Interview: Get Nature Under Your Skin With Tattooist Samantha Mancino

The more human society alienates itself from nature, the more individuals are finding ways to reconnect. Surrounding yourself with art inspired by vegetation and animals is one step. Inserting it inside your body is a whole another level. Samantha Mancino is an artist specializing in tattoo. For many, tattooing is mainly a body decoration, generated by trends. But not for Samantha, who mixes spirituality with her ink. The American artist is fascinated by flora and fauna and she immortalizes their beauty and power with black and grey tattoos. Her creations are realistic, with subtle details rendered by fine line technique, but they are also working as talismans.

She tells Beautiful Bizarre Magazine:

“This centuries-old concept of translating a scope of infinite concepts such as love, death, rebirth, power, strength, etc. into natural imagery is something that seems to drive my tattoo process and collaboration with my clients.”

We settled down with nature enthusiast Samantha Mancino to discuss the most permanent form of wearable art and how nature is not skin-deep.

Samantha Mancino

Can you tell me more about you as well your artistic/aesthetic education and career?

I turn 29 in late July; I grew up in Florida but lived on the west coast for 10 years. My education in art began with my Grandmother, who I spent most of my childhood around. She was a Swiss woman who had been a painter, amongst other things, art was very important to her. I went to a public high school with a free art magnet program, which really taught me how to approach drawing with discipline and focus. I attended an art college for a couple semesters, but dropped out to learn how to tattoo, which became my career. I have been tattooing for 10 years this summer.

What is your philosophy, both in life and in art?

Personally and artistically, I value integrity, the natural world, and independence. Making art helps me process and meditate on the value of these things, and my trade allows me a lifestyle centered around them.

How would you describe your style?

Detailed, textured, organic, and minimal… my only aim is to highlight what I’m seeing, render the beauty we experience.

What kind of mediums do you use? How are they different/completing each others?

Graphite, pen and ink, but I am mostly tattooing. I enjoy larger work as well, using tough materials that will survive the elements- house paint, spray paint, one-shot. There is a different thought process for every medium, but laying out the bones of a piece feels the same, no matter the size, considering the balance between detail and space. Tattooing as a medium has unique parameters, biological limitations; there is movement, curving, warping, etc. It taught me to edit, simplify, and prioritize negative space. Using a needle to build up values feels like painting with a cat whisker. Because of the level of attention to detail in my work, I have started to enjoy giving ink on paper a little room to breathe, playing more with lightness and contrast. Every time I try a new approach in one medium, I gain an insight into the other.

How do you get involved with tattoo art and what attracted you in this art?

Getting involved usually begins with an apprenticeship and it requires sacrifice and patience. I was attracted to the idea of an individual-based trade, fascinated by the art itself, and obsessed with the mystery and challenge. It is a physical, mental, and emotional process that is as exhausting as it is fulfilling. I never get tired of it.

Nature is the main focus of your art, could you explain why?

There are two reasons, outside and inside: « Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, as vital to our lives as water and good bread » I think Edward Abbey expresses it more gracefully than I could. I love translating natural beauty into a visual language: using flora and fauna to tell a story, to mirror what we perceive in ourselves, and the world around us.

Is there a spiritual/transformative dimension in your art, especially in your perception of tattoo art?

I understand spirituality as a powerful force, that intertwines with our strongest emotions : love, happiness, fear, grief, etc. We transform through these experiences in unseen ways. A tattoo can be a physical marker of a personal evolution or traumatic experience. I think it’s validating to have something intangible made visible, permanently. But you have to reduce these huge concepts, experiences, memories, feelings to an image ; in art and tattooing, everything for me is a symbol .

What are your references, influences and sources of inspiration?

I obsessively collect images of plants and animals; I have killed a computer before with my digital hoarding. When I need inspiration for a composition, I look through Ukiyo-e or Art Nouveau prints. Growing up, I spent a lot of time drawing and painting at my grandma’s little apartment : it was furnished with worn Persian rugs, lanky philodendrons, flowering snapdragons, and beat up black lacquer Japanese furniture from the 1950s, along with a few acrylic landscape paintings by herself and a Berthe Morisot print. I was exposed very young to the Impressionists, Klimt, Erte, and Hiroshige. I spend as much time as I can outdoors. I’ve found a lot of beauty while walking my dogs. Hiking inspires me, seeing as much of an ecosystem as I can -what thrives together. There is a balance I want to recreate. As much as I love nature, I am attracted to cities – the energy, clientele I am lucky to work with, the pace, people to learn from – it’s a source of motivation, and inspiration as well. Creativity seems to thrive in hubs.

What is your process when creating an artwork, both on paper and on skin?

I will think about a certain drawing or tattoo for a long time before I put it on paper, sometimes months… whether it starts with an animal I saw, a tattoo request, or something from a dream. Every piece starts with an attempt to capture movement through a series of gesture drawings. Rhythm and composition are the foundation for everything. After that, I lay out the values in sections, and gradually build up dimension and texture.

What are your next projects?

One month I ago, I moved cross-country from Los Angeles to Miami. My goal is to find a complementary balance between an art practice and tattooing here. I want to learn more, spend more time outside. I have a series in mind, ideas for larger scale tattoos; I just need to get them on paper.


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