Interview: Michela Bottin Talks Tattoo Pressure, Moving to NYC, and Disney

Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev

Michela Bottin is one of those people that I felt connected to right away. Maybe it’s because of her extreme sweetness—that she also uses to say exactly what’s on her mind—or her undeniable passion and talent in tattooing. 

When I heard she was moving permanently to New York City to work at Soho Ink in Manhattan, I knew I had to meet her. 

Her story, is something deep and personal, and I was happy to have a chance to hear it from her. It’s about the pressure tattooers can go through at times—trying to be perfect and make everybody happy, working crazy hours and forgetting about their own lives, and Bottin’s decision to alter her image permanently and break the stereotype of beauty that didn’t reflect her inner self.

But, it’s not all intense subject matter—Bottin also took time to answer questions via email about her passion for iconic Disney tattoos, and a world made of mangas, cartoons, and cats! 

FemaleTattooers: Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up? What was your first encounter with tattoos and how you decided to start tattooing?

Michela Bottin
: I was born in a very little place in the very north of Italy, where, thanks to my friends, I eventually started tattooing. At that time I could have never imagined how much I would fall in love with this job.

It was mostly thanks to my friends that were pressuring me to at least give it a try, because they thought I could be a cool tattoo artist, matching personality and a love of drawing.

FemaleTattooers: How was your experience as a woman tattooing in Italy? Did you ever encounter prejudice or double standards?

Michela Bottin: Actually yes—many times. I’ve heard “easy for you, having a butt and boobs.” This was the reason why, for a very long time, there were no photos of me on my [Instagram] account. I wanted to demonstrate that my work ONLY could make it, not my appearance.

FemaleTattooers: Where does your passion for colorful Disney, Mangas and cartoon designs in general come from? Why did you choose this style?

Michela Bottin
: I’ve always been a very Disney-dreaming cartoon person. Even right now, being an adult on a plane to L.A., I’m watching Teen Titans! while writing these answers. They just make me feel like a better person—they project a better reality, a reality of hope, happy endings, love and true friendship. Things that I feel are fading away in this world!

FemaleTattooers: You were talking about the stress of working too much and the fear of letting people down. Is it true that being a tattoo artist on the top of your game is not always an easy road? How can that affect your mental health?

Michela Bottin: Big time, yes! This is one of the reasons why I moved to the States. In Italy and Europe, all of a sudden I had so many requests for tattoos—some new, some to finish. I was working 24/7, as hard as I could, trying to accommodate everybody. And still people were complaining about waiting too long. And also suggesting that having too many followers got to my head and made me act like a diva. I won’t lie… that did hurt! 

I was giving all of myself to the craft I love the most, tattooing people, and still that was never enough. Tattoos are not just a product to be sold, for me it is something very special—a piece of me that I give to my client. And when clients are unhappy because they have to wait too long, well, that is too much for me. 

I understand criticism, but I’m a one-woman​ show! It takes time and you have to wait for your turn! It’s a matter of respect. Tattooing is not fast food!

FemaleTattooers: Your body and appearance have gone through some heavy modification, like injecting your eyes with black ink, heavy scarification and blackwork. What’s behind your decision to permanently change your appearance?

Michela Bottin
: I literally wanted to erase the conventional standards of beauty out of me. When you have everything in the right place people are attracted to you because “uh! she is beautiful” but what about the me inside that body? Would they still be attracted if they knew how my mind works? How deep and sensitive I am? If they knew how little I care about others points of view on traditional beauty standards? 

The pressure of being beautiful as a woman still exists. I am myself and I developed a very personal identity, where I feel like I belong to myself—quite lonely and closed into myself at times, overthinking and spiritual. 

Do people care? No. Do they know me? No. They only cared about my appearance—“Oh she is beautiful let’s go have a drink.” Well there’s much more than just that. I wanted to make a statement with my new image.

FemaleTattooers: You just made a move and started working in NYC at Soho ink. How did you make that decision and how you like NY so far?

Michela Bottin: Like I said, the life in Europe started to be way too much stressing and consuming. I was craving fresh air, and when I met Lou Rubino—owner of Soho Ink—he offered me the opportunity I needed. A job in NY! So amazing and So surprising! I said a big YES, packed up, and now I’m here in an amazing shop with amazing people and artists and friends. I feel finally at home. I feel safe. They all take care of me and I love them. I so needed this change in my life. 

FemaleTattooers: You teamed up in collaboration with Hope vs Cancer, with an original t-shirt design, to help support research for pediatric cancer. Tell us more about this project.

Michela Bottin: I have been invited to be part of an incredible children’s cancer organization, and my artwork is now available as t-shirts and temporary tattoos through their website. The best part of this is they really help fund children’s cancer research! 

I drew an Autobot and a Wonder-Woman design and three sheets of temporary tattoos. But these are only available for a limited time. They try to cheer children’s spirits when they go to hospitals, bringing more colors to their lives! This is very important and humbling for me.

FemaleTattooers: Where do you see yourself in 10 years and what’s your ultimate dream/goal in life?

Michela Bottin
: My ultimate dream and goal is actually NOT to have an ultimate dream and goal! I want to keep learning, keep watching the goal moving further and further. While trying to reach it, I want to keep learning and improving and never stop! 

Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev is a published tattoo and portrait photographer and a tattoo artist. This interview will appear in her next version of Ladies of Tattooing NYC. Photos courtesy Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev.

All tattoo images are property of Michelle Bottin.

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