Sumina Shrestha grew up experimenting with different art forms. She painted in water colours, tried Thangka art and eventually found her true calling with the art of tattooing. Within months of training to become a tattoo artist, she had aced the precision and steadiness required for this body art. Gaining experience in different tattoo studios, Sumina opened her studio called Wanderthirst Tattoo, in 2018.
Sporting a bob cut and small abstract tattoos on her neck and an ornamental one on her arm, she draws your attention to her feet where she has a tattoo too. Easy going, carefree and cheerful, it’s easy to see why clients enjoy her company and entrust her to recreate art on their bodies.
The concept of tattoos has always been a polarized art form with some believing in its creative expression and others cringing in horror at the permanent etching of human skin. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, one fact that can’t be denied is that it carries singularly intense dedication, skill and confidence to be a tattoo artist.
In the initial phase of her career, Sumina was often questioned about her choice of career. But today she is not only an established name in the tattoo industry but even finding traction in leadership roles. WOW caught up with Sumina Shrestha to find out more about her journey.
When did you get into the tattoo industry?
During the earthquake I was volunteering with an NGO on the “Get Well Soon Project” where we were teaching healing through art to children in affected areas. I met a group of friends who were tattoo artists and that got me curious about tattooing. I visited a couple of studios and learnt about the equipment and materials required for tattooing. Also, there were hardly any female artists at that time. Something inside me told me that this was an opportunity.
Initially, I used to practice on the rubber pad and after that, I made my first tattoo on my sister and aunt. From that I gained confidence and started practicing on human skin but only among people I knew. Later I was offered a job at a friend’s studio and that marked the beginning of my career as a professional tattoo artist.
When you’ve been entrusted with the job of forever altering someone’s appearance, every stroke needs to be decisive and ideally flawless. Even for people with inherent artistic ability, the steady hand and careful eye that you need to develop in this field often takes years to cultivate.
Was it difficult as a woman to be a tattoo artist?
Yes, it is difficult. People judge women by their looks, profession, treat you differently amongst other things. But in my case, I just don’t give attention. I just love my work and I enjoy doing it. Also, I am glad that my family is supportive. That gives me the strength and confidence to carry on my work.
Have you ever had people question your skills based on your gender?
From when I started as an apprentice in 2015, I have come a long way. Initially being a female artist in this line of work did pose a few problems and hiccups, but then again every person – male or female – does struggle a bit when they just get into this industry. It’s not all roses and there’s a whole lot of work that goes into it.
Do people question your career choice?
People did question my choice of career since I was graduating from an art college where painting, sketching, sculpture and graphic design were considered a more respectable profession. It is still not widely accepted as an art even by the art community itself but then again times have changed and tattoo artists are now good artists first and then good tattooists.
Tell us a bit about your style.
My style is simple. Most of my work is in black. I go from oriental to geometric with whip shading designs most of the time, and I mostly like doing minimal clean tattoos. I like combining different designs elements to create the best outcomes.
What is market for tattoos like?
Nepal is a good market for both tattoo artists and those wanting to get inked. From old people to young – male and female – everyone is interested in tattooing. Tourists prefer having their tattoos done in Nepal as they find the cost of tattoos cheap here. We have a lot of brilliant artists of different styles here in Nepal.
How many tattoos have you created?
It’s been more than five years that I’ve been tattooing so I’ve lost count of how many I’ve done. My first tattoo was on my sister’s hand. She got inked with some words in Japanese. Also, I did a simple Ganesh for my aunt on her wrist. I did it in the middle of the night and it was a crazy experience. It built up my confidence then onwards. I have got six tattoos on my body.
What is your rapport with your clients like?
I enjoy counseling my clients to determine what they want and why they want it. Many clients don’t have a clear idea of what type of tattoo they want. And most people try to copy styles. For those who don’t have a design in mind when they come in or are unsure about it, I advise them so that they don’t have to regret making the tattoo later.
What are the most popular designs trends right now?
Nowadays people love to have simple minimal tattoos: decorative art and fashion statement. Some still prefer traditional big black pieces. Popular designs are gods, names, flowers and portraits.