A prodigious talent that is already making a mark on the community with her incredibly detailed tattooed Kewpie babes, Sofia Ripper took some time to talk about her background and beginnings with Tattoodo. If the steady hand behind the illustrative old school and traditional work on the plastic skin isn't already apparent, we'll surely be signing up in her books soon enough!
What is your artistic background? What are your first memories of tattoos?
My grandmother was a printmaker and my brother is an artist as well so I was naturally inclined to be artistic. I originally wanted to be an illustrator but I ended up taking one printmaking class and fell in love with the medium while in college. So I have my undergraduate in printmaking. What’s funny is I was just talking to my aunt and she was saying how when I was around 5, I was explaining to her how I wanted a giant butterfly tattoo across my back. It just made me so happy to think that I’ve always been aesthetically drawn to tattoos even as a child.
When did you decide to become a tattoo apprentice and why did you want Adam Vu Noir to be your mentor? What has the experience been like for you?
I always wanted to tattoo, but I never thought it would happen as organically as it did. What happened was I got tattooed by Adam and we talked a lot about art and life in general. I wanted to get tattooed by him because I thought it was so insane that he traveled the world for his job. Which is what I want to do too so I was inherently drawn to him. So we got along the whole appointment and he was mentioning that he needed an assistant for his pop-up, Strangelove LA, and that’s how our relationship started. He started with me tattooing a Kewpie that he carried in his backpack across Asia. Then it just grew from there to me becoming his apprentice.
I was very lucky to have Adam become my mentor because he was an artist that I not only admired his work but also his decision to travel so much. When we met I also found out he had a fine arts background which is evident in his work. I got really lucky finding someone who has a similar education as I do but also can draw from his travels and many years of tattooing to teach me.
Adam does everything 100% and it’s unreal because he completely immerses himself in everything he does. He’s teaching me every aspect of tattooing from its history to the 21st century business aspects. His approach to having me tattoo the Kewpie dolls was to teach me how to set up and get all of the technical aspects down and also to have a niche and something different for people to appreciate. I am not done with my apprenticeship and I know that I have so much more to learn from him and will be forever grateful for each lesson he teaches me.
What style of tattooing are you most attracted to? What artists, tattoo oriented or not, are the ones who inspire you most?
I am attracted to black and grey on my body just because I would go fucking crazy trying to match my outfit to my tattoos everyday. But I love color and other styles because of their technical aspects. I feel like you don’t have to want to wear a tattoo to be like damn that’s clean and the artist killed it.
I am inspired by so many different tattoo artists and also fine artists because of their pioneering contributions to art. I think you need to be respectful of the past and realize what other people have created and endured to make this art form what it has evolved to today. But on a personal level, I am inspired by artists who love to talk about art, share ideas and experiences. My favorite is when you love and respect an artist’s work and you meet them in person and they are just as cool. That’s what I strive to be like. I don’t want people to be bummed out because I have a big head
Your awesome tattooed Kewpie dolls are already a huge favorite within the tattoo community and I love all the creepy captions that go with them! Where did this idea stem from? What is the process like creating them?
Thank you so much! I’m glad people are enjoying them! Tattooing the kewpies was all Adam’s idea and at first was just for me to practice in general but then I bought more Kewpies and they became assignments like the second doll I tattooed is all redrawn flash from the book Revisited: A Tribute to Flash from the Past. Each doll before the small ones had a purpose and lessons attached to them and that’s why they have such a strong sentimental value to me. Then I started doing the small Lil’ kewpies that I just wanted to have designs that appeal to everyone. The process is way different from tattooing skin because I can walk away and go back and touch things up so I have a lot to learn with transitioning from doll to skin.
Being an apprentice takes an insane amount of work, but what do you do when you’re not working in the shop? How do you maintain motivation?
I just graduated college so the past year I was only working when Adam was in LA so the work was condensed into when he was here. And when he wasn’t in town, I was tattooing dolls and drawing on my free time and going to school. Now I am just working everyday on the dolls and working on designs. It is kind of hard to stay motivated when you are working from home and I’m not going to a shop everyday but it is rewarding in itself to finish a tattoo and be proud of it. So that’s really what keeps me motivated is seeing everyday how I am getting faster and more accurate with every tattoo I do and it’s like I’m challenging myself.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received? Best advice you’ve ever given?
One of the best pieces of advice that has stuck with me is something my brother told me when I was little. And it happened when I was 12 and my brother took me to a Juxtapoz exhibit in Laguna and it was called In the Land of Retinal Delights: The Juxtapoz Factor. This was my first vivid memory of seeing “lowbrow” art that was not just still life and I remember being so in awe. Seeing art that was not the cultural normative like fine art was like a spiritual experience for me because I was seeing the art that was in my head. My brother even bought me a poster because I was so amazed. He told me the best way to find my “style” or figure out what I liked to draw is to just lock yourself in a room and start drawing and you’ll find out who you are as an artist, although that advice made me go through a phase of drawing spongebob on everything in the 4th grade. I think knowing what art and designs you yourself naturally gravitate towards is important for any artist starting out.
I feel like at my age, advice is just other peoples' that I have observed and regurgitated. But I guess if I had to choose anything it would be to not take everything so seriously. It takes the fun out of life. Sometimes you have to fuck up to realize what you really want.
What does success mean to you? What are your hopes for the future?
Success to me will be when I am able to freely create the content and art that makes me happy. To me happiness is the only thing we can control in this world so why let myself live in an environment and setting that is upsetting. But saying this I am so happy with how my career is already heading and I haven’t even finished my apprenticeship. I could have never imagined how well received the dolls have been. I feel successful everyday because I get to learn more and create more. Eventually it would be unreal to go to a tattoo shop and have one of my Kewpies on display. Adding to the history of tattooed kewpies and having the respect and admiration of other artists already means so much to me. I am so excited for what the future holds and where I can go with tattooing.