Something about realism tattoos are just unexplainably satisfying. Every time without fail, they lure in onlookers with their vivid color palettes and mesmerizing detail. Amidst all who specialize in this technique, no one does it quite like Julia Penza. Hailing from Russia, Penza has always had an unbreakable attraction to art. From thinking outside the box for drawing assignments in class to opening up an art school, Penza has never let this part of her soul die. Now, she’s continuing her artistic evolution as a tattooer who creates stunningly intricate pieces. We were able to catch up with Penza about her unconventional path to becoming a tattoo artist, what attracts her to realism and the nitty gritty of how she creates her gorgeous works.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about who you are?
My name is Julia Penza, I am 39. I’m from Russia and have been living in the USA for six-and-a-half years. I have been drawing since childhood, my grandmother was an artist. As a child, I looked at her work and admired it, but it so happened that I graduated from an aviation college with a degree in aircraft manufacturing. Then I received a university education in the field of management and for many years worked as a manager in the IT field. Then I was drawn to creativity, and in parallel began to draw portraits for commission. After moving to the USA, I worked as an art teacher in a private school, and then one month before COVID, I opened my own art school. COVID messed up my plans. Instead of face-to-face teaching, I had to conduct online classes and pay rent for my art school. At the end of the lease, I had to close the school. After that, for three years I have been working as a tattoo artist. For the past one-and-a-half years I have been working at Dave Bautista and John Kural’s shop, DC Society Ink.
When did you first become interested in art?
From childhood. Even in kindergarten, we were given simple tasks to draw something, but I always tried to complicate them. For example, everyone had to outline squirrels, but I drew fluffy ones. Once at school, my teacher did not believe that I drew the drawing myself in the lesson and asked me to redraw it again.
What made you want to become a tattooer?
I saw an announcement about the search for a painter and responded to it. It turned out that the studio was looking for apprentices. During our conversation, I decided to try to learn. I never dreamed of being a tattoo artist, I was afraid that the tattoo industry would force me to get tattoos on my body. I’m glad I didn’t succumb to stereotypes. Therefore, I am a tattoo artist without tattoos. I believe that tattoos on a person’s body do not make them the best tattoo artist, only their portfolio can speak about the quality of the work.
How did you come to find your current style? What drew you to color and black-and-grey realism?
I can’t say that I’ve decided on just one style. I work in absolutely any style. Some I like more, some less. But I would emphasize that my work is more refined and delicate. I love complex work, this is a kind of challenge to my abilities. Color realism is one of the most difficult styles, so I like to work in this style.
What is the most difficult aspect of working in realism?
Working with people’s different skin types and pain tolerances. Redness of the skin does not work with light shades of ink. Pain-relieving creams increase redness and make the skin overly sensitive to paint over.
What are some tattoo motifs you’d rather never do again?
Traditional style, Polynesian style. They’re boring for me.
Do you think it’s important to be well-rounded in many different tattoo styles?
I love versatility. It all depends on the ability of the artist. If an artist can work in different styles, then mastering each style will benefit his development, as well as help him reach clients. If an artist is good at a certain style, then there is no need to torture yourself. Let them work in the style that works best.
Would you ever change your tattoo style? Is there a style you’d want to try out in the future?
I can work in all styles. My soul lies in color realism and micro realism. I would like to improve my level in these styles over time.
How do you find your references? How do you find a way to make popular culture references your own?
I work with client requests. They describe their idea and at that moment a rough image of the design is born in my head. I take pictures from the internet and start reworking them and making designs out of them. I draw something myself. Clients often ask me to make small changes or completely change the concept, so I don’t draw designs from scratch. This takes a lot of time.
Where do you see your art going in the future? Do you work in any mediums other than tattooing?
I recently participated in my first convention and got first place in two categories. I like this job. I hope to become quite a popular artist and maybe be able to open my own tattoo school.
What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a tattoo artist?
Most likely, I would have reopened an art school.