SKIN DEEP Magazine


German tattooist Julia Rehme works in her studio Noïa in Berlin. Originally trained as a fashion designer and with a passion for abstract painting, her design uses contrasting elements and graphic shapes. It was the experience of having her first tattoo that sparked Julia’s interest in the trade.

How she began tattooing,

‘I studied fashion design in Hanover, after my graduation I decided to leave that city and move on for new experiences. I moved to Berlin in 2009 with the idea of working as a fashion designer or as an illustrator, because it´s a very inspiring city full of art and artists from different fields and full of inspiration. During my studies, I had the opportunity to try many different art techniques like screen print and etching. I was interested in fashion illustration and the experimental aspects of fashion and inspired by Japanese designers like Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake.

I decided to get my first tattoo and this is how the idea of learning to be a tattooist developed. I first thought about getting a tattoo for myself after a painful breakup. After dealing with this volcano of emotions I felt like I wanted to mark it somewhere on my body, leave it behind and move on. The tattooing process itself helped me to go through this experience. 

To me tattooing means connecting your inside world with the outside world. The fact that getting tattooed causes pain made me accept it in the same way because I went through this experience to modify a part of my body. It took away all the doubts I had before and made me accept the transformation. It´s a philosophy that all the experiences of your life will form you to the person who you actually are.

About 7 years ago I went to a tattoo shop and showed them my work, my drawings and asked if they wanted an apprentice and they accepted me. So that is when I started to learn. Then for two years I worked in Berlin Ink and also Toe Loop, then I decided to have my own shop. I am happy with how the studio has developed, I do not want to make it bigger because it takes a lot of organization having a studio and I want to find more time for painting. I am doing a lot of painting and want to find maybe another space that is part of Noïa but just for painting, exhibitions and collaborations with artists from other art fields.’

Developing her style

‘Choosing tattooing was not a decision against fashion, I felt personally that I liked the moment of getting my tattoo and it was quite important. I realized that tattooing can be more important for the customer than fashion. I like the permanence and the connection to the client, tattoos can have a big meaning for somebody. 

As I mentioned before my previous work process was defined by experimental, unconventional ways of creating fashion without following trends. This is the only way to create something new and shape your own artistic voice. As a fashion designer, this can mean you destroy or disassemble a piece of a garment and put it together in a new way or work with a square piece of cloth and try to create a wearable shape from it. By observing and analyzing why you like it and what you like about you define your aesthetic sense.

I can find many parallels to my artistic way as both a painter and tattoo artist. My artistic process is defined by a mix of intuitive work flow and analyzing and observing my work. My art is a reflection of my experiences and starts where words end. It´s my own interpretation of the world, how I deal with it, it´s a mirror of my deepest thoughts, fears, and emotions. 

Developing my style I think there are still influences from fashion design. I did a lot of fashion illustration when I studied, and the technique of using brushes and water colour is based in fashion illustration and from there it developed more and more abstract. When I started tattooing in the beginning of course I had to just practice and do any kind of tattoos because I need the practice. I still went to art courses after my studies. I was always interested in abstract art because it is very timeless and I like to create something that leaves room for interpretation. I think that once I arrived at the abstract style I can’t go back to figurative drawing again. I sometimes still have theses in my designs but my work is getting more and more abstract.’

Her inspirations,

‘Studying fashion gave me an awareness of the body. Finding the right composition on the body and the right placement for a tattoo is very important. For my style it is not important that a lot of skin is coloured or tattooed, it is more important to find the right placement. I started working with placing the designs over a few parts of the body and I think that comes from my fashion background and I developed my own aesthetic through fashion design and this is something that I still use.

I like working with asymmetry and contrasts in shape and colour and this is something that I did when I studied fashion. I was influenced by artists from Japan who were very experimental and that is where I got my inspiration from trying to find new ways to create new shapes and compositions and this something I still try to do. Nature itself is an excellent source of visual inspiration, whether it is a cellular structure, a leaf or a huge rock. Experiencing nature is always good for body and soul and to expand one´s perspective in general. I observe a lot.

Books often serve as a source of inspiration, however, not only nature books with photos or old books with science graphical drawings. Over the years I have collected books from different fields, which serve as sources of inspiration, such as painting, photography, illustration, street art, print-graphics. 

I admire for example Kitty Sabatier´s works, she is a French artist and designer. To me her artworks have a great harmony and a balance of darkness, elegance, powerful energy and fragility. She uses mainly watercolor and ink. Each step during the artistic process is irreversible which shows her great talent and ability of painting. 

There are many other artists I admire but it´s more important for me to mention that music has a big influence on my work. I love to listen to electronic music (experimental, ambient, techno) and also classic or neoclassical music. Composers like Philip Glass, Nils Frahm, Max Richter, Tim Hecker, Erik Satie. These genres of music often work with repetitive structures and patterns, experimental sounds creating a certain atmosphere. This sound and the associations in terms of shapes, rhythm and colours build a great source of inspiration for my work. I transport the atmosphere and emotion on paper or canvas.

Especially the abstract, that is not tangible and non-objective both in music and in the visual arts is so interesting, because it is unfathomable and unlimited. I can describe something by using lines and shapes and there still remains room for interpretation.

Because my work appeals to many people, it´s meaningful for me that it is understood on a certain level, as they can perceive and read what I create, regardless of verbal or body language.

For me tattooing wouldn´t be enough. I need to express myself in painting. Without thinking about a customers’ idea. But shaping my style and way of artistic expression in painting builds a way to express myself in an artistic way related to tattoos. Sometimes I think I created my own language and people who understand and like it want to get one of my tattoos.

Also as her work has developed over the years her use of colour has reduced.

‘As my work develops both in my paintings and my tattooing it will be more abstract and a bit darker.’

This move away from colour is interesting, Julia explains her motivations,

‘My designs get more and more minimal, so also both ways in the designs themselves and also the colour pallet I use. By reducing the colour I can create a stronger look, I want to create powerful designs with depths and strength on the other hand sensitivity for composition, details and linework. Colour sometimes disturbs or distracts from the focus. The movement of the lines or brushstrokes is more important and more interesting to me than using colour.

Using limited elements supports the aesthetic I want to create. The base is always black. If I use colour I like accents of colours to create a stronger expression or softness to balance it. By reducing the elements of my designs their expression gets stronger, also more elegant and mysterious. I think the reason for this is connected to where I take my inspirations from, especially the style of music. It´s a special kind of atmosphere which inspires me.  

Sometimes I try to observe myself and take a step back and see where the process is going and if there is a continuation somehow, I can still see that the work that I did three years ago is still recognisable as mine. There is a hand print in the whole process.’

Future Plans

‘Working with like-minded artists is very inspiring, sometimes I see Martin’s work and get inspired by that and. The shapes and the darkness inspire me a lot. Sometimes Lina’s work because it is very free and dynamic. I think it is good for everyone that works here to get inspiration from each other.

I am planning an exhibition and a collaboration combining my idea of love for music and abstract painting. I am thinking about an extra atelier. I love both parts of my job, the creative part and freedom while painting but also the craft of tattooing and being in the studio with my great colleagues and customers, I met so many interesting people. So I hope combining those two fields will last in the future. `

Julia Rehme