Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
I was born in 1986 in a city not far from Madrid. I went to university for a total of seven years. For two of those years I studied law; I felt obliged to, because my father’s a lawyer and he told me it would give me a good income and a secure future. But it wasn’t for me, so I quit and studied advertising and public relations instead.
When did you start learning to tattoo?
It was around 2006. But I didn't work in a studio until a few years later. I was just plodding along at first, trying to figure things out and learn the techniques. I tried to get an apprenticeship but nobody would give me the opportunity. So I mainly taught myself. I was longing to be in contact with other tattooers – to see what they were doing and how they were doing it. My first shop experience came about in California. I'd actually gone there to take part in a ski show (I've always loved skiing) and I thought I'd email a few studios in advance of my trip to see if I could do some tattooing while I was there. I was fortunate to be given a spot at Full Circle, even though back then I didn't really have the level of skill to work in a studio like that; I was a little nothing amongst those amazing tattooers! A year later, at a tattoo convention in Madrid, a friend told me he'd been working in Scandinavia and suggested I tried to find something there too, because I was still struggling to find guest spots in Spain. I moved to Sweden that summer and got a job in a walk-in shop. Working every day, and doing a mixture of things, really helped me to develop – and improve my English as well as my tattooing.
And since then?
I lived in Sweden until summer 2016. I was working at Immovable Tattoo with Johan and the guys. One morning, my mum called me and told me she had cancer. I'd just got off the plane from a guest spot in California, and I took a flight straight home to Spain. I was torn, because I wanted to be in Sweden, but I also very much wanted to be with my mum in case something happened. So I moved back to Spain, but I was still living on the road because I couldn't cancel everything I'd arranged and I still had to earn money. Then I met my girlfriend (now fiancée) at the Paradise Tattoo Convention and we've been travelling together ever since.
How is it, being in a relationship with another tattooist?
I remember our first date. We were working in London in the same week – she was at The Family Business and I was at Seven Doors – and we went out for dinner. I couldn't believe how lucky I was. I was sitting in front of this girl, and we were talking about tattoo machines, guest spots and other tattooers, and I was like, 'This is amazing. This is the best thing that can happen to me right now!' I think it's great to be able to share a passion and a way of life. We definitely take our work home with us!
Is tattooing a job, or is it really a way of life?
Some people see tattooing as a job. They go to the studio, they do their thing, they go home and do something else. But tattooing is my life. It's the only thing I want to do. And when I travel, I travel because I want to get inspired by the tattoos, the people, the art, the city. I think travelling is a really important part of the job. If you stay in the same place, you can't move forward. You need to learn from others. Tattooers are never fully developed. I always want to get better at what I do.
Is it a good time to be a tattooist?
That's a complicated question! Being a tattooer is magical. It's an amazing thing to be doing. And it's not just about the tattooing. For me, it's about the opportunities and the encounters, and how they make me grow as a person. I think that's very important. It's my life and I love it. It's certainly a lot easier to get into tattooing nowadays, partly because there's so much information on the internet and tattoo equipment is so readily available, but there are people who want to get into it just for the money, or because they want to stand out from the crowd, or because they think it's a cool thing to do and will make them famous. That's not really my thing.
Tell us how your style came about.
In 2014 when I was working in California there was an exhibition called ‘Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World’ at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. We made a special trip to see it. I knew about Japanese tattooing, and I certainly appreciated its artistry and traditions, but I didn't really understand it. I had a mental block that was like, 'This is too complicated. You'd need to study for years to be able to this.' I was mainly doing traditional, illustrative work, and that's what I’d stuck to – until I went to that exhibition. When I saw those Japanese bodysuits I was blown away! From that day, the only thing I drew was Japanese. I went to San Francisco and bought Japanese reference books, and I studied Japanese imagery and designs. I do what I do because I really like the essence and the roots of Japanese tattooing. The mash-up thing, mixing the cultures, comes from my media and graphic design background. I try to give my own twist to it. But I love traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e art, and I try to use the same colours as you find in the woodblock prints.
What else influences and inspires you?
In terms of tattooers, I really look up to Gordon Claus. He knows so much about Japanese tattoos. I remember on one occasion we were buying original artwork and we were talking about the folklore; the art dealer said something, and Gordon corrected him! Bill Canales is another of my biggest influences. He's been tattooing for more than twenty five years and he's still right in there; he still wants to get better and better! I think that's amazing, because so many people lose the true passion for it (and when that moment arrives you should go and open a coffee shop or do something else...) As for other artistic influences, I recall way back, when I was first tattooing in Sweden, I was looking for reference for a customer's tattoo and I came across the work of Tom of Finland, who is probably best known for his homoerotic illustrations. I combined elements of his style into the tattoo and the customer was so delighted with the result they bought me a book of his work. I started studying it in greater depth; he was an amazing artist, and the way he drew the anatomy of the human body is incredible.
When you combine Japanese with Western elements, are you still mindful of the ‘rules’ within Japanese tattooing?
Yes, and I'm fascinated by that aspect of the work. I was reading a book by Horiyoshi III and he was saying that even for Japanese people to get to know all the stories, to know why this Samurai is wearing this garment at this particular time of year, takes decades. Every element of a design symbolises so much (for example if the warrior was poor, or if it was winter). As Europeans, it's really hard to learn everything. You need to go to Japan, read the books and do the research. I was originally concerned that people might think what I'm doing is disrespectful to the culture. That's certainly not my intention, because I love it so much. But it's impossible to know everything. A Japanese tattooer, born and raised in Japan, will have been absorbing all those stories since childhood. I'm an outsider, but I try my hardest to understand it all.
Do you think that Japanese tattooing is misunderstood in the West?
In some ways, yes. I'll give you an example. Imagine you don't know much about tattooing and you go to a convention. There are two guys showing their bodysuits; one is Japanese and one is realistic. Most people will go crazy for the realistic bodysuit because they feel that it's more difficult to achieve. What they don't realise is the amount of work that goes into the Japanese bodysuit – even just the background! – the hours of drawing, the hours of reading, the trips to Japan to study the culture... to get it looking as close to fully Japanese as it can be.
How much input do your customers have into the design of their tattoos?
I really appreciate it when my customers know a little about Japanese tattoos or Japanese folklore and can point me in the direction of a colour palette, a theme, or a story. I have a customer in Spain who has been to Japan many times and when he comes in to get tattooed he's always really well prepared and informed. There’s a mutual love of the subject. Not everyone knows about the culture, which is why it's sometimes easier to get a portrait of a pop star!
You have a very specific style to your work. Is there a pressure to maintain that?
Sometimes I do feel a pressure, yes. I think that's part of tattooing. We do the tattoos that we are requested to do. This can be hard if people request the same things over and over and over, and it sometimes makes it difficult to go in your own personal direction. We don't always own what we do. In some ways, we belong to 'the people' because they are the ones who decide what is 'cool' in terms of tattooing. But I believe in what I do because I've spent so much time doing the research and making sure my tattoos look good.
With being so popular on social media, are you prone to being 'ripped off'?
Like I said, we don't own anything that we do. I'm probably doing something that some guy did a couple of hundred years ago! Most things have been created already. I don’t know, perhaps in the future someone will be studying what we're doing now. If you look back, you can always see different trends in art. Nowadays, there is really nothing new; it's all a mash-up of what's been done before. It's a bit like fashion in some ways: it comes and goes, comes and goes, comes and goes. When I was eighteen years old, I came to London for the first time. It was the birth of the new rave culture. Everything was neon colours and there were bands like the Klaxons... and I remember thinking, 'This moment is so strong. It will never end.' Then three years later, nobody remembered the Klaxons! All of a sudden, everything disappeared and everyone was wearing plaid shirts!
What are your future plans?
Bill Canales has offered me and my partner a permanent position in the States. I still want to do some travelling, but it will be great to work in the studio with Bill and the firstname.lastname@example.org at Full Circle (where I've been guesting the past five years). It's such a great atmosphere there. I think it's gonna be a good environment to work in, and it will give me the opportunity to build towards larger scale projects. Acetates is on the road and can be contacted through
Could you tell us a little bit about your background?