hasn’t looked back since. Today, she’s a heavy hitter in the style of New School and frequently brings to life the characters of Disney, Nickelodeon and anime onto skin. We spoke with Zulianello to learn why she became a skin cartoonist and what advice she’d give to aspiring artists who have a love for New School designs.

Take us through your upbringing and tattooing yourself at 12, then your friends at 16.

Now I realize tattooing myself was a very stupid thing to do, but those were the first warnings of what my future would hold. When I came home from school in the afternoon, I took a needle, wrapped it with cotton film, grabbed some ink and got tattooed. Obviously I did everything in secret, because my parents never approved these actions. After a few years my friends saw my tattoos and they wanted them too, so I started doing it for free because it was a pleasure for me and I didn’t have any idea that what I was doing was a job. After another few years, my friend bought a tattoo machine and he let me try it. After tattooing him, he gave me $20 and from that moment I understood that my passion could be my work. So I decided to buy a tattoo machine by asking my mother for some money on loan and from there, I started my journey to become a professional.

How did art school impact your tattoo career and would you recommend it for aspiring tattooers?

Many tattoo artists could say that I chose the easier way and not the traditional one, but I think that these days, we need to look around us and understand that it is essential to receive an artistic and tattoo technique education that prepares you for the life of a tattooist. I think that if I didn’t do the MITA Academy, I wouldn't be here talking about myself.

What drew you to New School?

It’s not I that chose New School and cartoon tattoos, they chose me. At the beginning of my career, I did some cartoon pieces for my friends, after that many customers of the studio started to ask me for them.

Who are some of your favorite New School artists?

I respect Vincent Bloodline as a friend and an artist and the super original creations of Canti and Ikos. My project for the future is to do my own leg with a lot of pieces from my friends.

Which cartoons are your favorite to tattoo and what do you hope to tattoo more of in the future?

I love to do “Dragon Ball Z,” “The Simpsons,” and hentai cartoon characters. For my future, I’m searching for a more elaborate technique for light sources and to create a crossover with a few different styles.

What advice would you give to artists who want to tattoo in a New School style?

I would recommend always choosing the path of diversity because this is a style that requires imagination, irony and good knowledge of anatomy.