Handpoke artist Jenna Bouma (@slowerblack) is based in NYC, and works out of Bandit Studio. We spoke with Jenna about non-electric tattoos, vintage inspiration and tattoo travels...
You explained that you came to love tattoos through involvement with the hardcore scene. Do you still see that link between tattoos and music?
I know for certain that there is a close bond between certain types of music and tattooing, just like how there's a close bond between tattooing and skateboarding. The intersection of these subcultures go hand in hand whether tattooing is the hottest thing or not, and I think that's because the rise of all these subcultures happened more or less at the same time. There is a shared history through underground communities, so I don't think that's going to disappear anytime soon!
Working abroad has been a huge part of your career. Is there any place in particular that has been the most inspiring to you?
Sometimes I wonder why I haven't moved to Japan or Italy. I can harp on about how delicious the food is, how I love the sounds of both languages, or how interesting the people are etc, but ultimately it's the assortment of unprecedented and glorious art that hooks me, let alone the landscapes. Drinking wine and eating pasta in Italy after staring at a Caravaggio piece in the Uffizi gallery is one thing to inspire, but so is slipping off your shoes and stepping into the Honjido Hall in the Toshogu shrine in Nikko, only to look up at the ceiling to see a massive dragon. In both instances I feel something special. Italy makes me want to paint, Japan makes me want to be a better tattooer.
Your style seems to encompass many different references and inspirations. How did you come to develop this wide-ranging art style?
There are certain motifs and imagery found in vintage and historic tattooing that feel gravitational in terms of timelessness. Everything looks so good, from folk tattooing to Japanese bodysuits, to western Americana. Those styles can be striking yet romantic, impressive, and well applied. Lady heads, animals, knives, plants, and patterns are timeless, but they can also look insane when jazzed up too much. I would break down a thought or reference into its basic form/shapes, and then embellish with the right amount of black, shading, and detail to make it feel my own. I've always wanted my designs to be striking yet simple so it would compliment the application of hand poked tattooing.
What attracted you to non-electric tattooing methods? Have you ever wanted to learn machine-tattooing?
I have no interest in learning machine tattooing at this point in time, mostly because I feel like I always have more and more to learn with what I already have going on. I'm attracted to handpoked/tebori pieces because it's a great test of patience, it's history is deep, and because it feels intimate. I love the sense of satisfaction I get from tattooing people this way- especially when the scale is large.
You mentioned that you also paint and create ceramic pieces. Do these mediums allow for a different kind of creative freedom than tattooing?
Both ceramics and tattooing have parallels that I enjoy a lot, seeing that they’re methodical practices that require patience, being hands on, and deliberate. Jumping between tattooing people to just working on inanimate objects offers a nice harmony between the two practices. Tattooing is so close and intimate, whereas ceramics and painting give me a pause from the social side of my career- it just offers a break from talking, touching, or being aware/sensitive to how my customers feel, while also allowing me space to grow.
When not making art, what do you like to spend your time doing?
I love a nice day off like today in NYC. Brisk early morning walks, petting dogs, smoking a joint, visiting friends, and finishing up with a hot bath and a good record.
Do you have any exciting guest spots or travel plans coming up?
Always! I just returned home from a trip to Mexico City, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. Next up I will be tattooing at Shrine in Santa Fe this December, and I'll also be back in Cape Town in April for The South African International Tattoo Convention.
To follow Jenna's work and keep an eye on her guest spots, follow her on Instagram @slowerblack.