MimiSama is an up-and-coming tattoo artist based in San Francisco who has developed a unique style of tattooing that blends traditional and modern asian influences. Known for her line work and precise touch, Mimi-Sama is quickly gaining popularity in the tattoo world for her unique style.
The human exchange remains the engine of her passion. She takes the time to really understand her clients, and gets to the root of the stories they are trying to tell or the passion they want to share through their tattoos. It’s one of the reasons why she returned to the tattoo roots with the use of tebori techniques. More human and less machine.
As a result, she is able to truly resonate with her clients and her agenda is getting busier and busier in the Bay Area. She’s eager to see more of the US and to go back on the road with several tattoo conventions where she’ll try to gather more awards. We were able to catch her shortly after she took home a prize at The Empire State Tattoo Convention to get some insight into her artistic worldview.
What inspired you to become a tattoo artist?
I’ve always been passionate about art and creating something special for people. When I found out there was an opportunity to combine my love of art with my desire to help people express themselves, I knew I had to give it a try. Through hard work, dedication and practice, I was able to hone my skills and eventually become a tattoo artist.
There’s also this idea of bringing something important to people. I know it’s just tattoos and it won’t change everything in the world, but it’s important to the individuals who get their tattoos for life. So in their perspective, the job of the tattoo artist is something very important. It can influence their relation to their body, their confidence.
What is your favorite type of tattoo to create?
I would say the hand-poked tattoo pieces. I really love the whole process of doing tebori tattoos. I love pop culture, but at the same time, I try to be less dependent on technology. My art is expressed through my hands, and I wanted to reduce the part of the machine in the results. So I kept the part where the machine exceeded man’s abilities—like the linework or some shading techniques. I learnt all by myself once again, even how to prepare the wooden sticks.
I really have this idea of a timeless tattoo that unifies the best of the technology and the best the human can bring. The colors are much brighter when they are done with only hands and stick compared to the use of the machine. On the other hand, the linework needs exactitude and the machine is perfect for that. I don’t want to throw away all the modern learnings, just link them to the roots of our art by creating something that is my own but accessible to others.
What precautions do you take to ensure the safety of your clients?
I have a background in nurse studies, so I have always been very cautious when it comes to the safety of my tools and practices. I prepare my machines, sticks and workspace myself, to ensure that everything is clean to my standards. Traveling to many places, I have been very surprised by the hygiene habits of some artists.
So I apply the most advanced standards I am aware of to be sure the client is safe, that I am safe and also that the tattoo can be done in the right environment. If for any reason, the client or I feel uncomfortable or stressed, I prefer to call the session off and postpone. It’s teamwork, everyone needs to be 100%!
When it comes to hand-poked techniques or tebori techniques, as I explained, I build and assemble everything myself. Every hand tool is single-use, and I only start these special sessions if the client and I are in great dispositions.
How have trends in tattoo art changed over the years?
You can see that it changes in so many ways. Technically, the lines became thinner, the shades smoother, the colors brighter—of course it gave birth to many new art ambitions. Some styles are still not completely defined like micro realism or minimalism. What I like is that we really redefine what a tattoo should look like and for the best. Our comprehension of this secular art just expanded over the last decade and it’s not over yet. I, myself, specialize in manga tattoo, which is now a well-established tattoo style. It has its own codes, techniques and stars. When it could have been considered by some, years ago, like a fantasist tattoo.
What advice would you give to someone considering getting a tattoo?
I would say to really think about it. The best is to give the idea some time. Because with time, comes pros and cons, but also improvements to your initial project. Time also allows you to choose the right artist with the right style and skills. Some people get tattoos in a blink of an eye, and still love them for years. It’s just that waiting a bit of extra time to get what you really want is worth it.
What has been the most rewarding experience of your career as a tattoo artist?
I feel like I have had a lot of rewarding experiences: I’ve won awards, worked in so many different places, had clients traveling from far away just for my work. At the end of the day, the clients’ trust to give a part of them to let me express my skills and art is my biggest pride. And the feeling of seeing my tattoo work keep on getting better, more precise, more controlled and cleaner, even after years in the industry, is very rewarding.
How do you stay up to date on the latest tattoo trends?
Now we don’t even need to stay up to date, the social network companies do the work for us. By following my favorite artists and tattoo conventions and other events, I receive more than my share of suggestions and trends. My concern is more about being able to clear a little bit the noise and focus on what really moves me as a tattoo artist. But like everyone, I look forward to the trends and new techniques to challenge my own art.
What do you enjoy most about being a tattoo artist?
I guess I just enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with seeing the end result of my work. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but seeing a client walk away with something I created always gives me a sense of pride.
Of course, receiving the attention of people because of what I do is always a pleasure. Same goes with receiving distinctions like convention awards. It’s always special to be recognized by your peers. It’s all about craftsmanship and we need each other to push the limits of our art.
What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your career?
The challenges have been numerous. Partly because I am quite an independent personality at work. I am not afraid of launching myself into the unknown and taking risks to achieve my goals. So I started my own studio in Paris after less than one year of experience. I closed it when I could successfully work on the road, tattooing in more than 15 countries in six years. Some work experiences have been bliss, others a pure challenge, but I am very proud to have been able to export my skills in so many countries and tattoo so many people from everywhere. And finally, I work now in one of the best tattoo parlors in California. So along the way, it was a ton of ups and downs, all very important to grow and be who I am today.
How do you ensure your clients are satisfied with their tattoos?
With time, I realize that the most important part is the preparation of the project with the client. The discussions help to ensure that the tattoo artist and the client are on the same page when it comes to the design, size, placement and any other important details. Additionally, those conversations will help to build trust and ensure that the client feels comfortable and confident in the tattoo artist’s abilities and professionalism. So I listen to them and help them go to the core of their idea. Once the tattoo is done, the potential touch-ups are included in the price. I try to stay available as much as I can.
You recently won an award at the Empire State Tattoo Convention in New York. Can you tell us more about it?
Yeah it is crazy when you think about it. I was supposed to work at the convention and book like I always do with many customers. But I had an opportunity to work on a full leg project so I thought it could be fun to try and enter the competition. I created a piece around the character Jorōgumo, a creature from Japanese folklore. It’s a sort of spider monster who can shapeshift into a beautiful woman to trap humans. It was a piece with gold colors so it was a nice challenge! It came out that I won the 2nd best Asian Influence category, which is a big achievement when you see the quality displayed during the competition.
You are now established in San Francisco, but among the countries you lived in, which one struck you the most?
It is true that I settled myself in the Bay, I really love life here. But I did travel a lot, I probably still travel more often than the average. Since I closed my shop in Paris at the end of 2015, I have worked in more than 15 countries and probably visited twice as many more than that. The country I enjoyed the most was probably Japan. It’s quite obvious when you look at what I do. I have always been interested in Japanese culture but living and working there boosted my passion and creativity!
You recently explored tattooing without a machine. How is it different and what are you looking for?
During my travels, I had the opportunity to witness some traditional Japanese tebori, with a wooden stick. Two things struck me. First, I knew I would dive someday into this different tattoo world. Second, if I wanted to do it, I should do it my way. It’s traditionally been a man’s world, and it still is to this day, and I could not turn my back on everything the tattoo machine can bring.
So I design specific pieces where the hand-poked techniques can shine. One advantage of the tebori, is that colors are usually brighter, as you damage the skin less. It brings light and shadow where you want them to be. I keep the machine only for the linework, because it’s cleaner and more precise.
I already have several tattoos inked this way in my portfolio and I am very happy about the result, and it would be different without the use of hand-poked tattoo techniques. Pokemon is a theme I love to play with but I had requests for One Piece, Cowboy Bebop or more ornamental tattoos. In the future, I want to put more of my time and energy into this style because it sums up a lot of things important for me in the tattoo. Japanese pop culture is always present, I bring some of my personal touch with the use of patterns, and I can ink colors I know will take the place they’re supposed to.
What are some of your next steps moving forward?
Winning an award at the Empire State Tattoo Convention gave me the will to do even better next time. Everything didn’t go perfectly during those three days, and it was the first time I designed and tattooed such a big piece (from hip to ankle) in such a short time. Thanks to my client who endured everything like a champ! I can make adjustments next time to present something even better. Winning or losing is not the real challenge, but to show to the profession the best you’ve got. So you’ll probably see me in a few conventions next year, stay tuned!