interview Ouriel Zéboulon |

Since a few years I thought about getting a tattoo. Quite an hard decision to take when you have to think about what, where and when. The most complicated aspect was to find someone who will be able to get the things right. I mean, it's something that you'll have for life so, you obviously need to think about it seriously. I found out about Ouriel through Instagram, I enjoyed is drawing style and technique then I wanted to know more about why he started tattooing, his motivations & aspirations. 

à Paris, une discussion avec Ouriel Zéboulon.

Interview & Photography Farade Nicolas



Who are you and what do you do on a daily basis?
Ouriel Zeboulon I am an illustrator & tattooist artist. I grew up in Paris. My dad is also an illustrator. He didn't teach me anything from the profession but he is definitely an inspiration.

Seeing him working in this particular artistic field, you never felt the attraction to try and do the same thing as he was? 
Not really. I was more into scientific studies at school. I wanted to study astrophysics. At that time drawing was just a hobby. At 16 I started going out more, especially in one pub where I worked afterward. I met a lot tattoo, graffiti & graphic artists there. I was also drawing all the menu cards and the guys who were working found what I was doing pretty cool. So it just made me think about what I really wanted to do with my life. Everything went pretty fast after I graduated from High school. I went to College to study Fine Arts, unfortunately, it wasn't made for me at all, I stayed 3 days then left.

At that moment, did you imagine yourself becoming a tattoo artist?
Kind of, yes. At this same period, I discovered Miami Ink, those kinds of cheap reality tv shows about tattooing. Then, I practiced calligraphy art, reproduced old school & traditional American tattoos. I eventually worked as an illustrator for a clothing brand & also created mine. These were short-term projects. I think I was not mature enough to showcase my portfolio or try do an internship in a tattoo shop...

How much time did it take to finish your portfolio?
About one and half year. I met a guy when I was working at the pub who suggested to come to see him and his friends at his tattoo shop. I stopped by and loved it. One week later I came to say goodbye to the whole team and just thank them for the warm welcome, then the boss said that if I wanted to come back one day the doors will always be open. So, for eight months I was hanging around, drawing, studying. I needed to be focus on a real project, it was really great.

Progression went fast enough. 
Yes and I even made my first tattoo there. I did several tattoos in people's house and I was looking for a place to start my own business. Later on, a friend of my father proposed to mean unoccupied location he was renting. It was a nice and quiet space near Saint Paul. It was the perfect timing!

You didn't take too many risks...
Yes and no, because I didn't have many clients at this period, however, I had a little money saved so it was a good transition.

You said you did your first tattoo on a friend of yours, but I heard that many people, when they start tattooing usually train on pigskin, oranges etc...
That's right, I tried with my own machine over two small silicones skins and on pigskin but not that many times to be honest. 

A bit anxious for your first tattoo?
Totally man! I did not sleep the night before. I felt the pressure from the guys at the tattoo shop, the way they were watching over me all the time, it was super awkward. When my friend arrived to get his tattoo, I had to settle everything right and when I was getting ready to sting him, my anxiety flew away. But, the weird thing is that after doing my first tattoos I had this strange feeling as if I had done something really bad, something irredeemable. I wondered if I had the right to do that...

And what were the guys saying about you finally doing your own thing?
At the beginning, it was complicated. In their minds, it was more than necessary to do an internship of at least one year, which I think is definitely important. Nevertheless, my style of tattooing doesn't require that much learning process you know. I had to show them I was willing to do it at 400%...

And nowadays, your relationship with them is getting better?
Definitely, simply because they now understand that I wasn't playing at all and I wasn't just doing all of this for the wrong reasons. It's a job and I am taking it really seriously. I am not looking for that quick money and that Internet fame...

Yes, you had to show them that you were not following the trends, the hype. Nowadays, it seems that everyone is becoming either a Dj, a Photographer or a Tattoo Artist...
Exactly. I respect their beliefs. You have to show some kind of respect to the craft! Not many people seem to understand that point of view these days.

Yes but it's not like you need to get a degree to pursue an art career, to be good at what you're doing...
I agree with you. Schools aren't something that assures you a bright future but, I guess it depends on your personality. Me, I need to learn by myself, do my own mistakes without having someone looking over my shoulders all the time telling me what to do. 

What does Tattooing represent for you?
Even if I think I will accomplish more things in a near future, it's one of the only art related jobs where you can earn good money, where your art will always live through people and gives you another way to promote yourself on a daily basis. Also, to get this particular trust from people you're tattooing is someone really special to me. I am thankful for everything. I guess since I was 16, I knew I was made to do tattooing, now it is just about working harder. 

What about your tattooing style, you talked earlier about doing old school tattoo right? 
Yes, there is this dude named Sailor Jerry who basically initiate this movement, even if he didn't really start it I guess he made it popular again. To make it short, it was the tattoo the sea soldiers were doing before going to war you know, with the boats, the roses etc...

What about your tattooing style, you talked earlier about doing old school tattoo right? 
Yes, there is this dude named Sailor Jerry who basically initiate this movement, even if he didn't really start it I guess he made it popular again. To make it short, it was the tattoo the sea soldiers were doing before going to war you know, with the boats, the roses etc...

So, it necessary needs colors?
Yes, a few colors and the use of a more thick line. I used to get inspired by these genera of tattoo, nowadays I try to learn in a different manner by drawing minimal stuff.  I am in the process to mix this new style I am actually reaching with those traveling themes you can find an old school tattoo. Basically working with a thin line, refine, without colors, going straight to the point. 

 Why only using black and white?
It is timeless. It works every time with any kind of tattoos and also graphically it's efficient.

Have you ever used a bit of color though?
 Yes, just a bit of red here and there. I enjoy watching the work of an artist like Syd le kid (@syydlekid) who are definitely mastering their craft. I am not saying that I won't ever use colors in my work, it's not something that I am thinking about at the moment, I I am still in a learning process you know, we'll see! 

Do you realize when you are getting better technically? And if yes, what kind of joy this feeling gives to you? 
Of course man, it happened quite recently when I started to use thinner needles. When I was in Bruxelles and that I was showing one of drawing I made during the afternoon, the manager of the tattoo shop asked me what kind of needles sizes I was thinking of using and I said 7 or 3. He was surprised because not many people are doing great stuff with those. 

Can you explain what's the difference between those sizes?
Yes, you can find pretty much any sizes, I can't tell how many though. I just know that usually, I see goes from 1 to 18. 1 is obviously the thinnest. Doing something that seems simple in a first glance isn't really that easy, although people don't get to understand this.

Have you said no to a tattoo before?
Yes, it happened one or two times. I remember one time, this girl wanted to a Lucky You tattoo above her sex I don't have anything against this kind of tattoos, it could be funny or else, however, I don't really want to be involved in it. For me, Tattoo is something sacred you know. 

Can you explain how from a simple visual you received, you manage to put your own aesthetic on it by making it more original sometimes?
It all depends. Either you're coming to me with a drawing that is already done at 100% then, it is easy and quick. On the contrary, if you are looking for a bigger piece, with way more details, I enjoy taking my time by letting my inspiration doing the job. 

You don't force yourself then.
No man, I love being spontaneous sometimes. For example, if you give me a tattoo idea to work on and you don't hear from me within the next two weeks well, don't worry, everything could happen when I am hanging out with some friends you know. The ideas could come then, I am never rushing into something, especially a tattoo.

Yes and I'm sure you have to take pleasure in doing so too.
Indeed, on the other side, I like the idea to force yourself by doing more common stuff, that is another way to learn the job too. I think if you're already choosing what you want to do in term of tattooing style you won't progress, it's not a good thing. Even if it's a minor part of my daily requests, it allows me to get off my comfort zone.

Do you take risks when you don't know how to do something?
Sometimes just because I know what I am capable of doing. I know my strengths & my limits. I really take pleasure right now in changing the sketches from a tattoo I made and when the time comes, I just keep evolving while I am doing the tattoo you see what I mean?

Of course, new ideas can come at this moment too.
Yes, however, just to be clear here, I never lie when I am not sure at 100% I can do something.

Do people come to you without any idea of what they are going to get?
It's very rare. Not many people come to me and say "Hey you can do whatever the hell you want on my skin". Although, I have this friend who gave me a quick idea of what he wanted and I have a free will on how i will do his tattoo, because he trusts me. That's how I learn to do things too, it's exciting and pretty cool.

Yes and I guess that 90% of people who comes at you are not tattoo professional so that gives you a certain liberty of creation.
Yes, these are people who enjoy tattooing enough but aren't as you said professional. It's a good in between.

Would you say that today more than ever it is important to develop your own graphic style just because of the proliferation of the social networks you can get easily be lost & brainwashed watching the same shit all day. 
I think so, I mean in anything you're doing, not just tattooing you know. You have to be yourself, not try to imitate the people you're seeing. The thing that I enjoy about Instagram, for example, is that you can have your body of work online, for free!

Have you ever thought about moving from your atelier sometimes soon?
Yes from to time. I love being here, it's quite comfortable, I have a pretty cool space & I can manage my schedule how I want to it's a really nice feeling. However, I always keep in mind this particular guy I met who introduce me to everything: Victor Kludge. I have a huge respect for everything he has done for me and I love his neo-traditional work. I hope someday I will reach his level. I also enjoy looking out at those guys body of work at Hand In Glove, rue de Trousseau in Paris, if tomorrow they ask me to come work for them I will jump on the occasion no doubt! Without talking about the ethics of work from the incredible Maxime Büchi from Sang Bleu who inspire me a lot.

Having a residency will be the thing to go?
 Yes, something like that. Being able to work there once a week for example!

What about the materials you're using, it has changed?
Yes, I am more versatile nowadays. Like I said earlier about the needles that I am using now, the sizes matter, I want to experiment. I am thinking about buying more powerful machines and learn various techniques...

What about those bad times, have you ever felt the urge to stop everything?
Sometimes yes. Between trying to learn everything, people that won't support you at the beginning because you're basically a rookie and since I didn't really follow the right rules I gotta say there was harsh times man. I think they saw me as an impostor you know. The fact that I don't have any tattoos might be one of the reasons they don't allow me in their circle, it is quite understandable though.

So, having no tattoos is a way to stand out?
Somehow I think yes. The hardest thing would be to be accepted & respected by my peers without feeling the pressure to get some. For me, it is important to make the distinction between the artist and his craft. 

I remember this funny picture that was circulating on Facebook a few years ago when you could saw on one side the old generation of tattooist who had tattoos that you cannot perceive while they were wearing clothes and on the other side the new generation with tattoos already on their faces, hands, necks... For me, you have to earn them in a way they are like trophies.

How would you define Tattooing in a few words.
An intimate bond.

You are working on various projects not involving tattooing, what motivates you in those ones? 
To be able to work and exchange with people that inspire me.

Any advice you can give to the people who are thinking about starting a career in Tattooing?
Be prepared. You have to be a genuine person as well. In my opinion, in order to be a good tattooist, it is primordial to improve yourself as a person. Does nobody want to be tattooed by an asshole right? Also, and it's quite obvious a working ethic is fundamental, perseverance knowing where your mind is heading to.

No regrets whatsoever? 
None. Two years ago I started from the bottom, I had nothing much to lose and had that time I met this girl Burakha who explained to me how she was meeting new people everyday and traveling, it gave me the good amount of confidence needed to try something new. It also gave me a vision of what my future could be if I decided to take the lead.

Can you talk to me about your first tattoo trip.
One of the first I did was in Portugal. I stopped working at the pub, saved a little money from it then decided to go to Lisbonne for 3 months. I didn't know anyone there, I just felt it was the perfect place to try something new, you know. Surprisingly the first work I did there was a tattoo on my landlord and his friends the week after. I quickly found a job in a tattoo shop, it was fantastic! You see, if you have the guts to do what you want, everything is possible. The dream would be to visit Los Angeles some day.

What about the fact that having a tattoo is becoming more & more mainstream. 
Well, I don't really care. I mean, I just hope and wish that people realize that having a tattoo isn't like putting a new t-shirt when you just bought. It is something that has a value, at least that is what I think. I have no problem with it becoming mainstream, on the contrary, I think it's great.

Have you noticed any particular trends? 
Yes and I think it's a shame when people are doing the same exact tattoo as someone... I think it is stupid. Each tattoo I am doing is unique. 

What about Paris, do you love being here?
I adore Paris, it's my home, my friends, family, loved ones are there. The only negative side of it if I may is the bad mindset. People need to calm down a bit, relax, and ask themselves the right questions... 

Do you think it's too competitive?
Yes and in a bad way, at least if the people tried to bring a new energy from it but it's not like that at all. Unfortunately, people have a tendency to step over each other. Thanks to people like you and my friends for keeping it real, and try to build something together, this is the way to go.


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