Svilen Dimitrov – From Paintings to Living Canvases

It is Monday morning and light music is playing in the two-floor studio as Svilen Dimitrov begins his workday. There are pieces of artwork hung all around, bringing intimacy to the open space. The client already has a stencil placed on his arm. They have been discussing the piece for over an hour to perfect it. Dimitrov puts on a pair of black disposable gloves and takes out a tattoo gun.

“Are you comfortable like that?” he asks, as a sharp buzz overtakes the whole room. He starts humming the song playing from the laptop, while the first strokes of the needle pierce the client’s skin. 

A mirror in Dimitrov's studio. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.

A wall with shelves in Dimitrov's studio. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.

Dimitrov starting to work. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova. 
Svilen Dimitrov – The Artist

Svilen Dimitrov. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova. 
Dimitrov is a tattoo artist, who started his career in the field back in 2015, when he lived in the U.S.  

“I was participating in an exhibition in Hollywood with some of my paintings, when I shared my passion for tattooing with one of my friends. I ended up working at a tattoo shop with two young Mexicans and that is how it all began for me,” he shares.  

He has now moved his practice to Bulgaria, and his new studio is located in a bustling Sofia neighborhood.

Dimitrov says that taking on this type of work comes naturally to him, as he has been drawing for as long as he could remember.

“There wasn’t much that changed for me. I just had to get used to the needle touching the skin, as opposed to using a brush and a piece of paper. It was never about how to draw the tattoo, my mind was already wired that way. It was about how to extract the optimal result when using the needle,” he says.

Some of Dimitrov's paintings. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.

Some of Dimitrov's paintings. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova. 
Beginning his practice in the U.S., Dimitrov became a certified tattoo artist, which is an official requirement there. This is in contrast to Bulgaria, where anyone can buy the necessary equipment and open up a studio with no certification. 

“This certificate doesn’t teach me how to be a tattoo artist. It teaches me about cross contamination, bloodborne pathogens. Having it gives me reassurance that my practice is safe. Hygiene is a crucial element,” he says.

Dimitrov's certificate. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova. 
According to Dimitrov, his passion for tattoo artistry is rooted in the fact that this type of artwork is more challenging than painting on a piece of paper or canvas. When something goes wrong in paintings, it can easily be redone. Giving a tattoo, means getting only one chance to perfect everything to the smallest detail.  

“It’s almost like being a surgeon, you can be the best there is, but one wrong move will taint your whole practice. The skin is a very sacred place and when somebody decides to share that with you, you have to work with a lot of respect, ” he shares.

The needle touching the skin. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova. 
The Process of Tattooing

 Dimitrov working. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.
“The first thing that I do every morning is to come to the studio at least an hour earlier and clean everything thoroughly. This makes both my clients and I feel at ease. I want to go home at night knowing that I didn’t put anyone at risk, ” Dimitrov says.

He describes the process of tattooing as a synthesis between two people – the client and the artist. That is why he dedicates a lot of time to consultations. He shares that sometimes it takes hours before they decide on what the best option is.

“It often happens that I have to discourage people from getting certain tattoos that I know will not suit them,” Dimitrov says, “This is a business but not at all costs. The people themselves come before everything else for me.”

Tattoo sketch. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.
One of the most crucial aspects to consider is what tattoo will complement a person’s features the best. The next step is to make all the visualizations on Photoshop. If both the tattoo artist and the client are pleased, a stencil is printed. It is then placed on the body and only when everything is finalized, does the actual tattooing process begin. What follows are long hours of intricate work with a few short breaks.

Working station. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.
“The longer sessions give me some back pains and my eyes get tired. Still, I like to give my clients shorter breaks, since extending the process also deepens the pain for them,” he says. 

Dimitrov working. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.
As it turns out, there is also an art in making people feel at ease. Dimitrov likes to do that by explaining exactly what he is doing at any given moment. For instance, what types of needles and creams he is using and why.

Tattoo gun and ink. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.

Tattoo needles. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.
“You have to make the person feel at home. After all, they are trusting you with their skin and that is a very responsible role. Usually, lots of talking makes people more relaxed. This interaction with my clients is something that gives me great pleasure,” Dimitrov shares.

Dimitrov working. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.
From Painting to Tattooing

While Dimitrov also pursues his career as a painter, he shares that it is getting harder for him to find the time to draw. Still, he considers the tattoo artwork he does as having painting-like characteristics. It is like pieces of art coming to life on people’s bodies.  

Dimitrov's artwork. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.

Svilen Dimitrov in his studio. Photo credits to Viktoria Ivanova.
“When I display my artwork in a gallery, only a number of people actually get to see it,” Dimitrov says, “with tattooing, my clients transform into living canvases.”

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