Talking Tattoos, Folklore and the Occult with London Blackwork Artist Elisa Thirteen

With the London launch of Tattoodo, the world’s leading tattoo app, Londoners will find it easier than ever to connect with the creative and talented artists that make up the capital’s thriving tattoo scene. One such artist is Elisa Thirteen, whose striking blackwork designs draw inspiration from folklore and the occult.

Our writer Kirstie Summers caught up with Elisa to learn more about her distinctive style.

Kirstie: How did you get into tattooing?

Elisa: Being a tattooist has been a completely unexpected thing. I’ve always been drawing and making art since I was a kid but I never thought of tattooing, even if I always had friends in the industry. It all happened because I started to work as a receptionist in a tattoo shop in Italy and, between one customer and another, I was always sketching things out in my sketchbook.

My colleagues liked my style and they asked me if I wanted to start an apprenticeship, which I didn’t want at the beginning because the idea of inking people for life used to scare me to death… But eventually I changed my mind, and here I am. I consider myself very lucky because I know how much people struggle to get an apprenticeship nowadays. I’ll be forever grateful to those guys.

Kirstie: How did you develop your particular style?

Elisa: I used to draw artworks for metal bands when I was a teenager, and those were quite cartoony, splatter-ey drawings and extremely colorful. I think that from there I started to like the idea of drawing things with that kind of creepy/cartoony style. Slowly, slowly I made them a little bit more realistic, adding more details but always keeping bold lines, and completely left the colours behind. I switched from the gory stuff to what I really love, which is things related to witchcraft, occult in general, mythology and nature, etc.

Kirstie: What drew you to blackwork?

Elisa: Years ago, I never knew how to label my style. When the word “blackwork” came out, I was like “Okay, that’s where I fit in, I guess”. So I already used to have that kind of “blackwork” vibe without even knowing the existence of that style – I just found the right word for what I was already doing.

I love using only black ink, solid lines. I love the contrast with the skin and using negative spaces to create shapes, and that’s what blackworks are about. Love them. I used to do colours a while back but it’s just not for me (though I confess that sometimes I throw a splash of red somewhere, if requested).

Kirstie: What inspired you to create designs influenced by mythology and the occult?

Elisa: Occultism has always been part of my life (to the joy of my family). I don’t think there’s anything that fascinates and interests me more than that. I love reading about it, and the more I read the more I get inspired to draw what I draw, so books are definitely one of my biggest sources of inspiration. Of course, the antique engraving/woodcut illustrations are something that I really LOVE, and I like to replicate them on skin.

Mythology comes hand in hand with the occult; everything is so linked. My favourite ones are Norse and Greek myths. They have amazing stories and characters, perfect for a good tattoo.

I love ancient vibes – I wasn’t born in the the right era.

Kirstie: Do you have any particular favourite tales or emblems that you find yourself returning to?

Elisa: There is a Norse mythology tale that I really like and that I like to recreate as a design. It’s called Ragnarok, and it basically talks about the end of the world. It’s interesting how every religion/cult has its own way to describe an event. Ragnarok is literally the equivalent of the apocalypse. At some point it describes two wolves eating the sun and the moon, and I very often draw it and tattoo it.

Kirstie: You often juxtapose creepy and cute elements in one design. What’s your secret to effectively creating that balance?

Elisa: I think they balance themselves. Everything is made of dark and light – humans, nature, everything, and those two elements work well together.

Sometimes I find that cute things are quite creepy, like children’s drawings or dolls, for example. They always freaked me out. I like to recreate that sort of innocent vibe mixed with a bit of darkness. It kinda represents my character, too. I might not be the most friendly looking person but once you get to know me you understand that I’m a teddy bear.

Kirstie: Do you have a favourite tattoo you’ve ever done?

Elisa: Yes!! It’s a big cover-up I did on a regular customer’s arm. It’s a big burning witch with black trees around her (used to cover the old tattoo) that eventually became a full sleeve. It was so much fun, and the customer gave me so much freedom. They literally let me do whatever I wanted as long I was going to cover the old tattoo. So I decided to go with what I enjoy the most: nature and witches, and I’m glad he loved it!

Kirstie: How does creating art for display on the human body influence your design process?

Elisa: There are some limitations that every tattooist has to keep in mind while drawing a tattoo project. First of all, we need to be aware of the size of the tattoo so that we know how detailed a design can be, because if the tattoo is too small and too detailed it could not look great in time. Also, we want to draw it in a way that doesn’t look like random design on skin, so the composition and placement of the elements are very important, especially on decent-size tattoos.

Kirstie: How are you feeling about Tattoodo launching in the UK? What are your hopes for being on the platforms?

Elisa: Tattoodo is a great idea to be honest, for both sides: tattooists and customers. A lot of people really struggle to find the right artist, and sometimes they end up getting their tattoo done by the wrong people. I think it’s amazing that they can have some sort of guidance through this process, and it’s very good for tattooists because it gives us more visibility. We get in contact mainly with people who want to get the style that we specialise in. That’s what I’m hoping for, to get more and more requests from people truly interested in blackwork.

Kirstie: Do you have any advice for people hoping to get into tattooing?

Elisa: Patience, patience, patience. It’s a long hard road but every effort pays off. I really suggest to always stay humble and be willing to learn, even when you get better and better, and to find a place that you vibe with and that makes you grow as an artist and person. There’s nothing worse than working with people that you don’t like and that are slowing you down in your progress. Don’t be scared of changing shop after shop if needed.

Also, don’t jump straight away into complicated pieces – get a coil machine and do the little things, do them perfectly and then level up.

We’d like to say a massive thank you to Elisa Thirteen for taking the time to talk to us. You can find out more on her Instagram or through her Tattoodo page. She is currently working at The Blue Tattoo in London.


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