If you’ve spent time in Canada and you’re involved with the tattoo industry at all, chances are you’ve heard of Black Line Studio. The shop is currently boasting the rating of Toronto’s number one tattoo, piercing, and removal company and they don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Constantly adding new and exciting artists, featuring guest artists from around the world, and expanding in their endeavors on a seasonal basis, they’ve definitely got the high-end tattoo market cornered in the Toronto area. Recently, I got a chance to sit down with one of their resident artists, Lorena Lorenzo Garcia, and chat about her unique history, how she got into tattooing, and how she enjoys being a resident artist at Black Line Studio!
Your biography states that you were born during the Communist regime in Havana. What was that like and how do you feel it has translated into your art?
Being born in Havana did influence my art. Up to this day, people still ask me about or admire my bright colors and the style of my artwork because it attracts the viewer’s eye. I would describe it as very tropical and I love using bold lines. I take a lot of influence from Contemporary Cuban painters from the 1950s and 60s who were considered Revolution Art Vanguard. Of course, my teachers at the Visual Art Institute also helped to develop my style and encourage me to keep giving my paintings that “island flavor”— bright colors, shiny tones, varied textures, and bold strokes.
Given that you started your art career in woodcutting and printmaking, how did you find your way to tattooing?
While studying in art school in Havana, and also in Toronto, I took all kinds of programs during my years of classes and experimented with so many different mediums. I spent a lot of time in drawing classes. I painted with acrylics and oils, used charcoals and pastels. I loved the woodcutting and the printmaking…. those were good years.
I wouldn’t say I found my way into the tattoo industry, but rather, tattooing found me…. I will say, it was by a happy coincidence that I stepped into Black Line Studio years ago. The studio opened their doors and offered me an apprenticeship. To me, that was such a great opportunity—I was able to learn something new, also artistic. Here I am, years later, with a solid career, awesome clients, a respectable reputation as an artist, and I belong to the crew of one of the best studios in town.
You’ve worked in studios in several different countries (Canada, Mexico, and Cuba). Do you find that the industry is different across the globe—or does it seem to follow the same culture, trends, and methods?
Yes, I have been in different places, working with different artists…learning from their cultures, their styles, their methods for tattooing. There are always trends and tattoos which are the most popular, but that’s everywhere. It is good for me (to learn such varied trends) because I can improve my skills, mix styles, and use what I think it will suit my artwork.
Your portfolio is extremely varied, showing samples of black and grey, traditional, realism, and watercolor. Do you have a personal favorite style? Both to tattoo and admire?
I am a huge fan of doing all kinds of tattoos. Years ago, someone—whom I consider a mentor with a lot of experience in the tattoo industry—told me that “A good tattooer should be able to do any style because you never know what will walk through your door,” and that is so true. Of course, every tattooer will have their own preferences. Over the last couple of years, I have been doing a lot of cover-ups (they are very difficult and complex jobs to do) with lots of bright colors. But I find clients come to me because of the quality of my line work when it comes to mehendi/henna style, geometric tattoos, and dot work tattoos.
Are your tattoos done by yourself or others? Is it your artwork?
When it comes to my tattoos, the artwork on me, I usually go to the same artist. I have three or four artists in the city (who are also good friends) and I get all my tattoos from them. I give them all the freedom to create designs for me. I just tell them what I want when I come in for the consultation prior to the appointment. I also have a bunch of stuff on me done by myself. but all tattooers have tattooed themselves at some point!
Do you have a home-based studio or do you always travel?
Even though I like to travel to see what’s out there, Black Line Studios is definitely home.
Today there are many types of tattoo machines on the market—including rotary, coil, and cartridge. Do you have a preferred type or do you alternate?
Throughout my years in the industry, I have used many different kinds of machines. For years now I have been using rotary machines, though. Not that there is anything wrong with coils, but I am a lady—I have small hands and rotary machines usually are lighter in weight and the performance is wonderful, for both line work and shading.
When you tattoo, do you have a particular ritual you go through? Obviously, there are the health and safety precautions—but do you have habits specific to yourself, like a particular playlist or anything like that?
Not really. I don’t think I have a ritual prior to a tattoo session, other than having my workstation impeccable—sterilized with all the stencils and materials for the client’s piece ready to go. I like to play something relaxing/melodic when it comes to music because I find it’s easier on the client and helps to take away tension and divert attention from the pain. If the client is clearly nervous, I’ll ask the client what kind of music they prefer.
When not tattooing, what are your favorite things to do? Does that translate into your art in any way?
When I am not at the studio, I keep myself busy with other activities—often not related to art. I need a balance between work, personal artwork, and spare time. I like to be active because when I draw, paint, or tattoo, I am sitting all the time. So outside of the studio, I would rather do less sedentary activities, especially when the weather is nice. I like to be outside.
Every artist has a horror story when it comes to tattooing. Some awful, embarrassing, or just strange event that happened to them while working. What stands out for you the most?
When you work in an industry like this one, I think we all have interesting stories because you meet all kinds of people with different backgrounds, cultures, languages, and beliefs. However, I think I am pretty lucky—I don’t have any “horror” stories… my clients are pretty awesome so far. There is, of course, that one client (once in a blue moon) that is harder to deal with, but I have a lot of patience with all of them and they always end being happy with the outcome of the artwork and the tattoo.
For some, getting a tattoo is a life-changing experience. Have you been fortunate enough to tattoo someone that experienced this? What was the story behind it?
There are a lot of clients that come in for a tattoo and it means a lot to them. I have done tons of memorial tattoos. I have done tattoos of specific things or representing specific moments or places that meant a life-changing event in their lives. It’s pretty cool because I am the artist this person chooses to do something that will last a lifetime on their skin… I have too many stories to mention just one.
If you could tattoo one design, anything you wanted, on a willing client—what would it be?
For years now, I keep with me a book that I fill with personal designs. I keep it close and, of course, show it to clients. There are all kinds of things that I draw and prepare in case someone feels adventurous and wants to get any of them. Variety is the key in that book. I have combined all the styles I like and that I feel clients will also love—such as full-color pieces, watercolor, geometric, mehendi work, and lots of floral work. All are unique designs and I keep updating it every few months. During these years, I feel very blessed that I have actually done several of those designs on my clientele. It makes me really happy to see something that was not just custom-made but also is my personal artwork on someone’s skin, finding it a home forever.