Robertiko Ramos or Roberto Ramos Mori works as a tattoo artist in the Cuban tattoo parlor, La Marca. When he showed us his work, we were immediately seduced by the quality of his designs and his mastery of colors. In this interview, Roberto shares his vision and pieces of advice of stick and poke tattoos or muleta, as they say in Cuba.
Sticknpoke: Roberto, what do you like most in the stick and poke tattoo technique?
Roberto: What I like most is the conversation with the person who’s being tattooed, or the possibility of having it. Without the noise of the machine, the situation is more conducive to socialization and always ends up in a dialogue. I therefore meet very interesting people!
I also like the rustic and primitive touch of the stick and poke technique, and its origin as an initiation rituals. While performing a stick and poke tattoo, I feel like I can connect with the ancient art of tattooing. Another thing I like about this technique is the possibility of working with color very freely.
Also, I like how fast the stick and poke tattoos heal!
Inspiration for Stick and Poke Tattoos
Sticknpoke: Can you tell us more about your inspiration?
Roberto: I really like what is known as traditional American tattoos, a style featuring bold black outlines and a limited color palette. I’m also inspired by traditional Japanese style, from the vision and contributions of artists like Sailor Jerry. I am interested in the work of many other tattoo artists, illustrators and designers, both Cubans and international. What we know as popular culture is also the source of inspiration for me as well as the peculiar way this popular culture is expressed from the image of Cuba.
To this I would add my training as a professional designer who allows me to understand the tattoo as a design. In order to define the meaning of the tattoo, I research the symbolism of the design. I make most of my actual decisions by considering the direct relation with the size, form and proportions of the body.
Sticknpoke: Stick and poke tattoos are usually black and simple. However, the use of colors in your tattoos stands out remarkably. Can you tell us more about that?
Roberto: I always give the design’s black line primary importance. It supports the form that will be transformed over time and ensures that the design always remains recognizable. Something I find it to be a great exercise is removing everything that does not contribute to the tattoo. It is also an exercise to choose what to leave and to organize it well, in terms of lines and colors. Although the sketch already gives me a clear idea of the color distribution, I enjoy placing them on the skin and playing with the effects I can achieve by doing so. I prefer to use four colors at most and in a 3:1 ratio of warm and cold. I prefer not to use white.
Tips and Advice for Stick and Poke Tattoos
Sticknpoke: Do you prefer working with a specific needle size?
Roberto: I prefer to use 7RS needles for the outline and 9 MS or 14RS for the filling. To make the line, I insert the needle in a position perpendicular to the skin. For filling, I use a lower angle or diagonal with the skin.
Sticknpoke: How do you proceed when doing a stick and poke tattoo?
Roberto: First thing, I guarantee a clean work area. The instruments, however simple, must be sterile. It is also necessary to work with gloves and to avoid cross-contamination. Sanitary and hygienic measures should always have premium importance. They should be the same whether you are doing a stick and poke or a machine tattoo.
The design also have a lot of value for me. I prefer to start from a sketch and simplify the design until I get to the flash. I insist a lot on the lines, especially the black ones.
Compared to a tattoo done with a machine, the stick and poke tattoo is longer to execute. Achieving a solid line represents approximately 80% of my work time! I sometimes use a stencil, but not systematically. For large pieces, I prefer making points of reference to guide me. That way, I do not run the risk of losing the transfers when cleaning. For small pieces, I finish the line once and then do the filling.
Roberto: I suggest to put a lot of work in the idea, the sketch and the design. Simple stuff is more difficult! Stick and poke tattoos require you to make efficient use of the space, ink and tools at your disposition. You also need good patience when it comes to tattooing, especially if you want to achieve solid lines. Also, never neglect hygiene!
Find Roberto’s tattoos with #RobertikoRamos on Facebook at La Marca.
Or on Facebook at Roberto Ramos Mori and Twitter with @robertikoramos.