Reena Wu is an artist operating out of the acclaimed New York shop, Fleur Noire Tattoo, where she started out her tattoo journey and completed her apprenticeship. She has a background as an illustrator and has been on the tattoo scene for just short of two years.

Her work is done in a clean blackwork style that grabs attention. The illustrative quality of her designs seems to draw from many influences, surrealism, and comic art being two more obvious sources. Wu’s drawings have a strong sense of light and shadow as they are very high contrast, and this in turn helps to create a sense of moodiness in the art.

In addition to her flash sheets, she loves working in collaboration with her clients to create custom designs, and these often come in the form of interpretations of song lyrics, essays, poems, or little scenes of special places that they hold dear.

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Bored Panda reached out to Reena to find out more about her work. We wanted to know how she first became interested in combining her passion for illustration with tattooing. The artist told us: “I think it was something that came pretty naturally. I was getting more tattoos around the time I was really coming into my own with my illustration style, and I started getting curious about how my style might translate into tattooing. The idea of being able to connect with people through my art on such an intimate level really appealed to me as well, as it is such an honor to be able to have that trust from a stranger who just happens to like one of your designs.”

Then we asked about her process for creating a tattoo, from design to execution. Reena said: “If it’s a flash design, I usually start looking for inspiration in little doodles I have in my sketchbook, or going through my notes app and looking for phrases or ideas I have written down. I’ll try to expand on those ideas by going through either my own camera roll or lately, I’ve been really into looking at old magazines and vintage fashion photography for references. I’ll just build from there until the design feels right! If it’s a custom design, there might be a little more research involved, especially if they want something based on a song or essay, or concept. There’s usually a bit of mind-mapping if it's a think piece, and then I’ll go back and forth with sketches with my client until it’s perfect!”

We were curious if the artist had faced any challenges while developing and perfecting her unique style. Reena told us: “I definitely have had some trouble learning to draw in a style that can be easily tattooed. Especially when I first started tattooing, I didn’t have a concept of what could actually be achieved with my skill level, and my illustration style tends to be a lot more textured and complex than I was comfortable tattooing with. I think I’ve gotten the hang of it, though, but I do feel challenged sometimes in the sense that I find myself falling back on certain imagery and staying in my comfort zone too much.”

Then, Reena told us how her background as an illustrator influenced her approach to tattooing: “I think it really pushes me to try to come up with some sort of loose story with all my designs, and it makes me more excited to execute them. I try to consider every piece as a little part of a larger drawing and use that idea to dictate lighting and such to make them feel grounded. I think it also just allowed me to feel a little braver when it came to coming up with my style and sticking with it, without feeling pressured to stick to traditional styles of tattooing.”

We were wondering if Reena’s clients typically go for previously created designs or if they tend to request custom designs. The artist said: “It’s usually around 50/50. I’m pretty slow at coming up with flash sheets, and even though I would love to tattoo only flash, I’m just not able to produce them at a fast enough speed. As such, I take on quite a lot of custom designs, and I make sure that the custom requests that I pick are always something I’ll have fun drawing because I know it would show in my work if I wasn’t as into the idea as the client was.”

Lastly, we wanted to know if there is any particular tattoo design or project that the artist is particularly proud of. Reena told us: “I have a few pieces here and there that I’m really super happy with (both flash and custom), but because I’m still so new at tattooing, it’s hard to pick favorites because I can definitely see myself improving with each piece that I do.”

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