Interview: Nina Dinh Discusses Spooky Inspiration and Motorcycles

Nina Dinh is a Toronto-based tattoo artist who specializes in black and grey realism. She currently works at Bamboo Tattoo in Toronto. 

Dinh, who has been tattooing for 6 years, is recognized for her impressive technical abilities. Her work shows beautiful depth and delves into dark themes and haunting imagery. She also specializes in black and grey portrait tattoos and has done designs featuring pop-culture icons such as Lana Del Rey and Jim Morrison in addition to her client’s loved ones and dogs.  

When she’s not tattooing, you’ll probably find Dinh hanging out with her Pomeranian Toby or riding around Toronto on her motorcycle. 

We chatted with Dinh via email to learn more about her inspiration, her work, and her personal passions.

FemaleTattooers: How did you get into tattooing as a career? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? Did you have a traditional apprenticeship?

Nina Dinh: I’ve always liked art. Honestly, I was having a midlife crisis and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I saw an opening for a tattoo apprentice, and the rest is history. Art was always something I wanted to do, but I fell into tattooing and it became a huge passion for me. 

My apprenticeship was pretty traditional. I started out at a shop in Toronto, but it didn’t last long and then I was quickly contacted to go work at another shop. I guess I got lucky.

FemaleTattooers: You do beautiful black and grey portrait work. What attracted you to that style? What is it about black and grey realism that you really enjoy? 

Nina Dinh: Originally I actually wanted to be a full-color realism tattoo artist but realized it was different than I thought it would be. I draw a lot in color but it’s totally different when it comes to tattooing. It is extremely time consuming and the application process is different—it takes time and saturation is so important. The reason I like realism is because it’s timeless and will always look like it’s supposed to. It’s not a trend, and I’m confident my clients will always feel good about their tattoos.

FemaleTattooers: Tell us a little bit about your process? What do you need to give someone a beautiful portrait tattoo?

Nina Dinh: The reference photo is definitely key. Clear reference photos are important. In most cases, I choose the reference. I can usually find something that works with the body well.  I’m lucky that my clients trust me. 

Like any other artist, creative freedom is important—if I’m given a general idea I can always work with it. As much as I would like to tattoo everyone, there just isn’t enough time. I usually pick tattoos that I know I can make amazing. I do consultations, but I also trust my tattoo studio to help me work with clients and choose references. If someone is interested in working with me, they should go through my studio to set everything up.

Dinh tattooing at Bamboo Tattoo in Toronto

FemaleTattooers: Some of your work has a creepy, spooky undercurrent. Is that something that you enjoy doing? If so, what attracts you to that type of subject matter? 

Nina Dinh: Creepy, spooky, subject matter is my favorite to do. I like things that make people uncomfortable. I want to do something different than other artists and I like the clients that come with that subject matter. 

My favorite movie genre has always been horror. I guess it’s something I’ve always been attracted to. I like the Banksy quote “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

FemaleTattooers: When you do a portrait of someone’s loved one or someone’s pet, what is that experience like for you as an artist?

Nina Dinh: I love pop culture and celebrities, but it’s more pressure to tattoo loved ones because it’s so important to the person getting tattooed. The challenge is exciting. I love tattooing pets, I’m a huge animal lover and my dog Toby is always by my side. He’s pretty popular with the other artists and clients at the shop.

FemaleTattooers: As a female artist, what has your experience been like starting and growing your career? Have you run into roadblocks and hurdles, or do you feel like you’ve had a lot of support and mentorship?

Nina Dinh: At first it was nerve-racking, I felt like I didn’t belong since tattoo studios can be maledominated. While I was learning I didn’t get the most mentorship—like I said my apprenticeship was short. But once I started, I had lots of support. From my perspective, I feel like I have been included, but I’ve seen a difference in attitude towards girls that work behind the counter where they aren’t taken as seriously as men.

FemaleTattooers: We see the photos of Toby on your Instagram account. We’re big dog lovers. Can you tell us a little bit about him?

Nina Dinh: Haha. Toby is a big part of my life. Everyone at the shop loves him. You can always hear the artists calling his name or see them taking pictures with him. I even dyed him pink. He isn’t much of an inspiration because he’s a derp, but he provides stress relief!

Nina Dinh and her dog Toby
Dinh working with her dog Toby.

FemaleTattooers: What do you enjoy doing outside of tattooing? We see that you ride motorcycles.

Nina Dinh: I love motorcycles. My motorcycle is a black Yamaha R1. I’ve been riding for 12 years. I also like snowboarding. Maybe I’m just an adrenaline junkie. I guess, as a kid, I always wanted to be a ninja. I like going fast, eating food, and shooting.

You can follow along with Dinh’s work on her Instagram account. If you’re interested in booking a tattoo appointment with her, you can call or email Bamboo Tattoo

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