Like everyone hooked on tattoos, Ivan found himself embarking on a career in inking skin because he thought it was “cool.”
It didn’t take long before the 23-year-old turned a simple fondness for body artistry (his first tattoo was a pencil thrust into a heart) into a thriving business (he owns Raja studio in Tebet).
Ivan put down his needle long enough to talk about the hardest tattoo he’s ever done, why studio ink is so expensive and why his faith hasn’t stopped him from being devoted to his craft.
How many tattoos and piercings do you have?
I have five tattoos and four piercings.
How did you end up in the ‘ink and pain’ business?
The first time I saw a guy with tattoos, I thought, “This guy is cool.” I became more interested in tattoos and the whole industry when I saw a tattoo artist actually doing his job. I was into drawing at the time, so after watching him outlining a tattoo, I was sold. It was like an epiphany. I knew from that moment on that being in the tattoo business was going to be my life.
Who is the best tattoo artist in Indonesia?
It’s difficult to say. Tattoo artists usually have similar specialties and styles. But, in my opinion, the best tattoo artist is Ken Tattoo. He lives in Bandung. A lot of my colleagues learned the craft from him.
What was your first tattoo?
It was one on my right leg, a pencil sticking out of a heart. It means my heart belongs to drawing; in this case, my tattoos. It was the only time I got a tattoo done by somebody else. I did all the other tattoos on my body.
Where did you learn to tattoo?
I was 19 years old. I took a one-year private course in Bandung, where I lived. Then I joined up with a fellow tattoo artist and started a tattoo parlor in Bandung. I opened this studio [Raja] seven months ago, but this time I’m on my own.
In Jakarta, what would you say is the most popular tattoo right now?
Believe it or not, it’s a portrait of an Indian chief, like this one. [He shows a sample portrait of Geronimo, the Apache Indian chief, on his computer]. I’ve done four Indian chief tattoos this month alone, the last one just a few days ago.
What else is buzzing in terms of tattoo trends?
A tattoo is more like personal taste. There’s no exact trend, I can assure you. But usually my clients go for tribal themes, portraits — self-portraits if they are narcissists — mythical creatures and the usual flowers or butterflies for women.
What’s the most painful spot on the body to be tattooed?
Each person has his own weak spot, but for men, I’d say it’s the stomach or the rib cage.
If I wanted to tattoo a map of Indonesia on my stomach, about the size of my hand, how much would it cost me?
That would measure about 10-by-13 centimeters. My price is Rp 7,600 (76 cents) a square centimeter, so it would cost you Rp 988,000.
That’s quite expensive.
That’s the difference between getting a tattoo on the street and in a studio. In a studio, we ask what a customer wants down to even the tiniest detail. We offer a concept first before we execute it, because you can’t correct a mistake once the ink touches skin. We wait until the customer says he’s ready. And, of course, we always make sure our instruments, like our pens, are sterilized. You can see the difference in terms of quality between studio tattoos and much cheaper ones you get on the street.
Has having tattoos ever posed a problem for you in Jakarta?
Not in Jakarta, where people don’t care about how other people look. Perhaps in areas that aren’t used to seeing tattoos, you could be mistaken for a thug.
In Islam, it is believed that one should never bear a tattoo. What do you think?
I’m a Muslim. As long as your heart is pure and believes in Islam, tattoos shouldn’t be seen as anything more than pieces of art.
What’s the hardest tattoo you’ve ever had to do?
A small flower I did for a woman.
She wanted to put it above her pelvic area, and she was bare when I had to put the tattoo on her. I could barely concentrate. That’s the hardest I’ve had to do.
Are there any tattoo conventions in Jakarta?
There will be one in September, in Senayan. The guys from the show “Miami Ink” are going to be there.
Ivan was talking to Fariez Setiawan.