The Colour of Magic - Ivana

Published: 26 March, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 223, April, 2013

Ivana is a tattooist from Slovakia specialising in eye-popping colour work which is so vibrant it practically jumps off the skin. Having recently finished up a guest spot at Modern Body Art, she has been going back to her roots to create tattoos with more of a street art flavour, referencing the graffiti she used to do in her younger days.

Without a fine art background, Ivana came to tattooing through a general love of art she has had since childhood, which saw her sticking pictures to her skin and drawing on herself with marker pen to look like the tattooed models in magazines. After being offered a job in a friend’s studio, Ivana started trying out her tattooing skills and found herself immediately hooked.

“I decided that tattooing was going to be my job pretty much that day. Tattooing really came to me. I never thought I would be doing something like that in my life. It was love at first sight, and I love it more every day.”

Ivana’s artwork is a mix of realism and fantasy, and the striking colours and graphic style are what really defines it. Interestingly, she didn’t always draw like this, and was actually not using colour at all in the early days. She is continually experimenting with techniques and mixing things up to keep her work as fresh as possible.

“In the beginning of my career I was only doing black and grey tattoos, but later on I became more and more attracted to colours,” she explains. “I was experimenting to the point where I sort of developed my own style.

“I look at the tattoo I did yesterday and I would change it today. At the moment I am doing more ‘street art’ looking tattoos. I was a bit bored of doing realistic looking designs and I have gone back to my roots.”

As well as creating tattoos which look like art, “not like stickers”, which flow nicely and sit well on the wearer’s body, Ivana channels her own moods and state of mind into many of her designs, making those pieces especially memorable.

“Some tattoos I have created are a reflection of my soul. That is when I feel a piece is very special to me. When I feel down, I want to create something beautiful. The tattoo is the exact opposite of what I am feeling at that moment in many cases. I use lots of pastel colours; I bring lots of light into it. I am creating this beautiful world I want to be in at that moment.”

One of the challenges of working with bright colour is trying to make sure it stays bright. Finding the right balance of light and shade is crucial to creating tattoos with longevity, Ivana explains. She uses white ink as a highlighter or to create a 3D effect, and mixes white ink with other colours to create graduated shading effects.

She also tries to put as much black into her work as possible. “Black is the base, and it is very important. Even though I use bright colours, the contrast has to be there to hold it together over time.”

Ivana manages to achieve deep saturation of colour in the skin by taking time over her tattoos, going back for several passes to build the intensity of the shading. Even when she is tattooing a relatively small design, she will aim to spend at least two sessions working on it to create depth in the colours. “It’s like painting; you need to add more layers of ink to make it look the way you want.”

Her designs are edgy but still quite feminine, and her mixed customer base shows they have a broad appeal. I ask her what it has been like for her, making her mark as a woman in what has up until fairly recently been a male-dominated industry. Is there still gender discrimination in tattooing?

Ivana says although she did experience some macho behaviour towards her early on in her career, things are very different these days, and she finds the true artists treat each other as such, regardless of whether they are male or female.

“For me it’s all about art and sharing and it doesn’t matter who you are. A real artist will never judge or look at you any different. There’s this thing called respect which everyone should have, no matter how good you are or where are you coming from. I don’t have narrow-minded people around me anymore. More customers want a female tattoo artist and it’s both guys and girls. At the end of the day for me it’s all about people, not gender.”

The female experience in the close-knit world of tattooing is not what it used to be, and really, how could it fail to evolve and become more progressive, given the explosion in popularity the tattoo scene has experienced since the 1990s?

Ivana has an interesting perspective on tattooing’s huge shift into the mainstream, given she is a native of Slovakia. Eastern Europe has traditionally been more conservative and less accepting of tattoos because of their negative associations with fringe sub-cultures, convicts and other ‘undesirables’. But in recent years the country has been even less immune to the siren song of body art than its northern European neighbours.

For the last two years, Ivana has been spending more time in Slovakia after a period living in Australia and being on the road as a nomadic tattooist. She is often surprised when she returns to her home country, by how much things have changed.

“I didn’t even know how dramatically the Slovakian tattoo scene had evolved since I left. 12 years ago when I started tattooing, there weren’t many tattoo shops or tattoo artists in the whole country. These days, you can find a shop in every city, but there are only a few good ones. People are becoming more open-minded, and the tattoo business is definitely getting bigger and more popular every day.

“Tattoos were taboo for such a long time in my country as the majority of people associated them with prisoners. This way of thinking is definitely changing now. People appreciate it more, especially a job beautifully done – even grandmothers love it.”

She adds that visible tattoos are still not fully accepted in the workplace, although this is not unique to Eastern Europe, of course. Ivana is convinced these restrictions will become a thing of the past and people will be able to tattoo themselves freely when tattooing reaches critical mass.    

But how much bigger can the scene really get? Tattooing permeates so many aspects of popular culture, and certainly can’t be described as a fringe activity anymore. This is mostly a good thing, but along with the growth in popularity has come an inevitable increase in the number of unscrupulous studio owners out to make a fast buck, with little regard to quality of work.

“The tattoo scene has changed so much, especially during the past ten years. It kind of felt like a revolution how rapidly things improved. Lots of people started doing it purely for business – they lost perception when it comes to quality of work,” Ivana comments.

The watering down of quality can come with mass production of any commodity, but the tattoo world can be saved by the artists who continue to break the mould. Ivana says tattooing will continue to evolve as this crop of young, talented artists takes the art form in a new direction.

“I like to see this new generation of artists who are pushing the boundaries, who are trying to create new, unseen things, who are playing with designs, tools, ideas. It is amazing and in a way I feel like there’s no limit.

“I also see the progress in attitude of some people towards tattoos. Society is becoming more open minded, and people in general are starting see tattooing more and more like an art.”

Being able to make art for a living is a wonderful thing for those talented enough to do it, and Ivana says she is thankful for the lifestyle she lives as a tattooist. “Tattooing gives me the freedom I need, it takes me to many wonderful places. Through my work I have met many interesting people, I constantly learn new things. But, above all, tattooing is like healing to my soul. I am so grateful.”

There are downsides too though, including the pressure of having so many new people coming through the door and having to come up with an individual approach for each one. Another issue is the fact tattoos are luxuries, and it is up to the artist to make their work irresistible to the customer.

“Tattooing is not something people need in everyday life, it’s something they want,” Ivana says. “We have to do our best to keep them attracted.”

Narcissistic Rockstar

Ivana recently published a book of her artwork, entitled Narcissistic Rockstar. This 120-page book contains tattoos, illustrations, graphic design and photos, with some snippets of text to give you an insight into her thoughts and where she finds inspiration. You can find details of the book on Ivana’s Facebook page or through


Text: Hannah Smith; Photography: Ivana


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