“I’m the hardest working bitch you’ll ever meet.”
From Switzerland to the world, Manuela Soto is a traveling tattoo artist that’s changing the game with her culture clash of Hentai, Chicano ball pen, and early 2000’s pop culture. I sat down with Soto to talk about her early beginnings, empowering women, and what she plans to conquer next.
So you’re from Switzerland, tell us about it.
It’s cute but it’s also very small. People are bored so with a little creativity, you can easily get a good following because nobody really does anything, the ones who did good left the country.
Since you said it’s easy to make it in Switzerland, does that mean that there’s automatically a lot of local support?
Oh no. People be hating and talking mad shit, just like everywhere else.
What’s your ethnicity? I’m curious because your name, Manuela Soto Sosa, is Latinx but you’re from Switzerland.
My dad was locked up during the revolution in Uruguay. He came to Europe straight after he got released as a political refugee and met my mom in Switzerland. I been living everywhere and grew up around a lot of different cultures. America loves to put people in boxes, we don’t do that in Europe.
You’ve been on a world tour for quite some time now. Which city has been your favorite?
I feel like Los Angeles has always been really good to me. New opportunities coming everyday, it’s crazy!
Why do you like LA compared to other places that you’ve been?
Los Angeles represents life to me, the bright and the dark side of it. I’m Aquarius with Libra rising, everything air, floating… I’m all dreams and hopes but this city keeps me grounded, the heat, the dirt — I found a good balance here. Some people say that LA is really fake but I feel like once you know what you want and who you are, it’s the most perfect place for business.
What’s one thing you always try to do when you go to a new city?
Get my nails done! It’s my alone time, forces me to get away from my emails and the gram but I be working so much you’ll never see me without band aids around my lifting nails anyway.
What kind of nails do you get?
Long, shiny, coffin shaped.
Is it hard to tattoo with long nails?
Oh, I’m good. (laughs)
I’ve had nails forever.
When you’re a super talented artist, you can take your art to many different platforms. Do you think you have to choose a specific platform in order to succeed?
I’ve always been doing a bit of everything. DJing, doing nails or designing clothes. I feel like at some point, what’s made for you is gonna pop out and in order to make it big, you gotta perfect your craft and focus on a specific media only.
I saw that you were at the Dimepiece office, what were you doing over there?
We are collaborating on the hottest collection for autumn/winter17. I’m mad excited but issa secret!
When did you first start tattooing?
I never wanted to tattoo, that was not my plan at all. (laughs)
I studied fine art and illustration for four years, very technical training. After I graduated I started working in the streetwear industry, for local skate shops, and doing nails on the side. This girl taught me how to do “stick-n-poke” on a drunk night in Berlin. I went back home, gave my boyfriend at the time my very first tattoo, followed by all my girls, then got a very cheap Chinese tattoo gun and had to learn that shit by myself, it wasn’t easy but I made it though!
Would you ever get a face tat?
Yes. Probably my future baby name or something cute.
What style of tattoos do you dislike?
I ain’t about to talk shit about anyone. I’m all about love and support. I noticed that people coming from a very traditional background are less supportive of people like me, part of the “no school” movement. It’s not about anyone’s art, it’s all about energy and loyalty.
You were recently featured on @snake__pit which is an Instagram dedicated to bad or vulgar tattoos. What was your reaction when you saw that?
I’ve always followed them, I love what people call “bad tattoos.” I love going against the traditional rules of tattooing, bad placement, fucked up font, it’s super inspiring to me. When I saw my work on there I was so upset but all my followers went off, standing up for me and all. I felt so blessed, so grateful I got such amazing people fucking with me.
How would you describe you style of art?
I used to paint a lot; big stuff, super colorful but when I started tattooing as I didn’t know anything about it, I had to transfer my personal style into doing very easy black line design. I had to set a mood into my art, I’d call it a well balanced mix between Japanese hentai, Chicano ball pen design and early 2000 pop-culture.
How does it feel to empower women?
It’s really beautiful to see how women actually see themselves in the tattoo I give them. When you come to get a babe tattooed, I usually give you a naked body and we build it together — It’s like playing Barbie. I’ll ask what kind of hair you want, what clothes, and at the end it always looks like them. I started drawing girls that would represent all parts of me; gotta be cute and pure but also gotta be out there looking bomb, find a husband and suck dick like a pro while trying to be a boss and get this money. These are parts of us that we cannot always show to the world. More and more of my customers feel that and get their own inner-self tattooed, they reconnect with themself 100%. I get butterflies when I see my customer walk out feeling empowered.
Do you receive stigma for being a woman in the tattoo world?
When I started yes, it was so hard to be respected in the industry but I’m the hardest working bitch you’ll ever meet. I see a lot of other women coming up hard with great styles and new aesthetics. I think women finally got a place in this business.
How many tattoos do you have overall?
Oh you think I’ve counted? There’s too many.
Which one is your favorite?
Kane Navasard tattooed a single needle angel on my hand. Since I’ve got this, all my people get pregnant, get good jobs and revelation. This angel is blessing everybody.
What kind of guys do you like?
I like a guy that won’t let me get on a plane without him.
How is it working at Sang Bleu?
It’s the first studio I’ve ever worked at, Sang Bleu taught me everything! Maxime Buchi gave me my first real tattoo at 18 and last year he invited me to help open the new Sang Bleu studio in Switzerland, where we both come from. It’s a big family, I’m lucky to be a part of it.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment thus far?
This whole thing is crazy to me, the followers, the sponsors, airport life. I don’t chill, I don’t see my friends that much because they know I be working all the time, that’s all I have. I’m working so much, everywhere I go, this is what I’m proud of — people fucking with my ideas. I don’t believe in luck, everything is destiny and I’m so thankful!
What’s the end goal for Soto?
I’m trying to move to Los Angeles, work on a proper clothing line, open a studio/showroom with other poppin’ artists or teach younger kids how to build a brand around their name. That’s just my 2k18 plan, I’m here to build an empire!
Is there anyone specific that you want to tattoo?
If I ever tattoo Rihanna, I’m done. I might stop tattooing. (laughs)
Anything else you want to say before we wrap it up?
Thanks to everyone fucking with me, supporting me and the fam! I do not reply to DMs but I really do love y’all, TRUST.
Interview by Chromespinnin
Tattoos photos courtesy of Soto’s Instagram.