“Many of my clients correctly guess what kind of person I am just from looking at my art,” Ovenlee says with a smile. From the lack of lines to blended colors to soft textures in Ovenlee’s tattoos, it is easy to imagine someone delicate and incredibly unique. It is indeed who she is: a young artist fresh out of college, whose first job in life is to draw on people’s skin.
As her first male customer, I was able to get a valuable opportunity to interview this rising star. Her nickname, for example, comes from her desire to express warmth in her art. For Ovenlee, an oven represents warmth like her grandma’s freshly baked cookies. This young tattoo artist came up with her nickname, combining “Oven” with her last name “Lee” to capture simultaneously the warmth and unique identity in her art.
Our conversation began with my asking about how her family felt about her being a tattoo artist, especially with the legal complications that exist in Korea. “My family has been always supportive of me. They all see it as part of art. I also feel that the social stigma against tattoos is quickly disappearing in Korea. It is becoming more of a way to express yourself.”
“My grandparents raised me,” Ovenlee adds. “My grandma’s teacups, for example, eventually became an important theme in my art. My grandpa, who is an amateur artist, always walked with me and pointed out what he found beautiful in nature. I think I took on what he was trying to express as an artist,” she reflects.
Following a friend’s advice who suggested that she turns her art into tattoos “because there is nothing like it,” Ovenlee decided to become a tattoo artist after studying ceramics in college. When asked what she tries to express in her art, Ovenlee answers, “a moment.”
“I am not interested in drawing a leaf, for example. Instead, I am interested in capturing the moment in which the leaf is being carried away by wind.” Although she finds Claude Monet’s oil paintings inspiring because of how he takes ordinary objects and transforms them into something uniquely Monet, Ovenlee draws with colored pencils rather than oil because “I felt what I want to draw would be best expressed through colored pencils, especially the softness and lightness that permeate my art.”
I was not too surprised to have been her first male customer. I could see how people could perceive Ovenlee’s work as traditionally feminine. However, when I asked about the “softness and lightness” in her art, Ovenlee gave an unexpected answer. “Preparing for my graduation project in college was really stressful and after that, I decided to pursue art as something more I enjoy rather something that is squeezed out of me. I am not interested in becoming an artist in agony. I want to enjoy what I do. And I think that shows in my art. I draw what I like, and I like the delicate moments in life.”
For Ovenlee, the best part of working as a tattoo artist is finding new meanings in her works. “Many of my clients seek me out after seeing my random sketches on Instagram, having found their unique meanings in my drawings. For example, I drew this sketch based on a song. Later, a client messaged me because she recognized what song I was referring to and wanted to get it tattooed. My art, then, becomes a part of their memory or something that allows them to reminisce. I think that’s what I find joy and meaningful. Something that was just another random thing for me became now so meaningful for both of us.”