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 Issue #6. March/April 2022

"Very nice write up I received for Ladies of Tattooing Worldwide magazine. I feel honored to be included amongst such talented female tattooers." Anna.


Interview by Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev

I met Anna a few times in the past years and thee is something about her ethereal, spiritual and kind...and the fact that she is fully tattooed in classic Japanese style and she is a tattooer herself, a painter and a mother, really makes her so inspiring.. I personally have a lot of respect and admiration for her.  After taking few years off from tattooing to raise her daughter Luna (with husband tattooer Rodrigo Melo), Anna continued painting her beautiful Japanese motherhood inspired series and will slowly and gradually start tattooing again, so don't miss the chance to book an appointment with her! 
After spending many years at their shop in NYC, North Star Tattoo, Anna and Rodrigo are now established in Woodstock, upstate NY, at their private studio Tengu Yama Tattoo!
Glad I had this nice interview with Anna! This is her story.  Enjoy!

What is your background, where did you grow up, what kind of family/upbringing you come from? When, where and how you discovered tattooing and when did you start tattooing professionally?

I was born in the former Soviet Union, in Riga, Latvia to a Ukrainian mother and  a Russian father.  I moved to America when I was 9 years old, straight to the most Russian/ Eastern European neighborhood in South Brooklyn, New York.  It was a bit shocking for me as I recall to encounter so many Russian/Ukrainian people outside of Russia. I remember being a bit disappointed, for some reason, when I found out that my mother was moving us to America I was expecting a tropical paradise.  Palm trees, I was let down when the plane landed and I was watching the scenery pass by on the drive to my new home and seeing zero palm trees.  

I was always into art, I was painting and sculpting constantly, as a little child I would come home at the end of my day and do a painting of everything that happened.  Once my mother finally realized that art was the only thing that I was interested she gave me all the support to pursue it, I will always be grateful for that. I am a classically trained oil painter, painting has always been my number one passion. It was  interesting to shift gears and try my hand at tattoo style painting, Japanese tattoo style to be specific, as my focus, letting my imagination open new doors with this new language that I’m forever learning to communicate with.  

I’m not sure how early it was that I really started to think about getting a tattoo, I always was fascinated by them.  My earliest recollection of anything tattoo was when I was still living in Riga, I used to run with a group of kids, like a street dog pack, some of us were more feral than others.  Kids from all walks of life, living in the same neighborhood, ruling the streets! Haha I diverge, we were going to give each other hand poke tattoos on our hands, and I remember looking as some of the kids that already had them, and thinking about how I would get one if it looked better. 

Tell us about your love story with Rodrigo, was it love at first sight? Is tattooing to blame?

When I turned 18 I got my first tattoo, Rodrigo was the artist who did it for me.  I was attending FIT at the time so I looked for tattoo shop near the school.  I found Rising Dragon, as a matter of fact I used walk by there all the time, but I did my research, they had a lot of talented artists.  I wanted to get a phoenix on my back and found Rodrigo's portfolio on the website and I thought his work was beautiful, he already had a strong Japanese influence in his work back then, and had in his portfolio a large collection of beautiful phoenixes.  He’s been tattooing me ever since, did my first tattoo when I was 18,  and now we recently celebrated our 10 year marriage anniversary and our little girl Luna turned 4 this year.  It was a fateful connection that we made that day he tattooed me, for many years after that we had a client tattooer relationship though.  It was a natural progression.  I finished my first sleeve at his new shop that he opened at the time called North Star Tattoo in 2008.  After the phoenix on my lower back, I got a peony on my shoulder.  I was always attracted to the Japanese style, the beautiful flowers the strong bold, almost tribal looking black background.  Even before I really understood what I was really looking at I had a strong reaction to it.  The coverage and the bold look was very attractive to me.  We are currently working on my Japanese bodysuit, I am happy to recommence work on it again, after taking a hiatus from getting tattooed during and post pregnancy.

How did you fall in love with Japanese style?  Are you self taught or you had an apprenticeship? Did you go to Japan? What is the most fascinating thing about Japanese culture you love?

We went to Japan in 2013, we are planning a family trip out there again for sure.  Visiting Japan was magical, it was so foreign and so different but I loved every moment of it!  We saw some amazing temples, awe inspiring, truly magnificent.  I remember feeling the very powerful energy at the temples there, especially when visiting a temple at Nikko.  On that trip thanks to our friends that live in Japan, Rico and Shion, from Studio Daruma Goya in Iwate Japan, amazing tattoo artists, got to meet and Rodrigo got tattooed by the late master Asakusa Horihide.  It was a great honor to spend some hours in his presence, our friend Shion acting the translator, it was wonderful to have a humble sincere talk about Japanese tattoos and art with this master.  Horihide was the oldest living tattooer at the time he tattooed Rodrigo at 84 I think it was.  We purchased a few of his paintings, one hangs in our bedroom and I wake up looking at it every morning.  I’m always impressed with his practiced lines full of feeling, he brought finesse and beauty, with a strong background.  He is an inspiration for many tattoo artist studying Japanese tattoo style.  It left a great impression on me to meet this legend face to face, he was so warm and kind, like hanging out with your grandpa.  I remember sitting in his tattoo room and being surrounded by paintings from floor to ceiling, stacks and stacks of paintings everywhere.  Horihide was a dedicated artist, you could see he spent many hours honing his craft.

I got apprenticed by Rodrigo, I was working at an antique restoration workshop restoring 17th, 18th century English furniture. He saw that I wasn’t happy with my current job, I was spending a lot of time at his shop too, I loved being surrounded by all the artwork, I felt very inspired in that space, I was getting tattooed.  Rodrigo appreciated my artwork and saw that I had potential to be a good tattooer if I put in the work. I just took a leap of faith, I really wanted to learn, I quit my job, I gave all my focus to learning everything I could about tattooing.  I learned how to put machines together, how to solder my needles, how to make my own inks, and think more like a tattooer, rather than a fine artist.  I learned to appreciate what a real tattoo should look like.  I learned and loved this new art language.  I wanted to be the next Brooklyn Joe Lieber!  I painted a lot of flash.  At one point I think just with all the flash that I had painted at the time, I could cover the whole front space, 250 sf of the North Star Tattoo shop.  I was always gravitating toward the Japanese style, that is what I was getting tattooed on me, and something that I found super attractive to my artist eye.  I began to study more deeply learning all that I could about this beautiful craft.  I love how strong and bold it can be and yet have a soft and delicate feeling depending on the subject matter.  Its timeless and classic.

What is your experience being a female tattooer? 

My work always spoke for itself, but there were times when I was a preferred artist over others because I am a woman.  For the most part I pretty smooth sailing, I was lucky to be able to work along side my partner and keep learning from him, as I do to this day. 

Are you a Buddhist?

I am not a Buddhist but I do take a lot of the lessons to heart, things like compassion which most people look over as a virtue.

Finally, you took a few year off tattooing because you had a daughter, will we see you back at it soon? Did you miss tattooing?

I did take a few years off from tattooing to enjoy pregnancy and motherhood, during this time I kept on painting and participated in some great projects, one of which is the Secret Garden book by Okasan Publishing, and building my “Motherhood” collection.  I’m not going to be working full time any time soon, but I will be open to select projects in the very near future.  Please visit my website www. for all updates and collections of works on paper and skin.  

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