Known for her incredible and empowering work doing transformative cover up tattoos, Marta Madrigal is a master of shape shifting, optical illusions, and playing with art on the body like few others. In this interview, Marta Madrigal was kind enough to give a look into how she got into tattooing, her family ties to the tattoo community, and how she uses the tattoo medium to help others.
How did you get into tattooing and why were you drawn to it?
My beginnings were completely different to other tattoo artists that I know. I would have never imagined this would be my profession. Since I was little I used to love arts in all its forms, I used to love creating arts and crafts, bead-making, painting and I studied in the dance conservatory in Seville combined with my studies until college.
I was attracted to the idea of studying at an artistic college, but my parents told me a sentence that I would never forget, “To become an artist, you don’t need a degree. You only will be successful if you are good at it. But to become an engineer or a doctor, you do need one.” I understood that they were right, so I decided to study Marketing and Public Relations, but I didn’t like it so I left and started studying Sport Science. I moved from Seville to Madrid to study for a MA in Events and Sports Management. I worked for a couple of years as a sport manager, personal trainer, directed activities coach, dance teacher, etc.
Then an old injury reappeared and stopped me…in that moment I thought that all of those 7 years led to nothing. What would I do now without a functional knee? There is an important part that I haven’t told you, though. My parents and both of my brothers are artists! Fashion and graphic designers, ballet and contemporary dancer, photography, drawing and tattoos! Yes, my brother and my father opened a tattoo studio some years ago: Twotattoo, and even though I have always helped them, it was in reception, social media and so on. I never thought of making tattoos. I had studied a degree and a master, that was my logical path to follow.
After the first knee operation, I did my rehabilitation in Seville, Spain; I was living in France already. And in that time there was a course on Health and Hygiene, necessary to make tattoos in Spain, it was being taught in my father and brother´s studio. My father is also a teacher and he works as a tattoo artist and university professor as well.
I think that to avoid dying from boredom, he proposed to me to do the course… but I had been 14 years without practicing drawing! What if I didn’t know how to draw anymore and I had forgotten everything? My father brought me a drawing block and some pencils. I spent a whole week drawing from morning to night. Anyway, with my recently operated knee I couldn’t do much… I realized I hadn’t lost my drawing skills… I did the course on Health and Hygiene and I started tattooing on synthetic skins with the different tattoo techniques to see with which one I was more comfortable.
A few months later I did the course on Health and Hygiene required in France. The beginnings and the learning process were a bit complicated because I was in a country where I didn’t know anyone, I had no contacts, no fluidity in the language and my father and my brother were 1000 km away, so I couldn’t learn from them properly. I decided to look at all the tutorials in Spanish, French and English that I found on YouTube. I got in all the learning groups on Facebook… This passion absorbed me completely! My first knee operation didn’t go well and I had to be intervened again, this time in France. I was in a hospital for 3 weeks and there I met athletes and nurses. They were my first “clients”. Straight away after that period I opened a small private studio in Toulouse, France and here I am, living from art, like I dreamt when I was little.
How would you describe your style? What inspires your artwork?
My style is mainly floral with a thin line, sometimes accompanied by animals or mandalas in dotwork. The most important part for me is that the tattoo sublimates the body of the person who has it. I always ask my clients for photos of their bodies so I can draw on them: it is the body that helps me to find the shape and composition of the tattoo that the person is going to have for the rest of his or her life. Sometimes I prefer to draw freehand on the body directly so it can adapt better to its forms.
When I design a flash tattoo, inspiration can come from anywhere: a drawing on a bathroom towel, the geometrical shapes on a tile, a flower I saw in the middle of the city, a new unknown flower, for me, that I saw on a mountain and that I took a photo with my phone.
I love fine lines because I think that tattoos shouldn’t hide or cover the person that is wearing it, yet it should decorate her, like a jewel. I absolutely love the creative freedom that I have when I make floral tattoos; it compensates for the rigid and precise side of mandalas, geometrical and decorative. I am scared of the long and precise work of pointillism, but when I see the results I fall in love…I normally tattoo with black, although when they let me, I add colour touches. ;)
What have been your favorite moments during your tattoo career? What do you love about tattooing?
The moment when the client gets to see the tattoo in the mirror and drops a tear, especially reconstructive tattoos such as scoliosis camouflage, scars, burns, etc. These are the most satisfying ones because apart from the aesthetic side of it, there is also the psychological side. These tattoos are like therapy for those who decide to have them on their bodies. Although some people are proud of their scars and pathologies, some others are traumatized by them and they can be affected in their daily life. You can’t imagine the joy and emotion of the moment in which the client sees the tattoo finished on his or her skin reflected in the mirror, or when they send me a message like, “Finally I’m wearing a bikini and I am not hiding my body, I’m showing it with pride!”
Another moment that I love in tattoo sessions is chatting with the clients. I couldn’t be one of those tattoo artists that puts the headphones on with high music and doesn't speak to the person at all. I understand that it helps them to concentrate, but I can’t. I am too talkative! I feel that, in a certain way, I am going through their skin and we are creating a special lifelong bond. And for me, it is very important to make that moment as pleasant as possible so they can keep a good memory from it. We talk about my life, their lives, everything and nothing…I take my time to explain everything before and after the tattoo, so clients can leave with a feeling of safety, happiness and without any doubts. We keep in contact during the healing period until the process has finished completely. That’s maybe the reason why I’m doing bigger and bigger pieces, to create that bond with the person. Yes, I know what you are thinking, I am a sentimental person!
You do a lot of scar cover ups. Can you talk about the process of working with scar tissue, and how you design specifically for someone's unique skin?
For me, there is no job more gratifying than using tattoos to help people overcome a bad memory imprinted on their bodies in the form of a scar. My aim is not to cover with anything possible, but to make that scar melt in the design, make it disappear between the details and beauty of the tattoo. In a way that when somebody is looking at the area, they could see the tattoo and not the scar.
My first reconstructive tattoo was for my sister-in-law, who always has had a big hang-up with her back due to a severe scoliosis. She gave me total freedom to do whatever I wanted and however I wanted it.
For scoliosis tattoos, I work with radiographies. I study the curvature of the back and the muscles that the body has developed to compensate for it. After that I applied what I learned in the degree I studied...I think that my first year in Advertising was not as useless as I thought. I use the theory of space, the rule of threes, I play with textures, sizes, distributions, contrasts, colors, shapes, directions… everything I can to tease the person looking at it, and at the same time make the tattoo visually attractive. To be honest, it takes me longer to prepare the project than tattooing it on the skin.
For tattoos on scars and burns, the creative process is quite similar. I work with photos and videos, I close my eyes and I do a few sketches of different ideas, everything that comes to my mind. The game of interpreting shapes in clouds is really useful for this. ;)
In these kinds of projects, I think it is helpful to give freedom to the tattoo artist so he or she can choose the pattern that could adapt better. At the beginning, I think like the majority of tattoo artists, I would do what the client asked me, even if it went against my aesthetic sense. Nowadays, no. I prefer to not do the tattoo, to do something I won’t feel satisfied with. Trust is key for reconstructive tattoos so the results can be satisfying.
Regarding the technique, my father taught me as he’s specialized in these kinds of tattoos. The most important thing is to be patient and delicate. Their skins have suffered a lot, they are unstable, sometimes more fine, sometimes more thick. We need to adapt to the client’s skin, sometimes it is required to change the design in the moment because the skin is not reacting like expected, or to do the tattoo in different sessions to see the reaction of the skin.
How do you feel about the future of the tattoo industry? What needs to change and what should stay the same?
We all know that the tattoo world is growing by leaps and bounds. Social media has allowed tattoos to go even further and helped society to accept them more and more. There are a lot of new tattoo artists, but also a lot of new clients.
There are more and more specialized tattoo artists, which I think is wonderful. Thanks to that, the technical quality has improved in the last few years. When a tattoo artist specializes in a specific style, he or she will focus their energy on it, which will allow the technique to get much better than if they would focus on different styles, the development would be slower. This also allows new different materials to be created, with more quality and more specific.
There are tattoo artists of old generations that complain about the new ones, because they are taking their jobs. I think that if a tattoo artist is good, no matter what generation, they will always have clients. The work and the reputation of the artists speak for themselves. This has allowed tattoo artists from other generations to not get comfortable and continue improving every single day.
The main problems for me are three:
One, we can see tattoos that are beautiful in the photo but after 2 months they look terrible. I am not talking about any specific style, because I think that with most of the styles, this can happen if the tattoo is not well done. But being specialized in fine line, I have to admit that I do take this battle very seriously. Some of these tattoo artists, some well-known ones, focus their attention on getting it right to be able to take a photo on the day, nevertheless they don’t worry that much about the look of it after a few years. This is the reason why I think it is important to show the photo of the tattoos once they have healed, photos of years after and not only after two weeks. Clients should choose the tattoo artist taking this into account.
The second problem I see are offers like 2 tattoos for 30€ that we can see even in “professional” studios. It is true that there are a lot of tattoo artists and that the market is not easy, but like I said before: if the job is well done, you will always have clients. If a tattoo artist is getting work because of the price of the tattoos and not because of the technique, style or personality, then that person is doing something wrong.
And thirdly, some famous tattoo artists are more worried about finding nice bodies for their tattoos than adapting their tattoos on the bodies. You will never see in the profiles of these artists, women of more than 60 kg or with stretch marks, scars or burns… They want perfect bodies to walk around in their pieces of art. I have suffered this myself, in my own skin. Discrimination is more frequent in the tattoo world, I think the reason may be social media. Fortunately, there are a lot of tattoo artists focused on the body positivity movement.
Beyond creating art, what are you really passionate about?
Sports, dance and traveling. Like I said previously, I studied in the Dance Conservatory when I was little until my teenage years, ballet, flamenco and contemporary, and after that I studied Sport Science. I didn’t get to finish the 10 years of conservatory, my body and me didn’t fit in it, so I tried other dance styles and sports: bellydance, breakdance, capoeira, horse riding, swimming, bachata, salsa, kizomba, lindy hop, tango…
Sports and dance have always helped me to liberate myself from the stress of my everyday life, to feel free. At the moment, because of my knee, I have just had my third operation, I have spent years without being able to practice sports or dance at the same level I used to… Tattooing saved me and is now my passion.
Regarding traveling, I guess it is a family thing as well. Since we were little, we used to travel further than 1000 km by car, with breaks of course. When I was 15 years old, I did the Quetzal Route, an educational and cultural exchange trip of 40 days approximately through America and Spain with 300 young people selected all around the world between 15 and 17 years old. We went to Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Spain… That was definitely how I discovered my traveling side and my will to discover the world.
Do you have any projects, events, or plans upcoming in the future you’d like to share?
My idea, like many people I know, was to travel, but with COVID19 it is a bit complicated. For 2021, I was planning to go to many conventions, but I think I am going to take it easy though, and do only 2 or 3 per year. I need to slow down! The tattoo virus bite me too hard ;) I want to keep learning, improve my technique every day and live from my passion for as many years as possible.