What happens when an avant-garde pop color tattoo artist and a tattoo artist specializing in color realism come together at a busy three-day tattoo fair? The answer is a massive leg piece filled with vibrant, surrealistic imagery and divine feminine energy, along with a few awards in her arms on the way out.
Koral Ladna and Emmanuel Fortunato, two resident artists at Inked NYC, are no strangers to tattoo collaborations, especially with each other. Still, the task of creating a unified piece poses a challenge for both parties every time. Ladna’s style uses dreamy tones for both color-blocked and watercolor-inspired looks, while Fortunato usually favors more natural colors set in a landscape could be represented. Seeing their worlds fused together in one seamless illustration is always exciting.
Creating a tattoo one-on-one with a client already presents a challenge as more people come into the mix to up the ante. “[Having] three different people was the challenge for me,” explains Fortunato. “I thought, okay, I want to do that. I have to do this Because I want to create something outside of my comfort zone.”
There are many ways to create a collaborative piece. The pair knew from the start that they didn’t want to attack this in the same way as others. “In most collaborations, you take two different styles, and you can usually see each artist’s hand very clearly, sort of like cutting and pasting,” says Ladna. “What’s also super cool is you obviously take your creative process and put it together with someone else. What we wanted to do was challenge ourselves in the way we both design the tattoo [together]we both use the same color palette and do pretty much everything.”
The two first started the design process by figuring out how the illustration would flow together, resulting in around 6-7 designs and 20+ hours of prep time. They revealed that after spending all that time drawing together, they really understood each other’s thought processes on a deep level, and when it came to the actual tattooing, it all came together very effortlessly. “At some points it was like, ‘Pick my machine and finish this part,'” recalls Fortunato. “‘And I have your machine to finish this part. What color do you think would make this part better?’ I would like to say that it was very organic.”
A concept from the client originally served as the starting point. “She wanted something that celebrates female beauty, something majestic, ethereal that has certain surreal qualities,” says Ladna. “But everything else was open-ended.” The artists loosely based the design on the client’s references, taking into account the words and adjectives they were given to create something that was truly unified. “And in the end,” Ladna continues, “what we came up with is almost like a third artist.”
Listening to Ladna and Fortunato describe their design process, their motivation to push their limits stands out. “I think there’s always room for growth as an artist, and that’s one of the things we’ve encountered with every design,” says Ladna. “‘Do we love this design? Yes, but can we do better?’ By collaborating with another artist, you can push each other to reach the next level that you might not be able to challenge in the same way on your own.”
Working on a tattoo with someone else is a conscientious practice. Not just when it comes to each other’s creative choices, but the physical act of tattooing as well. “You have to keep thinking, ‘Oh, if he’s just drawing a line, I can’t do a crazy fill-in because the whole canvas is going to move,'” says Ladna. “So we have to behave consciously and respectfully towards the person and the customer at all times. Because obviously it’s a very vulnerable place.”
Although the two have performed at conventions before, this is the first time the two have worked together at one. The atmosphere plays a role in itself. “You have to follow the rules, and that forces you to try a little harder,” Fortunato muses. “I think if you do [the tattoo] In a controlled environment like the store, you can relax a little. The idea of doing it at a convention was like, ‘Okay, we have another challenge. The convention has a lot of good and bad things. One thing is all the noise you have, all the questions. You can’t control the music, the air conditioning. We just adapt to every change.”
“On the third day the client didn’t feel as good anymore, which is normal, three days is a lot,” says Ladna. “So it was things like that that we dealt with, [but] everything we were prepared for. Everything was pretty smooth. Not easy – it was a lot of energy, a lot of effort, but it ended up being really seamless and everything just flowed.”
Even in all the chaos, the duo didn’t shy away from getting down to business and giving it their all, winning first place in big paint and best of the day for Sunday.
The benefits of attending tattoo conventions are endless. On the one hand, artists can show their work to other artists and receive immediate feedback. Koral added why she thinks exhibitions are important: “It’s a way to get your work out, out of the studio and to a different audience that wouldn’t normally see it. People come to conventions from all over the world, so it’s an opportunity to share community, learn, exchange information and present yourself in a different way.” Fortunato adds: “They spend three days with the same energy, and of course you learn from it.”
“We want to do a series of collaborations to refine this way of working and push each other to learn more and tackle different challenges,” explains Ladna. “Maybe we’ll find a different mindset for next time, maybe change everything we’ve done this time.”
The fruits of the duo’s efforts were even greater than expected. “We are more than satisfied [with how it turned out]’ beams Fortunato. “Because even if you have all the energy and the process, you know something can happen. But that was more than I expected.”
“If you look at the first drawing we did together and the result, it’s light years apart,” adds Ladna. “It was a great journey.”
Well folks, you never know what unique magic can come from the challenge of tattooing in a new setting and with a little extra pressure. But after committing to understanding each other’s creative process, effectively fusing their styles into one, and collaborating to realize a client’s grand vision, the artists certainly transcended this opportunity.