As an artist, Murran Billi has always stayed true and close to his roots. Something he always says to people if they approach him for seminars or to find out more about tattooing is, “To know where you’re going, it’s important to know where you came from.” So in tattoos you not only have to keep an eye on innovations in the field, but you must never forget what came before.
When it comes to tattoos, Murran Billi likes to keep things, in his words, “simple”. He works with a small scale of greys and a few needles. This includes one black and one mid-tone ink and a shading solution. With just these three things, Billi can achieve any scale of grey he needs. The artist’s skill with grey scale comes from his experience working with charcoal for years. This comfort and expertise have transferred to his tattooing. In terms of needles, he works only with small and large needle configurations. His favorites are a 7 Magnum Soft Edge and 7 Round Shader for the small needles and a 13 and 27 Magnum for the big needles.
Billi’s workstation is all about order. He needs everything in its place and organized. “I can’t stand tattooists who work in dirt and confusion”, says the artist. “Not only are we trying to create great tattoos, but we’re also working with a lot of pathogen safety rules, and when you work with human blood, you must avoid any contamination or cross-contamination.”
Once the workstation is ready to go, the fun can start. Billi has specific rules, and no matter what, he ensures the placement of the tattoo works perfectly with the client’s body. For example, when placing a stencil or drawing free-hand, he likes to follow the flow of the body, regardless of whether it’s a small portrait or a huge back piece.
As an artist in a changing world, it’s essential to keep an eye out for innovation and to keep challenging yourself, but at the same time, the basics of tattooing must always be at the back of your head. Something that new tattooists, who haven’t had mentors or apprenticeships and just learned by watching videos online, tend to do is tattoo portraits facing backward. “It’s ugly and embarrassing, and something I never do unless a client had specifically asked me” says the artist.
“A tattoo portrait should be facing forward or front on.”
Once you have the perfect picture and the perfect placement, artists can decide if they need to flip the image to suit the body. This is easy enough with an animal portrait, but with a portrait of a person, you have to ensure you don’t miss any defining features, like moles, if you flip the image. Flipping the image isn’t always possible, though, resulting in misrepresentation that’s not true to the original form.
A perfect example of this, and something close to Billi’s heart, is the bronze sculpture of Perseus with the head of Medusa by fellow Florentine artist Cellini. In the sculpture, Perseus holds Medusa’s head in his left hand and his sword in his right. If you flip the image on itself, he’ll be holding her head in the wrong hand. The Italian artist sculpted the piece with balance and perspective, but also with meaning and a warning. “If you mess with Perseus, he’ll chop your head off, simple as that” laughs Billi.
“It’s a matter of ethics.”