While we’re all for a tattoo artist who draws and stencils, there’s something to be said for freehand tattooing. Freehand drawing allows the artist to create a tattoo specifically tailored to the unique curves of their client’s body. Paula Sgarbi’s favorite style, ornamental blackwork, is perfectly suited to the freehand approach. We caught up with Sgarbi to find out more about her artistic journey, why she chose her style, how she approaches freehanding and much more.
Tell us about your upbringing and how you developed a love for art.
I was born in Brazil, but grew up in Malaysia and Singapore. I grew up with an amazing and unique blend of traditions and spirituality, which have always been at the heart of my inspirations. Since I was very young, I have always loved drawing, painting, making music and anything that requires creativity.
How did you learn to tattoo? Did you follow an apprenticeship or are you self-taught?
I’ve always loved tattoos and got my first when I was 14 in an underground studio in Singapore. Later, after my return to Brazil, I started tattooing. I bought the equipment and learned it myself. I started traveling, tattooing people, and getting tattooed by friends and artists whose works I loved and wanted to learn from. After a few years, I met Jun Matsui while working at a tattoo convention in São Paulo and started studying freehand with him until I moved to Barcelona. If I had a master, it would be him.
What drew you to the blackwork style?
I studied and was inspired by primitive tribal tattooing, which is mostly done in black.
What are your favorite parts of the blackwork tattoo?
Black is neutral and powerful at the same time, it allows you to do everything.
What are the biggest challenges of blackwork tattooing?
For me, when the work is very anatomical, I like the challenge of having to work on the balance and the proportions of all the elements in order to find harmony on the client’s body.
Why do you choose to do your tattoos freehand? When did you start freehanding?
I chose to do my work freehand because I learned to love the beauty of adapting to the natural shape of the body and finding a balance between the body and the tattoo. Despite the pursuit of symmetrical perfection, I appreciate the “imperfection” of freehand work – it is handmade and based on the organic anatomy of the client as they are. No one is perfectly symmetrical.
I started working freehand when I realized that I wanted to expand my work into some sort of movement that would ‘wrap around’ the body and that working on flat paper or a screen was limiting my creative process. Until now, I only do a few quick sketches on paper before the session and spend most of the time freehand and working with the client on the final design by drawing directly on the skin.
What is your tattoo process as a freehand artist?
For each part, the process takes place in a different way. After the basic email exchange, I like to ask the client to drop by the studio for a quick chat so we can meet. You know, make a connection; after all, we are going to spend many hours together. It’s easier to create a tattoo for someone when I know their story and their expectations. Then I start experimenting from there.
How does freehand work benefit your ornamental work?
Exploring movements and cuts that I can only discover by drawing directly on the body. For me, this is the starting point of the creative process: identify the lines of this body and go from there. These lines will define much of the final result. In addition, the free hand gives me the possibility to adapt the work to the movement of the body with more precision than with stencils. It’s all a matter of personal taste and the technique you choose to work with.