We talked to “Mono Moon Tattoo” co-owner and got to know her better. Detecting the political behind this safe place in San Francisco…
Hi Sai Li, this is the third year you have been tattooing professionally. So I would like to ask you what was the most important lesson you have learned in all this time…
I think the most important lesson I learnt is finding the path that works the best for myself then stick to it.
After doing lots of botanical/animal tattoos I realized that although there’s a huge market for it, I didn’t really enjoy tattooing those subjects. And when I don’t fully enjoy the process, it shows in the tattoos.
It is very irresponsable to both the clients and myself, the tattoo artist.
So you changed your mind…
Yeah around 1 year ago I decided to give up that big market and focus on subjects I truly enjoy. It was scary at the beginning because I did notice a decline in demand. However, I was so much happier tattooing what I love and my tattoos ended up having so much more life in them. And now the demand went back up because my current work attracted more people whose ideas align with mine. Sometimes it’s important to listen to your heart and be loyal to yourself.
That’s really fair!
We are artists. We can only provide the best work when we are having fun. (smiles)
You say that you’re mainly focused on figurative, female, anime/manga tattooed themes to embrace your “inner nerd”. Are there other reasons than “nerdism” that pushes you to tattoo like this?
I have a really deep bond with anime/manga. I started drawing when I was little because I fell in love with the Sailor Moon manga my friend lent me. Manga/anime was my main mental support throughout my entire youth and an important way for me to form a community (a nerdy community?). I also majored in 2D animation in college.
No fear in what you believe, right?
Yes. Focusing mainly on manga/anime/figurative themes is my attempt to merge my profession and passion together. My biggest fear is turning tattooing into merely a job, a service or a chore. That would be extremely sad. I want to keep the excitement and pride in tattooing by being highly selective on the projects I take on.
I know that “Mono Moon Tattoo” (the San Francisco studio you co-own with Mariel Bayona) was born for a political reason. Is it exactly so?
The political reason is a big part of why we opened our own studio. We wanted to build a space that feels like our own – open, minimal, welcoming, light color decors, lots of plants, lots of sunlight. We were hoping to provide a space where everyone can feel comfortable, welcomed and taken care of.
My first tattoo was done in a Traditional tattoo shop. I had to say as a young woman (back then) I was a bit intimidated by the environment and was scared of negotiating basic things like sizing and placement with the artist. That’s because I felt like I didn’t belong to that type of environment or that I wasn’t “tough” or “badass” enough to be there. While I now appreciate and respect Traditional style tattoo shops, I think it is equally important to provide alternative options for people to choose from. There are quite a few other female-owned tattoo shops with very calming vibes in the Bay Area and they are definitely a big inspiration to me.
Do you have a light hand for tattooing? I ask you because the chiaroscuros of your works seem to me really elegant and delicate …
Well I tattooed myself a couple of times and pain wasn’t too bad. Most of my clients told me I have a light hand and some of them ended up falling asleep during the session. I now have to ask them to stay awake before each session. I guess it’s a good thing though! (laughs)
Did you have a decisive master/mentor in your young career so far?
Yes. I entered my tattoo career through an apprenticeship under Brücius Von Xylander (IG: @_brucius_). I learnt a lot from that experience and will forever appreciate his guidance.
Your booking agenda is full until late July 2021. I think this is great news that gives hope to the period we are living in, right?
Yes! It makes me very happy and relieved to see people are still so into the idea of getting tattooed, especially during this extremely turbulent period of time. I also feel honored that my clients feel safe and comfortable to receive a tattoo from me during the pandemic.