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Bipin Maharjan: Embracing body art

Bipin Maharjan: Embracing body art
Bipin Maharjan, a tattoo artist from Kathmandu, has been running the tattoo parlor, ‘Tattoo Workshop’, in Basantapur, for the past five years. The 30-year-old got into the Nepali tattoo industry 10 years ago and has received several honors for his work, including those from reputable events like the International Nepal Tattoo Convention. He says he still has a long way to go. But, so far, his experience as a tattoo artist has been a good one. From a young age, Maharjan had a strong interest in art, design, and tattoos. But he hadn’t thought of getting one himself until some friends in college shared his interest in tattoos. He says that the process of making a tattoo was intriguing, and that sparked his interest in becoming a tattoo artist. “I started by making my tattoo machine where I used pen inks,” he says. The colors weren’t long-lasting and would fade away, and it wasn’t the perfect way to start his journey as a tattoo artist either. So he began taking a class at a tattoo studio with one of his brothers and decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. When he started, he says, becoming a tattoo artist wasn’t easy. There weren’t many YouTube lessons or resources where he could learn how to use a tattoo machine. The other issue was the lack of suppliers and equipment. But despite all the difficulties, he says he was fortunate enough to have a supportive family to help him pursue his dream of becoming a tattoo artist. “It was my mother who gave me money to buy my first tattoo machine,” he says.

The first tattoo he made was on his friend’s chest. It was an exhilarating moment for him. Since then, he has had many customers and is now quite accustomed to what he does. When it comes to drawing a tattoo, Maharjan says the process is fun and laborious at the same time. But when his clients are satisfied with what he’s made, he feels a sense of bliss. “I feel proud of my work when I see my customers happy,” he says. He feels like he has gotten better at what he does in the past 10 years. He used to draw tattoo designs based on the internet but now, he incorporates his sense of style in every design, making it unique and his own.

“My designs are mostly inspired by Japanese oriental style. I try to incorporate that style with Nepali elements that’s inspired by Thanka and Pauba art,” he says. Traditional artifacts and designs found in temples and monuments are the major sources of inspiration for his artwork. “For instance, if I want to draw a design of Buddha, I take reference from Buddha sculptures,” he says, adding he is inspired by international tattoo artists like Orient Ching and Filip Leu. Maharjan acknowledges that each tattoo artist has their style and pattern. He also thinks that every tattoo artist has his/her methods of carefully designing and making a tattoo to avoid mistakes. “If the tattoo work is heavy, the probability of skin damage is high, which might affect the final result,” he says, “When that happens, artists need to be prepared to handle it so that the tattoo won’t go wrong.” But naturally, when that happens, customers start panicking. He says it’s important to be a people’s person and know how to calm those who are panicking and assure them that everything is going to be okay. One of the most important things to keep in mind while making a tattoo on someone, Maharjan says, is to maintain hygiene. Every piece of equipment he uses is completely sterilized after each customer. He explains that the studio covers the bed with plastic so that there’s no cross-contamination. And to prevent infections, he makes sure he has gloves on and changes them frequently between sessions. He also doesn’t make tattoos on anyone below 18 years of age. As a concerned tattoo artist, he urges people to research tattoo studios, maintain hygiene practices, and look at the tattoo parlor’s portfolio before getting a tattoo. Maharjan believes that an artist must have enough experience to understand patterns, art, and creativity to thrive in the tattoo industry. “Art preferences evolve time and again, and it’s important for an artist to grow and change,” he says. It’s not just about the designs anymore, he says, even the equipment is always changing. “We need to stay updated on how to use it, and the best place to learn and stay updated is the social media platforms,” he says. Being a tattoo artist is a difficult job. Sometimes,  a design requires an artist to work for hours without a break. There was a time when Maharjan worked for 14 hours without a single break. It was during the International Nepal Tattoo Convention. “One needs to have a lot of patience and dedication in this field,” he says. For his work, Maharjan has received several accolades. He bagged the second prize for ‘Tattoo Flash Art’ at the seventh International Nepal Tattoo Convention in 2017. The following year, he won first place for ‘Front and Back Full Large Piece Black and Gray’ and second for ‘Small Tattoo Color’, and in 2019, he once again got second place for ‘Small Tattoo Color’. He has a long-term goal to persistently work on expanding the tattoo industry in Nepal. He believes many issues within the industry need to be resolved. For instance, there isn’t a proper licensing platform for tattoo businesses in Nepal. Maharjan draws attention to the fact that the government has been limiting the growth of tattoo art by prohibiting candidates for government jobs from getting inked. “Nepal is known for its rich culture,” he says, “I hope to someday see tattoos being accepted as a form of art.”