Looking at Manuela Soto’s work makes me completely fan girl the f*** out. The long nails, the hoop earrings, the tears and sparkles...I love it all. And her style makes me miss Los Angeles like crazy. Before I moved to NY, I’d often drive down to Venice Beach, blasting 90’s hip hop, dressed to the nines like I was some kinda poor man’s Lana Del Rey. One glance at Soto's gorgeous gals, and I'm immediately transported back to those days of palm trees and sun. For me, Soto Gang's work is incredibly nostalgic...it even reminds me of being a kid, watching Sailor Moon and hoping I would grow up to be a strong warrior princess too.
And that’s the best part about Soto Gang’s work: it’s completely body and sex positive. The women she illustrates are the supreme beings so many people look to for personal inspiration, anime idols included. And while her characters may get down and dirty, they decide when, with who and how. Her powerful aesthetic choices help with this: it’s like Aaliyah mixed with kawaii hentai and sultry Chicanx culture plus much more. Soto’s diverse inspirations develop personifications that almost anyone can use as a mirror to reflect their best selves. Looking at these fearless goddess babes, you totally want to be one of them and then you realize that you are.
Her work is empowering, as well as healing, and there’s a good reason for that: she knows what it’s like. Soto Gang’s relatable appeal may come in the form of tattoos and badass clothing, but her background fully supports the artistic creations and compassionate connections she tirelessly produces. Soto has built a worldwide sensation where it’s okay to cry one day, and make the world your bitch the next.
JM: How and why did you get into tattooing? What do you think, as far as your past, background or upbringing, supported your artistic career?
MS: I graduated art school in illustration and had been working in the skateboard and streetwear industry. I bought a tattoo machine on ebay once...A year later I was invited to tattoo at Art Basel, Miami and another year later I was being trained by Maxime Plescia-Buchi at Sang Bleu in London.
I truly believe in destiny and that whatever is made for you will find you. Tattooing was definetly not expected!
Your work is so inspiring, partly because it’s incredibly forward thinking in how sex positive and body positive it is. How did you become so self-confident and what advice do you have for others who are trying to do the same? Do you hope that your designs inspire others to embrace body/sex positive outlooks?
Being a survivor of sexual abuse, I grew up very disconnected from my body. My mind works very logically so I used to draw bodies over and over, in attempt to finally get it, kinda like mathematics. It took me a lot of time to understand how to approach the power of my body and sexuality.
My work is more of a therapy for me, it's about seeing yourself from another angle, from a victim into a badass survivor bitch. I'm beyond blessed that so many woman are coming to me with this same wish to reconnect with their bodies, see themselves beautiful through the eyes of somebody else.
At the end of the day, you choose who you want to be.
Your work in other fields, such as fashion, is totally aesthetically seamless and coherent. Fashion in particular seems to be a really important part of your personal artistic outlet. How did you get into fashion and what designers or styles inspire you?
A lot of my followers just like my drawings, not everybody want's to get tattooed so I started putting way more merch out, released my first collection «Goddess» last year as well as a wonderful collection in collaboration with LeftHand LA.
I love Christopher Kane or Zizi Donohoe but I stay in my tracksuit. Lol, I'm always covered in ink or on a plane.
I read somewhere that a lot of your portraits are based on the clients themselves. Do you have them send you selfies, or do you sketch while they’re there? What is the process like, and how do you so perfectly capture their essence and personality?
Yes, absolutely! I always ask for reference pictures and then create the drawing with the person. They get to choose the position, mood, clothes and hair style, literally everything! The beautiful thing is that this portrait can represent any part of you, it aint just about your features, it's about your secrets and your fantasies.
As woman we are taught, at a certain extent, to hide our personality, to fit into boxes: the mother, the saint or the hoe. We build so many walls that what we consider our realself doesn't always match with the person we are in our everyday life or our internet personalities, that is why the pictures customers send me before the appointment are so important, I wish to connect, understand them and their aesthetic better.
You’ve flawlessly adapted the art forms of anime and manga to express your personal voice, as well as your clients. How did you develop your style over the years, and why were you so drawn to anime?
When I was little, I was 100% sure I was the real Sailor Mars, then I was obsessed with Sporty Spice...funny because all my work is a perfect mix of those two.
I'm not particularly an anime freak but fell in love with the hentaï aesthetic. Voluptuous curves, sweat drops and the colors, it really speaks to me and I wish to translate this feeling into my drawings. I really love the results of mixing anime inspo with fine line tattooing.
What does the future look like for you? Any collabs, mediums, or artists who you hope to work with this year?
Looking forward to my solo art show at Lubov Gallery in New York this spring and for the world to see the new merch I designed for ABRA. Also very exited to be moving to Los Angeles this summer, so I can get even moooore work done!!!