What happens when an avant-garde, pop color tattooer and tattooer specializing in color realism come together at a bustling three-day long tattoo expo? The answer is a massive leg piece complete with vibrant, surrealist imagery and divine feminine energy, along with a few awards in their arms on the way out.
Koral Ladna and Emmanuel Fortunato, two resident artists at Inked NYC, are no strangers to tattoo collaborations, especially with each other. Still, each time, the task of creating a unified piece presents a challenge for both parties. Ladna’s style uses dreamy tones for both color-blocking and watercolor-inspired looks, whereas Fortunato usually goes for more natural colors that might be portrayed in a landscape. Witnessing their worlds fused together in a seamless illustration is always an exciting one.
Creating a tattoo one-on-one with a client already offers up a challenge, adding more people into the mix ups the stakes. “[Having] three different people was the challenge for me,” Fortunato explains. “I was like, okay, I want to do that. I need to do that. Because I want to create something out of my comfort zone.”
There are a lot of ways to go about a collaborative piece. The pair knew from the start they didn’t want to attack this in the same way others do. “Most collaborations are, you take two different styles, and you can usually see the hand of each artist in a very marked way, kind of like cut and paste,” Ladna says. “Which is super cool too, obviously you’re taking your creative process and putting it together with another person. What we wanted to do was really challenge ourselves, in the way that we both design the tattoo [together], we both use the same color palette and we pretty much do everything.”
The two first began the design process by figuring out how the illustration would flow together, resulting in roughly 6-7 designs and more than 20 hours of preparation. They revealed that, after spending all that time drawing together, they came to really understand each other’s thought-processes on a deep level, and so that when doing the actual tattoo, it all came together very effortlessly. “At some points, it was like, ‘take my machine and finish that part,’” Fortunato recalls. “‘And I have your machine to complete that part. What color do you think would make this part better?’ I like to say it was very organic.”
The client originally provided a concept as a starting point. “She wanted something that was gonna celebrate female beauty, something that was majestic, ethereal, that had some sort of qualities that were surreal,” Ladna says. “But everything else was open.” Loosely basing the design on the client’s references, the artists considered the words and adjectives they were given to create something that was really unified. “And at the very end,” Ladna continues, “what we came up with, it’s almost like it was a third artist.”
When listening to Ladna and Fortunato describe their design process, one thing that shines through is their motivation to push themselves beyond their limits. “I think as an artist you can always grow, and that’s one of the things we kept hitting every time we were designing,” Ladna says. “‘Like, do we love this design? Yeah, but can we do better?’ When you are working with another artist, you can push each other to get to that next level that maybe, by yourself, you wouldn’t challenge yourself the same way.”
Working with someone else on a tattoo is a conscientious practice. Not only when it comes to each other’s creative choices, but also in the physical act of doing the tattoo. “You have to constantly be like, ‘Oh, if he's pulling a line right now, I can't be doing a crazy fill-in because the whole canvas is gonna move,’” Ladna says. “So we have to be constantly conscious and respectful of the person, and conscious and respectful of the client, too. Because obviously, it’s a very vulnerable place.”
Although the two have done conventions before, this was the first time either did a collaboration at one. The atmosphere plays a role in itself. “You have rules to follow and that makes you push a little bit harder,” Fortunato reflects. “I think if you do [the tattoo] in a controlled environment, like the shop, you can relax a little. The idea of doing it in a convention was like, ‘Okay, we have another challenge. The convention has a lot of good and bad things. One thing is all the noise you have around, all the questions. You can’t control the music, the AC. We just adapt to every change.”
“The third day, the client started to not feel so good, which is normal, three days is a lot,” Ladna says. “So it was things like that that we dealt with, [but] everything we were prepared for. Everything was pretty smooth. Not easy—it was a lot of energy, a lot of effort, but in the end, really seamless and everything just flowed.”
Clearly, even amidst all the chaos, the duo didn’t hold back from putting in the work and giving it their all, winning the first place award for large color, and the best of the day for Sunday.
The benefits of attending tattoo conventions are endless. For one thing, artists are able to show their work to other artists and get instant feedback. Koral also added why she thinks expos are important: “it’s a way to get your work out there, out of the studio and to a different audience who maybe wouldn’t see it normally. People come to conventions from all over the world, so it’s a way to share community, to learn, to share information, to present yourself in a different way.” Fortunato adds, “You spend three days with the same energy, and obviously you learn from that.”
“We want to do a series of collaborations to also fine tune that way of working and to really push each other to learn more and to try different challenges,” Ladna explains. “Maybe for the next one, we’ll find a different way to think, maybe change everything from how we did it this time around.”
The fruits of the duo’s efforts ended up even more magnificent than imagined. “We’re more than happy [with how it turned out],” Fortunato beams. “Because even if you have all the energy and the process, you know something can happen. But this was more than I was expecting.”
“If you look at the first drawing we did together, and you look at the result, it’s light years apart,” Ladna adds. “It was a big journey.”
Well, folks, you never know what one-of-a-kind magic can emerge from the challenge of tattooing in a new environment and with a bit of added pressure. But after committing themselves to understanding each other’s creative process, effectively melding their styles into one, and working together to achieve a client’s grand vision, the artists certainly rose above and beyond the occasion.