I decided that I will not quit, no matter what: Sumina Shrestha

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These days I don’t like to think about the future, I am very happy reminiscing about my past and living in the present. When it comes to our past, most of us can never forget our childhood. Don’t we get really happy thinking about those childhood days? Draw something and gift it to our teachers, and every drawing had some creative ideas. I get surprised when I think of it now. How did we get such creative ideas and from where?

I spent most of my early days in the narrow alleys of Dillibazaar. Ever since I was a little girl, I was always fond of drawing. In fact, if anyone praised my drawing then, I would be so happy and I drew more. My aunt always used to tell me that I would grow up to be an artist. I didn’t know then what it meant to be an artist but that word got stuck in my head. Maybe that’s why my childhood days were filled with drawings and colors. I always liked to draw portraits. In school, I would always be ready to draw on the class board. Despite drawing at a young age, I was never introduced to water colors. One day while commuting from school to home, I saw water color in one of the shops.  I clearly remember asking my mother to buy me that water color and I was very adamant about it. She finally bought it but I had no idea how to use it. With my continuous practice, I was getting good at drawing and maybe because I was told that I will be an artist at a very young age or maybe because I started at a very young age. I studied Fine Arts after my school.

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Despite the fact that I studied Fine Arts, I  wasn’t sure which field of art I wanted to pursue. I was also sketching cartoons at that time. I discovered other forms of traditional art, like Thangka painting and I ended up going to Boudha to train myself. I found a place but apparently this course was only available for foreigners. I went to Patan to inquire and I learned that Thangka drawings are very detailed artworks and needs serious focus and attention; my attraction towards Thangka decreased.  I never really enjoyed any detailed work.  After Thangka, I was inclined to learn more about tattoos, however, I knew no tattoo artists. I got trained at two different places. The first place I went to didn’t teach me anything about tattoos. For a week or so, they only asked me to draw. So, I stopped going there. I wasn’t happy at the second training center too. I had already paid a certain amount but they didn’t teach us well. They had given me two different tattoo machines; liner and shader. I took those machines and never went back.

I was doing a lot of freelance commission artworks, and that’s when Nepal was struck with a massive earthquake. Major media platforms were continuously showing the number of people that died during the earthquake and that’s when I realized that life is very unpredictable, I should be doing something. An organization called “Get Well Soon” had started a campaign called “Healing through Artwork”. This campaign was initiated by my teacher. I joined the initiative and through this campaign we gave art therapy to many children at different places. During the same time, I met my college friend as well and came to know that he was learning tattoo art at his own place. I inquired about tattoo artwork with him. He explained everything to me.

The fact that Nepal didn’t have many female tattoo artists got me even more interested to join this field.

I tried to understand why there are less women in this field of art. I figured out that there are women who have joined this work, but because of social and family related issues, they cannot continue to work. I began to realize that if I do start tattooing, I will face similar issues. I decided that I would not quit, no matter what.

wTattoo04I knew my parents couldn’t afford to send me to a tattoo training center but they always encouraged me and supported me mentally.  My friend advised me to practice at home. Whatever I earned from my commission work, I began to save and with that saving I bought the machines I needed to learn tattoo art. I started to practice at home on a rubber pad. After few months of practicing on the rubber pad, I gained confidence that I could tattoo on skin. I asked my sister if she would allow me to tattoo her.  She agreed. I couldn’t be happier.  With a little bit of nervousness and plenty of excitement, I tattooed my sister. The tattoo looked fine. For a while, I couldn’t believe my eyes and kept staring at the tattoo. I then knew that I was capable and ready.

I also have tattoos on my body. According to our social norms, people with tattoos aren’t looked upon as decent people.  I have tattoos on both my arms. Few of my relatives and people in general look at me differently when they notice my tattoos. Some of them ask me why I dirtied my arms. I used to get upset listening to the same comment over and over again. Now, I don’t care.

I still remember how frustrated I used to get during my initial days when I didn’t understand how the machine worked. We didn’t have rotary tattoo machines then. We used coil tattoo machines which had to be set up beforehand. At times I used to get upset when I failed to illustrate my vision because of the problems encountered while setting the machine. Setting up the machine was pretty stressful and frustrating but I never thought of giving up.

It was necessary to prove myself before getting into this line of work.

More than competing with others, I wanted to compete with myself and create my own identity. Therefore, it was absolutely necessary to create my own portfolio. Within a years’ span, I was able to make a decent portfolio. After looking at my work, I was offered a job at a tattoo studio. I began to work there to gather some experience. I cannot easily open up and get close with new people. That’s why I have very few close friends. Even at the studio, I couldn’t talk easily with my clients. I would only speak if and when anyone was interested to learn more about tattoos. After working in a few different places,  I got an opportunity to work at WanderThirst Hostels. Currently, I am working there.

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By now I knew a good number of tattoo artists, so getting a job isn’t really that difficult. During my initial days at the studio, few clients were reluctant to get a tattoo from a female artist. That would really upset me. No matter how upset I was, I never let my anger spoil my work. Even though I am very shy in nature, I have excelled at building a conversation with my clients where they feel very close and comfortable. But now because of the COVID 19 situation, we don’t have any work. I don’t like staying inside the house, I would rather work. But as the lockdown kept extending, it started to get very difficult. As the mental stress started took a toll on me, I began to draw digital portraits of people. This calmed me down a bit.

It has only been 4 years since I started working as a tattoo artist. I am learning a lot and I still have a long way to go. I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful I will be. But one day, I want to open a tattoo studio where I can help other women like myself who are interested in this field of work. I believe in myself and hence, I think this dream of mine will also come true.

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