Just one subject for each tattoo: nothing more, except a very clean and essential background. Rodrigo Souto creates amazing Japanese peonies.

An expert combination of colors, shading, and movement make these flowers – according to Japanese tradition – so light and beautiful that they seem to float on the body. Rodrigo revisits and sees them differently, without completely conforming to the rules of this important style.

Jasmine Rollason tattooed by Rodrigo
Jasmine Rollason tattooed by Rodrigo

Black Garden is his studio in London, the city he’s adopted as his home. Between one convention and another, and in between his various work commitments in the studio, we had the chance to sit down and chat about what his tattoos represent. What follows is his synthesis in words, which he shared with us during our interview… a synthesis that reflects the details in his tattoos.

This interview by Maggie Whales was originally published on Tattoo Life July/August issue.

Rodrigo let’s start with the “hallmark” of your tattoos: peonies. Why did you choose this subject?
When I started to get into Japanese style tattooing, I was drawing a lot of lotus flowers and cherry blossoms; eventually I began to introduce peonies into the sleeves I was working on, and everything naturally evolved from there.

Rodrigo Souto, Blak Garden Tattoo, London, UK
Rodrigo Souto, Blak Garden Tattoo, London, UK

You have an important background in art history, right?
Yes, art was always part of my studies before it branched off into tattooing. I was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I started tattooing when I was 17, and worked from home… Listen kids, don’t do what I did! Then I studied Fine Arts at university and got a degree in art teaching. At the same time, I was working in a tattoo shop where Eduardo Lopez was kind enough to help me out and sometimes give me a few walk-ins. Six months after finishing university I moved to London.

Why did you choose London?
I moved to London because I saw it as an opportunity to take my art and tattooing further than I could have done in Brazil at the time. I also wanted to see more of the world, learn English, and get more involved in art.

It took me about a year to learn the language before picking up a tattoo machine again.

Tell me about Black Garden
I founded Black Garden Tattoo in 2011 with two of my best friends, Cesar Mesquita and Tutti Serra.

Rodrigo Souto, Blak Garden Tattoo, London, UK
Rodrigo Souto, Blak Garden Tattoo, London, UK

What do you like about this studio?
Black Garden is a place where everyone feels welcome, it’s like being part of one big family.

Peonies continue to be your most common subject; they’re always accompanied by an important background, along with other themes linked to the Japanese style. However it seems to me that you don’t follow all the rules dictated by this style to the letter. You like to create clean and simple pieces. Have there been any visible changes in your most recent works? What are you focusing on, now?
I’m trying to simplify the work that I do now. For example, I limit sleeves to just one subject at a time and add a background, rather than adding three or four different subjects to each sleeve.

Rodrigo Souto, Blak Garden Tattoo, London, UK
Rodrigo Souto, Blak Garden Tattoo, London, UK

Do you think you could define your work with just a few adjectives?
No, I actually find it very difficult to describe!

Does your clientele tend to be the same kind of folks?
No, I’d say that all sorts of people come to me.

As for the tattoos that you wear, you’ve chosen Shige for both arms. Why did you choose him, and what did he tattoo on you?
When I first saw Shige’s work I was blown away by everything, so I knew I had to get tattooed by him. And that’s exactly what happened during the second, third, and fourth London Tattoo Conventions. As subjects I chose a Hannya mask, a Koi fish, and lotus flowers.

Rodrigo Souto, Blak Garden Tattoo, London, UK
Rodrigo Souto, Blak Garden Tattoo, London, UK

If you decided one day to change your style and take on a different style, what would you choose?
The way I’m thinking is that it will be something focused on lines and more black. Definitely something simpler and clean.

Would you like to tell us about any projects you’re working on at the moment?
Yes, I would love to! I am about to print my peony book, which will have more than 100 drawings and around 25 paintings printed with three different kinds of paper. It will be quite special!

Follow Rodrigo on Instagram: @rodrigosoutobueno
Rodrigo Souto

Black Garden Tattoo
183 Drury Lane, London – UK WC2B 5QF