Specialising in Japanese tattoo art, Lepa Dinis spoke to ODDITY about her art, passion and views on the modern tattoo scene.
How did you get into tattooing? Did it start with you getting inked yourself or is it something you always aspired to do?
It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always drawn since I was little; I always walked around with paper, pen and pad. My Dad always used to watch these old black and white Samurai movies, and in a scene this guy took off his kimono and showed a tattoo on his shoulder – it was love at first sight. That was it. That’s what I need to do. I was just trying to keep my art with me at all times and tattoos are the same thing really – just more extreme. The tattoo showed a different kind of devotion to the art, it was Japanese and I felt I wanted that.
And that’s your particular style – Japanese? So there are lots of different styles of tattooing?
Yes, you’ve got tribal, you’ve got Polynesian, you’ve got script, there’s old school, there’s new school, there’s so many. Nowadays what is so nice is you’ve got people paying homage to old school style and then they’ll call it new school which is what I do; I do new school Japanese art. With the old school there are strict laws that you have to follow but you just follow the laws that the forbearers thought out and then you can expand on that. With my Sensei, he taught me shuhari which is martial art philosophy – shu stands for following form and adhering to it, studying it over and over until it flows and you can do it without thinking about it. Then there’s ha, this is when you start deviating from the form and you start creating inner relations. And ri is when you break away from the form completely but you still follow the laws in-place. For example, Japanese art must always face inward and adorn that person.
So there’s a real discipline to that. Do your clients come in with a real perception of what they want or do you draw it for them…?
I like to do it as a collaboration as that’s how I would have wanted it. They have to trust your style – with all of my clients they creatively like my style, they often say what they want and then leave it for me to create.
You’re currently tattooing at OnebyOne Store on Berwick Street, but do you tattoo globally or are you more based around UK?
Believe it or not, I’ve been doing it for about a year. I do eventually want to travel everywhere but for now I want to keep my head down – I need to build up my confidence and skill before I go further afield. I have been training for about 2 ½ years but it wasn’t with one artist but instead many – the stuff I have been taught can’t be replicated.
Right now there are a lot of people who are getting meaningless tattoos as they are in-trend. As someone who is particularly passionate, seeing tattoos as a huge part of your identity, is this mainstream integration of tattooing culture something you enjoy or despise?
At the end of the day a tattoo is cosmetics. So it’s whatever you feel, there’s no right or wrong involved. The thought of people getting a shit tattoo is saddening however, tattooing is a skill and it is the art that will separate you. It is so irresponsible when I see people with bad tattoos I just can’t believe someone would want to mark this person for life. I can’t understand it.
Are you amazed with the normality of tattooed people now? It’s so frequent.
To be honest with you I’m not. Now more than ever we are trying to be more individual – and tattoos are attainable. It’s nice because everyone has something unique about his or her bodies but I think it’s a big responsibility for the tattooist to specialise in something. Yes, it is a business but it’s also a big responsibility – always do your homework, always look around, and don’t just go for the cheapest thing. Go for someone who is passionate and practiced, you pay for what you get at the end of the day.
How has your reputation grown?
It started off with me modelling really, I don’t think a lot of people knew I could draw and paint. I did a bit of modelling for my Sensei and he saw I could draw and it all just kicked off from there really. It’s this faith that allows Sensei to show me new things; his knowledge is gold – you can’t read it in a book.
With Japanese art is there symbolic meaning to different things? For example you mentioned waves?
With waves it is very important with tattooing as it helps your work flow. With Japanese work it’s not seen as just the arm, or just the leg, or just the calf – they look at the whole body and how the tattoo encompasses it. Normally, I like to tattoo the whole body and the waves help each piece flow into the next.
What are you aspiring toward as a tattoo artist?
Just to be a better artist than I was yesterday. Japanese art is all about living in the present.