From an early age, Juan Rojas knew he wanted to be any artist, but he never considered becoming a tattoo artist. Tattoos were rare in Antofagasta, the small town in Chile where Rojas grew up, so it wasn’t until later in life that Rojas discovered them. But once he did, his mind was blown and his future unfolded before him. We spoke with Rojas about his tattoo journey, why he loves black and gray realism and more.
When did you start to be interested in art? It has always interested me. Since I was a child, I was very fond of drawings and graffiti, and I started to investigate art from that moment until today.
Growing up in Chile, were tattoos part of the culture? Were they common to see? In Chile, it was not common. Very few people had tattoos, there were only two in my town around 2011.
When did you know you wanted to be a tattoo artist and how did you do it? Did you have an apprenticeship? I realized I wanted to get a tattoo when I was 16 and saw a tattoo on someone on the street. I was impressed because it was freshly made, the colors looked great and it motivated me to build my first tattoo machine. I learned on my own. The drawings that I made, I started to [tattoo] on the skin of my friends and family.
What is the first thing that attracted you to black and gray? The first thing that attracted me was the aspect of the works once healed and the way the ink combines with the skin of the person to obtain a harmony between the contrasts and the different shades of gray.
How did you know that black and gray realism would be the style you would specialize in? It was the most comfortable thing to be able to do, since the drawings I made were always in white and gray tones. Also, the skin of the people in the city I live in is a bit dark and black and gray suits them better.
Can you explain your design process to us? Yes, it is quite simple before putting it on the skin, since [my references] are mostly photos. It is on the skin that the creative process begins and I apply what I have learned, and I manage to create a story that takes into account the right distribution of contrasts and the use of appropriate elements for each area.
Much of your work is portraiture. What’s the key to a great portrait tattoo? I focus on interpreting the expressions of people and animals. Then I get a tone that brings it to life, is nice to look at, and fits well in the area where my client wants to wear it.
Have you ever thought about working in color? Why or why not? Yes, I tried, but I’m passionate about black and gray. The color is not comfortable for me and I can’t flow like I can when doing black and gray.
What are your favorite subjects to tattoo? What do you want to tattoo that you haven’t had the chance to do yet? I like old images, gothic style and high contrast. I am creating compositions with faces and/or landscapes and other elements. I am waiting for large canvases to materialize my dream projects.
You tend to do a lot of horror tattoos. What’s your favorite killer to tattoo? Jason. I have done Jason several times and will continue to do so.
Where do you see your art going in the future? I feel like I’m still figuring out what to focus my style on. I want to take the time and decide on something that I can like to do in the future.