When considering different art mediums, one would assume that sculpture and micro-portrait tattoos would be at opposite ends of the spectrum. One requires an artist to painstakingly carve huge masterpieces in stone or clay, while the other artist creates tiny paintings on a person’s skin. Growing up, Ellyn fell in love with the ability to recreate human anatomy through sculpture. But, instead of becoming the next Auguste Rodin, she chose the tattoo and didn’t look back. Ellyn creates very realistic portrait tattoos daily and her story is ongoing. We caught up with this portraiture perfectionist to find out how she got into tattooing, why she chose micro-portraiture, and how she plans to reinvent the tattoo genre one small tattoo at a time.
What did you want to be growing up?
When I was young, my dream was to become a sculptor. I wanted to be known as an artist who has a unique vibe and style. No matter what kind of work I do, people can recognize that it’s Ellyn’s art.
When did you decide to become a tattoo artist?
I ran a semi-permanent beauty salon, but then I discovered tattooing. I started tattooing because I thought it would help my beauty salon and worked on it whenever I had time.
What drew you to portrait tattoos?
My major in college was sculpture and I’ve always enjoyed sculpting the human body. With this experience, I think I was naturally drawn to portrait tattooing.
What are the biggest challenges with portrait tattoos?
The biggest challenge is being able to express and represent the exact realism of your subjects. I not only try to transfer images onto the body, but also blend the mood of the character into the tattoo. For example, when I’m working on a tattoo of a famous musician, I try to find out more about the musician, and when I’m working, I listen to that musician’s songs. When I work on a famous painting, I always try to go and see [the artist’s] work in an exhibition.
Who are your favorite celebrities whose tattoos you have created?
I respect and love all the celebrities whose tattoos I’ve done, but it was more fun getting a Drake tattoo. He’s a rapper who not only has good songs, but also has a good influence on people.
Is it easier or more difficult to do micro portraits on larger tattoos?
I haven’t done a lot of heavy work yet, but I personally think micro portraits are more difficult.
The smaller the size, the more difficult it is to express the details and take care of the tattoo. And the whole tattoo can go wrong if you make a small mistake, so you have to work very carefully.
Do you prefer tattooing in black and gray or in color?
Difficult to choose because I like both. Black and gray has its own naturalness and depth. Color tattoos are also fun because I can use a variety of colors in my works that express my own style. These days I plan to do a lot of tattoos that combine both black and gray and color.
What are some of your favorite tattoo trends?
Micro realism and trendy micro tattoos are very popular in Korea these days. Ever since I started tattooing these things, I’ve been glued to them. All tattoo trends seem to have their own attraction. I hope I can build my own style well enough that one day my style will become a tattoo trend that people love.
What’s your favorite part of the Seoul tattoo scene?
The pros and cons of the Seoul tattoo scene are the same: there are a lot of tattoo artists and the scene itself is very small. The competition is fierce. It’s a driving force to grow and because the scene itself is small, there’s a strong solidarity and we encourage each other.