Luca Ortis is an eminent tattoo artist living and working in North London, specialised in Japanese tattooing and renowned for his striking full bodysuits. We caught up with him to chat about our exclusive Luca x NAAMA collaboration.
How did you get into tattooing?
I was actually living in Chile at the time, and doing lots of travelling around South America. My girlfriend bought a tattoo machine, and I just started tattooing on anyone and everyone who would let me! Bizarrely they didn’t need much convincing - we were all young and stupid...
Had you always been into art?
Yes, absolutely. I was an only child, my parents were working a lot, and I did a lot of drawing, painting, sculpting - it pre-occupied a lot of my time! I was always into art, photography and loved drawing, I just never thought it would be something I could make a living from.
How did things go from there?
When I returned to London I just carried on, spending more and more time tattooing. Little by little I made my way into the trade. I also got really into Japanese tattooing - I’d always been obsessed with the culture - the cinema, the art. Probably because the East and West have such polar opposite cultures in so many ways...it’s fascinating.
That leads us quite nicely onto the design you’ve commissioned for us. Tell us about it.
This particular design is from Japanese mythology - it’s an interpretation of Raijin god of thunder and lightning. Japan has absorbed many different religions over the years, so there’s lots of Gods - and they’re not necessarily good or bad - it’s not that simple or binary. Raijin brings vital rains, but can leave in his wake chaos and destruction.
What does the average day look like for Luca Ortis?
I run my studio by myself, so I come into work and clean, set-up, deal with all of the admin it takes to run a business, then I’ll see one or two customers a day. Today I worked 5 hours on one person - some people are so driven to get it done as soon as they physically can.
Do you love your job?
At a high level, it’s a great job. At a low level, it can be rubbish! When I started out I had to pay the bills, now I’m established I can pick and choose what I do which is great. The best thing about tattooing is the connection with people - it’s an amazing opportunity to meet people from different walks of life. They have their own stories...everyone does. If you’re curious about the world, it’s a great job. Tattooing is like show business - you have to entertain the client to distract them (while also tattooing their skin!)
Walk us through the process of creating new body art with a client.
They’ll contact me through my website or my Instagram, and we’ll talk logistics (costs and time to get the tattoo done), then we’ll meet or zoom for a consultation to really narrow down what they want. Sometimes what they want is not really right - in Japanese tattooing there’s a lot of rules! It’s really all about the back and the body suit. You have parts of the design which represents seasons and one body suit should be one season - it can’t be all different seasons, like a whole year. Once we’re all agreed, I’ll take a photo of their body part and that will be my base for sketching. I have the full drawing ready when they come in on the day. I don’t use stencils - I draw it straight onto their skin with marker pens (this is the traditional Japanese way and this works best).
One final question from us. What’s your view of tattoo removal?
It’s necessary! I don’t so much agree with the purists who value the permanence of tattoos. Nothing in this world is truly permanent.