Interview with Sampaguita Jay

    Hello Sampaguita Jay! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. It really means a lot having you here. Please start by telling us something about yourself and your background. Where are you from and do you have any formal art education? What got you interested in art? I'm Sampaguita Jay, I am 31 year old. I have my own shop Bakunawa Tattoo in France at Bayonne since 2 years. I am French-Filipino and I grew up only with my Filipino family. I am very close to my Filipino culture. I have 3 cats, one of which is 23 years old, and I have a dog. I did a professional baccalaureate in furniture upholstery which I hated! I studied because my family forced me to, but I never liked school. I knew very quickly that I wanted to become a tattoo artist, I was 14 years old. I really like playing the guitar and singing, I would have loved to know how to play the violin. I love oil painting.

Q: How did you end up doing tattoos? How long have you been tattooing?
A: I started to tattoo at 19 years old! I have been drawing since I was a child and I knew when I was 14 that I wanted to become a tattoo artist! I remember seeing a music video where the singer was in a convertible car, and she had a dragon tattooed on her arm and it was a revelation. I have always drawn portraits, so naturally I was attracted to realism in tattooing. I've been tattooing for 12 years now and I've gone through several stages to evolve in my style and I learned by myself

- The very first tattoo, what it was and who trusted you enough with their skin?
It was on my friend, I needed a guinea pig.

Q: I bet your talent played a key role in getting into professional tattooing, but I believe even you needed some time to figure out your creative direction and learn the basics, right? How long took you to feel confident and gain regular customers?
A: I've been tattooing for 12 years and I managed to find my style and my own voice only 5 years ago. I have always loved the female figure, I started by doing black and gray chicanos. I had this style for 6 years, I then met my Filipino tribal mentor Elle Mana Festin, who was a trigger in my artistic development, I learned the history of my ancestors, the art of filipino tribal and my cultural heritage. I subsequently began to integrate tribal into my portraits. I quickly had a request for this and it pushed me to do anthropological research because I was asked for portraits influenced by different cultures, legends or mythology. I then discovered color gray thanks to Thomas Cali Jarlier which I integrated into my portraits and with time and a lot of work I developed my own color gray tattoo technique.

Q: What kept you motivated to continue on this journey and keep learning? Did you have any support from an experienced artist?
A: I am passionate, I always try to give the best of myself in each tattoo I do. Perfection does not exist and that is what pushes me to always give the best of myself. The artist who supported me the most is my mentor Elle Mana Festin who greatly encouraged and supported me in my development.

- Your opinion on tattoo apprenticeship? Is it really a necessity?
I think learning through apprenticeship is essential. For me, being a tattoo artist is not just about tattooing people, it's my passion, we mark people for life, it's a definitive act and it's not to be taken lightly. It is important to be well surrounded to learn the rules of hygiene, know your equipment well, develop your style and learn to familiarize yourself with all the different skin types that there may be.

Q: I absolutely love your style. It's that beautiful mix of realism and surrealism... that is so captivating. Perfect color mix and amazing details. Literally every tattoo is a masterpiece. No favorite... I love all! Let's say a few words about the technical part...
A: Thank you very much for these kind words! The most technical aspect for me in this profession is being able to adapt to all skin types, being able to give the best possible result requires adapting this technique.

- How long does it take to finish a big tattoo like a back piece or a sleeve? Do you take a few sessions? Do you wait for the skin to heal before the next session?
It is impossible for me to give an exact number of sessions because each skin type and body shape is different. So in general for a complete back piece I need between 7 to 12 sessions of 8 hours to 12 hours each. And for a complete arm I need between 6 to 8 sessions of 8 hours to 12 hours each too. It's a lot of work, for me tattooing is not a race, I take the time to do every detail without damaging the skin.

Q: About the creative part... Who is the main designer here? You, your clients or both? Someone has an amazing imagination for sure! Everyone want a personalized artwork... Do you negotiate sometimes with the clients? For example, if you think a certain design will fit better or on a different body part? Is it easy to work things out?
A: I'm lucky to have clients who trust me and often let me do what I want, or they give me a theme and I take care of the rest. My style is very distinctive and can be easily recognized, so my clients already know what to expect. The customer comes to the shop on the day of the appointment, he describes his project and lets go. No modifications are possible and the project is not sent in advance. I know it's very restrictive, but as I explained, I have my own style and my clients already know what to expect. I worked very hard to develop it and I'm lucky that today I was contacted for it.

Q: The portraits are very interesting. I like how almost every tattoo has its own unique decorative elements. Like Maori designs... Really, really cool. I've noticed that you also have some on your face. Is this something unique you prefer to add to your art?
A: I am French-Filipino and I grew up with my Filipino family. I have always been interested in my cultural heritage and the history of my ancestors. My mentor in Filipino tribal taught me the history of the Philippines, the different colonizations, the history of the different regions and the meanings of all the symbols of the traditional Filipino tribal tattoo. What I have on my face is Filipino tribal tattoo.

Q: Tell me about your tattoo collection. It's different than what I see mostly in your portfolio. Who is the artist? Are you done or there are some tattoos you are planning to get?
A: I have mostly Filipino tribal tattoos on me and I am in the process of getting the entire back of my body tattooed by Kasasink. I continue in February I can't wait.

Q: In a (former) male dominated profession, it's so nice to see female tattoo artists getting the recognition and succeeding! I love the collaboration with Natasha Animal Tattooer. You both are such a great combination, very talented and so, sooo creative... Nothing to add but sincere compliments!

The tattoo looks... Fantastic!

How did you figure out the design idea? Did you help each other with some suggestions about the color choice, details etc?
A: Thank you so much! it was an incredible experience, Natasha is such a kind and sweet person, I had a great time tattooing with her and I also learned a lot! I had the chance this year to be able to do a collaboration with Waler Montero, and it was also an incredible collaboration, it was after that that the idea of doing a collaboration came to us, Natasha and I, we met for the first time at Gods Of Ink, even though we were both very focused on our tattoos we were able to chat a little and then the idea of collaboration came to us. A client from the United States contacted me for a complete leg project, I asked him if he was interested in the idea of collaboration. He was very enthusiastic, he suggested different themes to us and we chose the one that interested us the most and he let us do what we wanted.

Collaboration with Waler Montero

Q: Do you plan to work with her again or someone else? Please consider! I think these type of collaborations are a great way to learn but also to share your own knowledge... And to have some fun! I bet! Heh
A: Absolutely, it's a great opportunity to learn and see different techniques, I find it very informative! And yes we have a client who wants to have a complete back piece in collaboration with me, Natasha and Waler Montero! It's going to be incredible, I don't really know how we're going to be able to tattoo at the same time, I'm a little nervous about the idea of tattooing with 3 people at the same time but it's going to be a great experience!

Q: You also have a lot of awards from tattoo conventions. Congratulations! Totally deserved! Do you have any favorite?
A: I was lucky enough to be able to win the best of show at very famous conventions, yes! I still wonder today how I was able to win against all these incredible artists! I'm very grateful. I think my best memory is the best of show at the tattoo planetarium because it's the biggest convention in France. When I was fiveteen I walked around this convention and I dreamed of being there! Winning this convention was one of my dreams and it will remain one of my fondest memories. Doing conventions is always very stressful for me, I am very focused because I always do big tattoos and I do everything to be able to finish on time with the cleanest tattoo possible, then during competitions I am always very stressed. I enjoy before and after the convention but during the convention I am very focused.

Q: I think we are heading in a good direction. First we've got new supplies, new styles and new artists... It's all somehow better. I can only speak from observation. I think the tattoo industry offers way more quality than what it used to a few years ago. Your thoughts? Do you see progress?
A: I completely agree, the world of tattooing has evolved a lot very quickly. Tattooing has become an art, a way of expressing oneself on the skin as on a canvas. There are incredible machines, products that make our work easier. In Europe there is this new law on inks which has passed, it caused a lot of problems for many tattoo artists but brands like world famous ink were able to react very quickly so that we could continue to tattoo.

Q: There is also the friendly vibe... I think more and more artists, especially the young are open to share tips and tricks with others, they are more humble and curious... I think that is why we are seeing progress. Back in the day, you should have been someone "special" to even get the chance to talk with a tattoo artist and get that apprenticeship... I guess less ego goes a long way. Your thoughts and experience?
A: I'm not the type to get upset about a situation, it won't change anything. I prefer to adapt and continue to move forward while giving the best of myself. I started tattooing more than 12 years ago and it wasn't easy, I think that when you really want something you do everything to get it. I didn't have an easy journey but I did a lot of sacrifice to get there. Everything has become easier today and today's young tattoo artists have the chance to access the world of tattooing more easily and to evolve just as quickly. Everything is going so fast today, I sometimes have trouble keeping up.

Now let's talk about the local tattoo scene...  What can we say about the current tattoo world...
There are good and bad sides. It's all about balance. I prefer to focus on my passion, on my development and moving forward. Whatever you face, whatever you say, there are always people to encourage you and others to criticize you. I prefer to concentrate on myself, to surround myself with the right people and to move forward. The most important thing is sharing the passion and love.

Q: Oh France! You're so lucky to be there... Such a beautiful country... Especially for artists... Paris is such an inspiring city. How is the tattoo scene there? Any french tattoo artists you would like to work with?
A: There are lots of incredible regions in France, yes, and Paris is a magnificent city for art, there are lots of exhibitions and museums. Tattooing in France is complicated, there was inflation and everything became very expensive, then there were wars... People are more careful with their spending. There are also a lot of tattoo artists and it becomes difficult for many tattoo artists to find clients every day. But I consider myself lucky because I have the chance to have a strong and present Community with customers who travel from all over the world to come and see. I'm thankful.

Q: I guess you are constantly busy and fully booked. If there is any chance to get an appointment, please write your email and socials.
A: I receive requests but I am always interested in new projects especially if they are large projects.

Instagram : sampaguitajay_tattoo
email :

Q: How do you manage the busy schedule? What do you do when you feel overwhelmed?
A: I am lucky to have my husband who works on all this, he works all the administrative part, which allows me to concentrate on my artistic development.

- Do you have any interesting hobbies?
I love painting, I love singing, english boxing, playing musique, take time with my animals and my family.

Q: And after all this time, do you still have the same enthusiasm?
A: Oh yes, I have ups and downs but when I take stock of all that, I am very happy to make a living from my passion, I still have a long way to go. I'm lucky to be well surrounded and that's the most important thing.

Q: What do you like the most about being a tattoo artist?
A: I don't know how to explain it, I'm really passionate about it, I love tattooing above all else, but it also makes me very anxious because we tattoo people for life and it's not to be taken lightly. Creativity is not always there and when it doesn't come it's not easy. But the satisfaction and happiness I get when I tattoo is what I love.

Q: Plans for the near future? Maybe experimenting with a different style?
A: I will continue to focus on my artistic development because I evolve every day. We are more and more tattooists and I think I will continue to develop seminars to help young tattooists in their artistic development and continue to do what I do best, tattooing.

Q: A few words for those who want to try getting into professional tattooing?
A: Be passionate or humble, work hard, question yourself, stay true to your convictions and never give up.

Thank you