Tattoo artist Shani Nizan is known for her human animals which she creates in New York at Inked NYC. We chat to the tattooist about the inspirations behind her recognisable artwork…
What inspired you to become a tattoo artist and how did you become an artist? I have been drawing ever since I can remember. When I was younger I would draw every day for four hours. In the afternoon my mother would sit me and my sisters on the living room carpet for creative time. Thinking back that must have had some influence on me.
I would say that my formal entry into the art world was actually in physics class, when I couldn’t focus I would draw my teacher, Efraim, who had unique facial features.
During my mandatory military service, when I was bored, I would draw on my arms. I then shared these on social media and loved the reactions and attention I’d get. People would approach me and asked to get inked as they thought they were actual tattoos.
Shortly after getting released from the army I knew I had to explore my options as a tattoo artist. After a while, I realised that tattooing made me “even cooler” than I was before, but more importantly I had the opportunity to meet a lot of new people and connect with them on a deeper level. So I am really glad life led me that way.
How would you describe your work? “Very specific” is the first thing I would say to someone that asks this question. Then I would add that I am always combining human bodies with animal heads. My style is semi-realistic mixed with naive drawing that I believe is inspired by old time children’s books.
How did you come up with your human animals? I was drawing them separately at first – animals because it was good practice and people because I was curious to draw my friends. One day I showed my drawings to my great aunt Galia, as her opinion matters to me a lot and she said “you copy well.”
After feeling down for a few days I saw a video called “everything is a remix” which showed me how some great pieces of art were a combination of two already-m existing things. I tried to do the same and mix two of my interests, since then, it’s been hard to draw anything else. I can’t stop!
The first one I did in July 2017, I called her “Lady Linda” and I tattooed her on my thigh. I have tried and still try to develop as an artist and do other things, but they’re still what I like to create the most.
They’re so different, some of my clients will use this hybrid to give their pet a human personality that they always had, some will use the animal head as a mask to hide with or as a metaphor for themselves.
What attracted you to black and grey tattooing? Before I even started tattooing I never used colour. I would draw mostly “by the way” as I call it, carrying with me a small sketch book and a pen.
When I started tattooing it felt unnatural to use colour. I also imagined it wouldn’t be comfortable to carry so many ink bottles around when touring and traveling.
Have you always tattooed like you do now? When I started tattooing I was doing lots of different styles so I could learn different techniques. Pretty early on I realised I didn’t think it was necessary and I started tattooing only my own art that was pretty similar to what it is now.
Of course like every artist I got better, developed and matured (hopefully). I found it hard to stop creating something that I liked so much, like my creatures. In my opinion, to force a young tattoo artist to learn all of the techniques is like teaching a guitar player to play every kind of music in the world.
Can you tell us about the process behind your tattoos? Usually, I will wait to meet the client in person so we can work on the sketch together. Sometimes I prepare something beforehand but I’m never disappointed when I realise we need to start over.
The connection between me and the client as we build a sketch together is the most important part for me. That’s the moment when we both can feel that it’s not just a logistical process but an experience that means something.
Sometimes people can be surprised or feel stressed when they come to get inked without having seen a design, but I think that that’s the magical part of tattooing.
What inspires you? I have problems remembering new things nowadays and I think the reason is that my memory storage is at full capacity. My mind is filled with children’s songs, tapes and memories I have from childhood.
In general I am fascinated by the imagination of children which is usually boundless, honest, creative and lively. These qualities can be seen in my drawings, in my youthful behaviour and by the fact that I am writing a children’s book.
I’m not sure how it comes to play a part but I think what inspires me the most though is music. I’ve always been drawn to music and most of my friends are musicians. I get inspired by documentaries about musicians I admire and in order to get myself working I need my music playing. My clients can testify that the one thing they need to endure, beside the pain, is listening to me sing throughout the session!
What do you like to tattoo and what would you like to do more of? Lately I’ve started performing free hand abstract tattoos, that complement the body and hopefully make the client like the tattooed area more than before.
It takes time to start being known for a new niche but I hope to start creating more of these tattoos soon.
Can you tell us about your experiences in the tattoo industry? I am always experiencing three different parts of the tattoo industry. The one in Israel where I was born and started working so it always feels like home. The one in Europe where I was travelling from studio to studio between cities and countries and met amazing artists that are great inspirations. Lastly the one in New York where I feel like the industry is the most “industrial”, in the most positive way. At Inked I get the best treatment an artist can ask for from a studio.
What moment in your career are you most proud of? Without a doubt the moment I got an email from Julia Rehme inviting me to be a resident in her studio in Berlin. I had less than one year’s worth of experience back then and even though I was arrogant to perform my art and my art only, I was doubting myself a lot on the inside.
Being invited to work with Julia opened the most important doors in my career and I’ll forever be thankful to her for that!
Can you tell us about your own tattoos? Are you a tattoo collector? I don’t have a lot of tattoos, just a few pieces that I got from my friends and colleagues. My favourite one is a flower on my back done by a friend that I taught how to tattoo about a year ago. @Amita__________ got so amazing so fast that I wanted to give her a big canvas to work on.
Make sure to follow Shani on Instagram for more tattoos and travel updates.