May 25, 2023
(LOS ANGELES ) — I met Daniela C. in the town of Killarney, in southwestern Ireland, in August 2022. I was on an eight-day road trip with my best friend and we’d decided on the spur of the moment to get tattoos as markers of 15 years of friendship. After a quick Yelp search for shops accepting walk-ins, I found Pachamama Tattoo Studio, which had a 4.5-star rating. It was a black and red building, standing out in a block of mostly neutral-colored buildings.
Inside, past a reception area with black and gray rose-printed wallpaper, and through two swinging doors, we walked into a room with rock en español playing. A handful of tattoo artists were at work, joking with each other in Spanish. Neither Pachamama’s Facebook page nor any review mentioned the Chilean owner or the primarily Spanish-speaking artists. Entering the studio and hearing and conversing in the language of my childhood was a welcome surprise.
Daniela C. first introduced herself and began speaking in short, English phrases. I immediately recognized her Latin-American accent. While discussing the tattoo placement and size, she released a huff and asked, “Do you speak Spanish?”
I answered in the affirmative and she smiled with relief. We switched languages and during my two-hour session, she shared stories about travel, Chile, and her growth as an artist.
We spoke again on the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, after a busy shift tattooing Irish symbolism, and she retold the story of her career growth. She has moved on from Killarney to Galway, where she now works at a studio called Víctor Tattoo with all-female artists from Chile, Brazil, and Poland, a Chilean owner, and a Mexican receptionist.
Daniela C. began drawing as a child in Santiago where her elementary school teacher saw her potential. This teacher referred her to attend the Liceo Experimental Artístico (Experimental Artistic High School) where she continued drawing, painting, and sculpting into her teenage years. At 18, her fascination with artwork met tattoo illustrations.“I became interested in tattoos but not in the sense of tattooing others,” she said. “Rather, I was first interested in getting tattooed by others.”
At age 21, a friend introduced the idea of permanently etching images onto people. He was an artist and appreciated her drawings so much, he bought her a tattooing kit. It was a low-stakes opportunity.
“He told me ‘Let’s try this out and see what happens,’” Daniela C. said.
She enjoyed tattooing more than other painting projects for one main reason: her canvas drawings felt fragile and more difficult to keep track of.
“Sometimes my work would end up in a shop,” explained Daniela C. “Other times they would tear, or they would be given as gifts. Oftentimes, I did not know what happened to many of my paintings.”
However, for Daniela C., tattooing lifelong images onto someone’s skin filled this emptiness.
“Tattooing was not like painting a canvas and putting it in your home to see it sometimes. Tattoos can be shown to the world at whichever moment in whichever situation. You can travel with it, live with it, and share it. This was what made me understand that tattooing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she said.
After this realization, Daniela C. found help from someone else who believed in her work. A friend in Santiago, nicknamed Papelucho, became the guide she needed while navigating a new skill and career. Daniela C. credits him for showing her the step-by-step order of tattooing, correcting her beginner techniques, and pushing her professionally.
“He explained how everything worked because at first, I knew absolutely nothing. I did [tattoos] how I thought was right and after I met him he put order to what I was doing,” she said.
Because of Papelucho, she learned the step-by-step process of tattooing and also formed connections with other artists that greatly contributed to her growth.
Daniela C. greatly appreciated his guidance because, unlike the mentor-apprentice model in the United States, she says this practice was not very common in Chile when she was starting out.
“In Chile, it’s more like, if you are interested [in tattooing] you look for shops to learn and see if there is someone willing to teach you,” she said. “You learn a bit and if that person does not want to continue, you go to another shop and another person teaches you a bit more and you keep practicing and practicing.”
These moments of coaching were vital for her growth and as the years passed, Daniela C. met important artists who helped her improve her skills and gain recognition in the Santiago tattoo scene. Over time, she developed her own style and preferences.
“I always try to create not realism, but an illustration that is easy to recognize. I like to work with fine lines and contrast. If it’s in full color, awesome, but if not, it will always be illustrative,” she said.
Her Instagram account shows vibrant watercolor pieces, pastel pet portraits, and large black and gray Japanese-style dragons with flowers. Daniela C’s portfolio shows she can handle darker themes, such as swords and skulls, just as easily as moths and mermaids.Between 2015 and 2020, Daniela C. co-owned a shop, 7Monsters Tattoo Studio, in Santiago and worked with a team of 10 artists. The pandemic, however, forced its closure in May 2020 and they were unable to reopen it.
An opportunity to join another studio arose in the summer of 2021 when a friend in Ireland invited her to work at his shop for a month.
His invitation came at the right time, as Chile was entering Daniela C.’s least-favorite time of year: summer.
“It has such dry weather,” explained Daniela C., “It has an eternal summer that lasts six months with so much heat and I don’t like the heat.”
She enjoyed a month of cold, rainy Ireland weather and was convinced to stay.
Daniela C.’s migration from Chile to Ireland represents a small percentage of travelers. In 2016, there were only an estimated 200-1,000 individuals from Chile living in the country, according to Ireland’s Central Statistics Office.
In a year with over 535,000 non-Irish nationals calling the country home, her story of swapping hot, dry Santiago for cloudy Galway was not common.
“What attracted me most to Ireland was the lack of [physical] connection because it is very different from Santiago where I lived all my life,” Daniela C. said. “Here there are many landscapes and green areas. On bike, in two hours I pass by a lake, mountains, and a park. There is not much contamination. The air feels great. It’s the complete opposite of Santiago.”
Since May 2022, Daniela C. has worked in Ireland under a student visa. She currently studies English at an international university on the island’s west coast in Galway.
School is her least favorite part of living abroad, yet she appreciates the mandatory practice.
Her classmates are from places like Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Japan, and Mongolia. The students’ linguistic barriers and demographic diversity have pushed her academically.
“I feel like I’ve learned more because I don’t have instances to speak in Spanish [with classmates]. Here, it’s either you speak English or you speak English,” she said with a laugh.
Living in a country with English as the official language, and where an estimated 15,000 people out of five million speak Spanish, presents plenty of practice opportunities. Yet, Daniela C. struggles with confidence and fluidity.
“I’m still embarrassed to talk…I think in Spanish, I translate it to English, and then I speak,” she said. “The communication can be a bit slow.”
Outside of the classroom, she converses with English-speaking clients so they can relax while they get tattoos. This acts as their distraction just as much as it helps her language proficiency. “It’s the only way to get better,” Daniela C. said.Before arriving in Ireland, Daniela C. tattooed in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland while she owned her studio. She’s noticed which tattoo trends were popular in certain countries and climates. In Ireland, Daniela C. noticed that locals and tourists choose designs as a way of connecting with their roots. “Every week I tattoo shamrocks and Celtic symbols,” she said.
In her experience, this differs from colder climates, such as Scandinavia, where dark imagery of monsters and skulls are popular, and more tropical places like Brazil where full color and floral pieces are in demand.
Regardless of the country or design, her main goal is to meet her customer’s demands. She firmly disapproves of artists forcing clients into changing their initial illustration or refusing to do a piece because they do not like someone’s idea.
“I do not pressure people into getting only my drawings done. Rather, I try to do what they want. Because at the end of the day, they are the ones who will take the tattoo with them for the rest of their lives, not me,” Daniela C. said.
This means she doesn’t always tattoo in her preferred full-color, illustrative style. Something notable while she builds credibility after relocating from a previous studio three hours away.
Aside from the difficulties of language learning and gaining trusted clients, Daniela C. considers herself extremely lucky to have not had negative encounters based on her nationality or gender.
As a woman working in a male-dominated field, she has never felt excluded, deprived of opportunities, or treated differently. However, she has worked in studios where she heard derogatory comments directed at other potential employees.
“Guys would often say ‘I don’t want to work with a woman, they only bring problems.’ I heard that while working in various places,” Daniela C. said. “They would say ‘We already have you so we are okay.’ I was the quota for having a woman worker.”
Similarly, women she encountered throughout her travels, conventions, and at different studios have shared their experiences with discrimination.
“Many of my female colleagues have histories that are super different from mine. They were not welcomed at certain shops, they were mistreated, or their work was not valued. They were seen [by male tattoo artists] as less of an artist than a man,” she said.
In contrast, Daniela C. felt comfortable and welcomed in all the places she has worked in, even when she was often the only woman on a team.
Now, for the first time in her life, she works in a studio with all female artists. While this is new, she enjoys this space as much as other tattoo shops she has worked at.
Daniela C. anticipates working at Víctor Tattoo until her visa expires in May 2024. In the next thirteen months, she will take additional English classes and attend tattoo conventions in France or Switzerland and possibly compete, something she has not done before.She feels more prepared for competitions because she finds joy in her work.
“[Tattooing] is the best thing that could have happened to me in life, really. Through tattoos, I have met marvelous people and incredible places,” she said. “I have been able to do this plentifully. I just have to demonstrate the only thing I know how to do: draw and paint.”