Pifa Alarcon on Starting Out Self-Taught, Safe Spaces, and Pushing Her Art Form Further

Pifa Alarcon
Credit: Tara Crothers

Pifa Alarcon had a childhood hobby that was pretty perfect for a future tattooist: drawing pictures on her brother with marker. Now, as a resident artist at Homebody Tattoo in Vancouver, British Columbia, Alarcon is still drawing on people’s skin, albeit, no longer with washable ink. 

The lifelong artist—she studied fine art in school and worked jobs as a 2-D animator and a graphic designer before starting to tattoo—did her first hand poke in 2016 (on herself) and began tattooing full time just over two years ago. She recently visited Inside Out studio where, between tattooing her cute, often humorous minimal designs (she describes them as “punny”), she chatted with us about her first tattoo, her journey as a self-taught artist, and a very memorable gift from a client. 

On starting out self-taught: “When I finished my Bachelor of Fine Arts 10 years ago, I got my first tattoo. I told the artist that I’d love to learn more about tattooing and he laughed in my face. For a long time, whenever I told an artist about my desire to learn to tattoo the response was very similar. Then three years ago, I got my first hand poked piece from Charlie, an artist at Sans Regret in Montreal, and told him these stories. He told me the tattoo industry was changing; more illustrators were becoming tattooers, and more people were learning to tattoo at home so an apprenticeship wasn’t always necessary. I didn’t want to be disrespectful—that’s why I hadn’t tried to learn on my own before this—but I also felt like Charlie gave me his blessing. So I learned how to create a clean setup, got a ‘stick-and-poke’ kit, and started by tattooing myself.”

On the push for greater inclusivity in the tattoo community: “It’s great that this is happening because now there are more safe spaces for both artists and clients. And honestly, if it wasn’t like that, I probably wouldn’t be tattooing.”

On her evolving style: “When I first started tattooing my designs were very simple. I tattooed things that I thought people would want from a hand poke artist. Once I had more practice and felt more confident, I started to draw and tattoo things that I enjoyed and interested me; things that I would get tattooed, too. And that’s where my current style comes from.”

On her most memorable client: “I tattooed some text on the feet of a woman who worked as a chef on an Alaskan cruise line. She was very happy with the experience, I guess, because a couple weeks later she texted me to say that she was coming back to Vancouver and she had a huge frozen fish for me. She brought this fish to my place and it was so big I couldn’t even fit it in the fridge. I had to leave it in the bathtub. Then the next day my mother-in-law cooked it. It fed 12 people.”

On loving her job: “I love that I get to spend so much time drawing. I also really enjoy connecting with people—both clients and other artists, traveling, seeing the community become more inclusive and open-minded, and experimenting and pushing the art form further.”

On her first tattoo: “My first tattoo was a black circle on the top of my back. When I went to get it, the artist asked several times if I was sure. That was 10 years ago and I guess minimal tattoos weren’t as common then. It represents squaring the circle, an ancient geometry problem that’s impossible to solve. There’s a saying in Spanish that goes, ‘if your problem can be solved, don’t worry. And if your problem cannot be solved, don’t worry either.’ So it’s basically a ‘don’t worry’ tattoo.”

If you liked our story Pifa Alarcon on Starting Out Self-Taught, Safe Spaces, and Pushing Her Art Form Further, make sure to check out all of our Artist Profiles.

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