featuring: gabriella wilson

GABRIELLA WILSON is an artist and tattooer from montreal! after a year of freelance tattooing, gabby made the switch to studio work, and now resides at montreal’s mandrika tattoo. when you first meet gabby, you’d never guess that her artistic style would be so dark and twisted. once you get to know her, you wonder how you ever thought her style would be anything different. i mean that in the best way possible – gabby’s version of distorted, creepy realism is so bizarrely beautiful that the only way to describe it is sublime. her ability in both tattooing and art is effortlessly flawless, and there is a fire behind it that is truly inspiring. gabby has taken showcasing her art to the next level by using her friends as a canvas. almost every single person in our circle of friends has been inked by her, and i can say with experience that each piece has a uniqueness in both style and quality that make getting tattooed by gabby a really amazing experience. there is so much love in her work – and i’m very stoked to have been able to chat with her about art, tattoos and how it all began for her.

listen to this set by miss airie – music that inspires gabriella’s work – while you read! xx

how did this all happen? when did you start tattooing, how did you learn?

i always thought the greatest honour an artist could get was to put your work on people for their whole lives. then one magical night, i met a guy in a bar who happened to be an extremely talented tattoo artist. as our friendship grew he always pushed me to keep drawing, no matter what. i learned more from him than i ever learned studying fine arts at dawson college. he knew i wanted to start tattooing but always told me keep drawing. a year and a half ago, i was showing him some of my recent artwork and he agreed that i was ready to start. he ordered everything i needed, showed me how to set-up and sterilize, guided me through a couple tattoos, and then it began!

let’s rewind a bit to before you started tattooing! your art (drawings, paintings) is fucking sweet! where did you learn, how would you describe your style?

because the high school i attended barely offered any art classes, i took technical drawing and oil painting classes every saturday for most of my high school life. this class was focused on learning to create what you see. from the perfect colour mixtures to measuring angles and proportions, studying shades and sizes. this was essential for the style i am trying to perfect. as a tattoo artist, i’m a black and grey realist tattooer. as an artist … i’m still working on that. i’m annoyingly OCD about my work. i’m obsessed with perfection and realism. i don’t know if it’s a gift or a curse that as soon as i finish a piece, i’m dissatisfied with it, wanting to perfect a million more things in it and bring it to the next level. recently, i’ve been working on a lot of large scale, black and white portraits. eventually i want to bring surrealism to my work, but as i’m obsessed with realism i would only be satisfied with my surreal work if it’s so perfectly accurate that you can picture it popping out at you in real life.

gabby by gabby

le treasure box aka sophia cinqetoiles by gabby

what made you want to make the transition from artist to tattoo artist?

i could never make a living solely as an artist, and i have no patience for technology. my art tends to be dark, gory, and creepy. once I discovered artists like beksinski, michael hussar, and giger, i loved that “gasp …what the fuuuuck…..” feeling. that shock of something so revolting yet beautiful you just want to understand everything behind that image. and from then on, that’s all i wanted to create, was that feeling in other people, no matter how crazy they thought i was. i would never change my style so that my art was sellable, living room art, the kind of stuff that looks good over your couch. in tattoos, there was a window for me to bring my style to my work, and i just love the look of ink on the skin, especially black and grey tattoos, that look like they belong there. i’m still very focused on my artwork. my newest drawings will be on display at a vernissage associated with concordia university’s liberal arts theatre society on march 1st at les ateliers jean brillant, 3550 saint-jacques ouest. the vernissage and plays run from march 1st to 4th.

who was the first person you tattooed (aside from yourself)? tell me a bit about the experience.

my first guinea pig was our buddy avery. it was a really cool concept, “the fool” tarot card, which i designed myself, on the back of his leg. it had curved lines, straight lines, and a nice amount of shading. my mentor was there to guide me through it and it was his confidence in me that made it turn out so great. you would never guess it was my second tattoo.

avery’s tattoo by gabby – the fool tarot card

okay, now let’s talk about your experience tattooing yourself – painful? scary? where was it and what was it of? how long had you been practicing before you tattooed yourself?

i hadn’t been practicing – my first tattoo experience is an abstract bird/leafy guy on my ankle. at first it was scary as hell, if it wasn’t a success i would have a mark of my failure on my ankle forever. but as my mentor told me, “if you don’t have the balls to tattoo yourself, you have no right to tattoo others.” so i had a beer, or two, and it wasn’t so bad. i was so concentrated that i didn’t even notice the pain (until the burn kicked in)

you started out tattooing friends – most of our crew has been inked by you, including myself! what’s it like tattooing your friends?

tattooing friends is the best experience, because you’re so comfortable with each other, and they trust you so much you don’t have a thing to be nervous about. in the design process, you know their taste and style, so you can really create something they’ll love. and they love their tattoo so much more because it comes from home.

you started tattooing in your apartment, and now you’re working at mandrika tattoo – what was the change like? how did you go about finding your job?

while i was tattooing from home, i was constantly going to different tattoo shops, looking for advice and guidance, sucking up as much information as i could.  at a certain point i felt i couldn’t teach myself anything more, that i needed outside help. i put together a serious portfolio of my work, woke up one morning, walked up the street and into the first open tattoo shop, got the apprenticeship. i started working a couple months later, seeing as i had already been tattooing for almost a year.

tell me a bit about mandrika! what’s the shop like, what are your coworkers like?

mandrika studio is a great laid back, inviting environment, a large, open-space loft on st-laurent blvd in the plateau. we’re very…aquatic. jorge, karl and myself are all pisces, getting along so easily. jorge is the man, he’s been tattooing for ten years, and has his established style: mayan, mexican, always custom with great flow. evan is the best to learn technique from, tricks of the trade etc. his style’s kind of cubist, solid, technically correct in its abstraction. karl is the apprentice, and has his solid style already; old school illustrations, simple with a sense of humour, but can get creepy too. it’s great to be around different styles, to learn beyond what you know.

awesome! what was your most memorable tattoo?

tattooing my buddy before he left to serve a sentence…he’s picky about his art, too so I was already honoured to be working on him. we had one weekend to get it done right, five hours saturday, four hours sunday. it was incredibly detailed with an amazing concept. the urgency of getting it done perfectly, and in such a short amount of time required a level of concentration i hadn’t yet experienced. every once in awhile when you finish a great tattoo, you feel like you’ve reached a new level of understanding of the art.

and obviously being involved in a tattoo that’s so personal to him must have been a really amazing experience. tell me about your tattoos! what’s your fave, how many do you have?

i guesstimate 8? the smallest fits on my thumb and the largest wraps around my leg, from my right ankle across the calf and ends on the outside of my right thigh. my leg piece kind of symbolizes my journey in learning to tattoo, and was done by my first mentor. the inside of my leg is based from a doodle i made when i was bored at a party in the west island. being stuck out there and bored i found myself in a quiet room with the paper and pencils i always carried with me, working on my abstractions. i got this tattoo as a motivation to get serious about tattooing. after months of practicing, i absolutely needed something more intense, a piece of artwork on me. i gave my guy total liberty to do as he pleased, only that i wanted a wing to land on my thigh. my leg is still not finished, but i want it to remain that way until i’m satisfied that i’ve completed my journey. then i have waves on my arm, that my current boss, jorge, did. this was a reality check, no turning-back tattoo symbolizing that this was what i’m doing, and am not gonna stop. the waves are a mixture of my zodiac (pisces) and mayan astrology (white planetary wind) – waves are a strong force, a mighty wind giving the ocean flow, creating and inspiring, a breath of fresh air.

who would you say is your greatest influence, art/tattoo wise? what inspires you?

instagram… whenever i crave inspiration, i check my news feed which follows artists such as alan padilla, carlos torres, antonio todisco, bren tolson, steve soto, johnny quintana…i’ll stop there seeing as i must be following about 50 of today’s tattooing gods. lately, i’ve been getting back into literature too, from fiction like nicole krauss’ great house to passages from dantes inferno. this really inspires me to bring conceptualizing back into my art. bringing a purpose to light, angles, colour…adding to my cursed art OCD.

where do you see yourself in x years? would you say this is a definite career choice?

first, traveling. then, either in Montreal or any other of the cities i want to visit, having a great loft space. tattooing by day, drawing by night. nowadays, i can’t not create…i get depressed when i’m not learning or feeling at a standstill that i’m not approaching the future i crave. one of the greatest life lessons i’ve acquired from most of the tattoo artists i’ve had as mentors is that modesty is key. the only way to be great is by learning, if you think you’re the best, and shut out what people try telling you, you stop learning.

life lessons! let’s switch it up with my favourite questions – if you were a superhero, what would your powers be?

hmm…don’t think it constitutes a super power but i would love a photographic memory.

nice! what band/ artists would be on the soundtrack to your life?

haha, you know this already but…trentemoller, dominik eulberg, ryan davis, max cooper, burial, paul kalkbrenner, pantha du prince. i’ve had tycho’s dive on repeat for a month now. then there’s my guilty pleasures: old school hip hop, indie, the roots, metric, A.F.I, regina spektor. and of course, the our musically gifted amigos.


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