We sat down with Bucharest-based tattoo artist, Roxanne Aoki, and it turns out she has some pretty sage advice for aspiring tattoo artists.
First off, you’re from Romania. Have you always lived there?
I grew up in Romania and left just after high school. I wanted to learn in a fresh environment so I hopped on the plane and landed In Copenhagen. I enrolled in a marketing program, but, one year later, I flew to Stockholm where I pursued a Business Administration and Political Science with French BSc. And then I returned to Romania in 2017. I only worked for a very short time in marketing. I had a hard time finding myself and deciding what I want to do with my life since my only passions were gaming, tattoos, and music, and I sucked at all three.
Now I’m a tattoo artist/engineer, so yeah…life is crazy like that.
When did you first know that you wanted to get a tattoo?
I had my first tattoo at fifteen. I know, pretty young, eh? It’s a cliché tattoo really, a little red bow on my wrist, but I made it a tribute to my parents so I wrote “mom” and “dad” on the ribbons. It has faded a lot now since I’ve had it for ten years, but it’s the only tattoo I will never touch up. I had my second tattoo ten minutes after the first one because I simply wanted more. Had to hide that one from my folks though—sorry mom!
You have so many gorgeous pieces. I especially love your half-sleeve. But if you had to choose, which is your favorite?
First of all, thank you! If I had to choose, I think it would be the writing on the back of my thighs, not necessarily for the design, but for the meaning. It says “Fearless” and “Caring.” I have a lot of fears, of course, but it means I would go through fire for the people I love.
Do you have any plans in the works for future tattoos?
Yes, I am contemplating a sternum tattoo that goes up on my chest and end in a dermal piercing. It is a very important piece so I am taking my sweet time. I also want to redo some of my old tattoos because I think there is room for a lot of improvement.
The sternum piece sounds cool. So, you’re training to be a tattoo artist. What’s that like, and when did you know you wanted to be on the other side of the needle?
I met a lot of amazing people through tattoo conventions, and it was the only place I felt like I totally fit in. I worked my way up to becoming the host of Tattoo Fest Iasi in Romania through making connections, and I fell in love with the level of freedom I had with just being myself. But the epiphany happened two years ago while I was chatting with my tattoo artist. I was admiring his work, and I told him, “I wish I could do this so badly but I have no talent.” He looked at me and said, “There is no such thing. Work hard; you can do it!” Something just sparked into my head like I was pulled out from the dark, and I was like “You know what? What the hell? I CAN do this.” It was just never an option for me until I realized that I can actually do it. Sounds a bit stupid looking back on it.
When I decided I want to start tattooing, I started learning to draw and I did that for some months for five to eight hours every day. Then, I put the needle on fake skin and on myself. I have a lot of wonderful, supportive friends that lent me their skin for me to practice on, and I cannot thank them enough. I do a lot of styles now but I keep it simple because I never go into a tattoo if I am not 100% sure I can nail it.
Which styles are your favorite to draw?
I love portraits, because I feel like if I can connect with the person I am drawing, it makes me somehow emotional. I started drawing my favorite artists, starting with Lemmy Killmister from Motorhead and Rob Halford from Judas Priest. It brought me a lot of joy and satisfaction. I think this is actually how I fell in love with my boyfriend—I wanted to surprise him with a portrait one day, and I just lost myself in working on the details of his face.
Where do you look for design inspiration?
I look everywhere, really. My old drawings, internet searches, tattoo magazines, Instagram, or just in my head because sometimes crazy ideas pop up. I would like to trust my instincts more when it comes to putting the pen on the paper and just let my imagination go wild.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring female tattoo artists?
“This is a man’s, man’s, man’s world
But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.”
Don’t get discouraged, be brave, witty and prove yourself through hard work and determination. Don’t be afraid to play around with styles in your journey of discovering your own. Be unique, and give yourself a trademark. Also, be kind and empathetic to your clients; I’ve had people that feared needles come to me simply because I made them feel comfortable.
To find out more about Roxanne, follow her on Instagram @RoxanneAoki.