IVANA BELAKOVA

Diva (UK) - - Contents - instagram.com/ivanatat­tooart

The tat­too artist ex­plains the ori­gins of her unique style

I first came across Ivana Belakova’s work on Instagram and im­me­di­ately fell in love. Her style was un­like any­thing I’d ever seen be­fore and I knew right away I needed to be tat­tooed by this woman.

I fired off an email say­ing I’d love to in­ter­view her and get a tat­too at the same time, but with a year-long wait­ing list, I didn’t hold my breath. So it felt like my dreams had come true when I found out she’d be in the UK for a tat­too con­ven­tion the next month and mirac­u­lously had a spare few hours be­tween ap­point­ments. I de­cided I wanted two origami birds, be­cause they were dec­o­ra­tions my wife and I had at our wed­ding, sent Ivana some images, and left her to do her magic.

When Ivana started out in Slo­vakia 14 years ago, the in­dus­try was nonex­is­tent and the only peo­ple that had tat­toos were “pris­on­ers or bik­ers”, she told me as she ap­plied the sten­cil of the first bird to my arm. “In my coun­try, we had prob­a­bly two tat­too shops and no one wanted to share the se­cret at that time.”

Un­de­terred, she taught her­self, tat­too­ing any­one who would let her – in­clud­ing her­self. “I didn’t know how to tat­too in the be­gin­ning and I messed up so many of my friends,” she laughs. What’s the worst tat­too she did back then, I ask. On her best friend, ap­par­ently. “It was a dis­as­ter. But I thought it was so cool I ac­tu­ally put my sig­na­ture there,” she laughs. What about the tat­too on her­self? Where was it? “On my bum, and it was so painful!” she laughs, again. “It was the shape of a heart but with­out ink. I was dat­ing some girl at the time so I put it just for fun. There’s noth­ing there now.”

Were her fam­ily sup­port­ive? Yes, she says, once the ini­tial shock died down. “My mum ac­tu­ally lent me money for my first tat­too ma­chine,” smiles Ivana. Her grand­mother took a bit longer to win over, though. “[She] told me, ‘Ivanka, I think you should find a bet­ter job. Maybe you can work in a su­per­mar­ket, like Tesco for ex­am­ple. That would be a sta­ble job for you and you won’t have to travel so much’.”

Now 34, Ivana is based in Cal­i­for­nia. She’s worked hard to craft her art and her work is in­stantly recog­nis­able. She has over 30,000 fol­low­ers on Instagram, and peo­ple come from all over the world to get one of her unique tat­toos. How did that evo­lu­tion of style hap­pen? “It’s al­ways chang­ing,” she tells me over the gen­tle hum of the tat­too gun. “I can’t set­tle for nor­mal. I al­ways need to push bound­aries. But it de­pends what is my in­spi­ra­tion, on who my client is.”

It’s not only Ivana’s style that’s un­usual, but the fact that she is a very suc­cess­ful woman in a par­tic­u­larly male- dom­i­nated in­dus­try. “When I started [tat­too­ing], I didn’t have any prob­lems,” Ivana says. “But I moved to Australia and sud­denly it felt very male. Nowa­days, I don’t feel it as much be­cause it’s more equal, a lit­tle bit. I don’t re­ally think about it too much. I just do my art.”

But it must be dif­fi­cult some­times, to be taken se­ri­ously as an equal? “You have to be more…like a tiger. How do you say it? I don’t know the English word for it but you have to be more tiger. You have to be fear­less, and go for it. You can’t feel like you are pushed around. That’s why I say I don’t care, I just do my thing and I just go for it. I don’t care whether I’m in the ma­cho in­dus­try or what­ever. I don’t have to prove any­thing to any­one, I’m just me, you know? That’s why, I re­ally don’t care. I don’t care what they think about me.”

What about her sex­u­al­ity? Has she ever en­coun­tered les­bo­pho­bia at work? “I’ve heard all the names, but I felt it more when I was in Australia to be hon­est, and I know it’s funny be­cause Syd­ney’s like a gay cap­i­tal. I think it was a com­bi­na­tion of not speak­ing any English, I was les­bian and I was very young, so all th­ese com­bi­na­tions... I re­ally felt at that time dis­crim­i­nated [against] and pushed away but that’s made me stronger.”

As I watch Ivana im­pro­vise the fi­nal lines on my arm, I won­der how dif­fer­ent drawing on skin is to drawing on pa­per. “Very dif­fer­ent,” she says. “Skin is one of the hard­est medi­ums to work on be­cause you can’t just erase it if you mess up. I still feel like I can achieve more and im­pro­vise bet­ter on the skin for some rea­son. I think maybe it’s the nee­dles. My nee­dles are kind of like my brushes.”

Sadly, there’s not enough time to fin­ish my tat­too in one ses­sion, but I’m ex­cited to see her when she’s next in Lon­don to have more done to it. As we’re fin­ish­ing up, I ask her what ad­vice she’d give to some­one look­ing for in­spi­ra­tion for their next tat­too. “It’s im­por­tant to think about what you want and where on your body you want it,” she says, wrap­ping my arm in cling film. “But give it a lot of thought if you’re not sure. It’s your tat­too, and it needs to have some mean­ing for you.”

WHEN CAR­RIE LYELL HEARD ONE OF HER FAVOURITE TAT­TOO ARTISTS WAS COM­ING TO THE UK, SHE COULDN’T RE­SIST GO­ING DOWN TO MEET HER (AND GET­TING A BIT OF INK IN THE PROCESS) “Skin is one of the hard­est medi­ums to work on – you can’t erase it if you mess up”

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