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When it comes to helping pet parents honor their animals, no one’s doing it like Yeono. The Los Angeles-based tattoo artist is renowned for her hyperrealistic, precise-to-the-hair custom pet portraits. But her most popular work isn’t done with pen and paper. It’s done with needles, ink, and — if you’re lucky — you.
Pet tattoos are a popular trend, and one we can most definitely get on board with. Yeono has dedicated a large portion of her artistic career to tattooing animal images — both memorial portraits and monuments to living pets. And these aren’t the standard designs you could expect from any given tattoo artist; her precise work is so imbued with life you expect the ink to start barking. The Wildest talked to Yeono about her experience creating magical odes to pets and how she refined her lifelike style.
What sparked your interest in tattooing?
When I was 17, my mother wanted to get a small tattoo. In the middle of looking for tattoo photos with my mother, I got to see a back piece by a famous Japanese tattooist. As soon as I saw the tattoo work, I marveled at it. As I instantly wanted to create that kind of tattoo, I made up my mind to become a tattooist. This was one of the decisions that changed everything in my life.
How did you develop your hyper-realistic style?
In the beginning, I just liked drawing things realistically without thinking about the concept or meaning of the picture. After that, I started studying the aesthetic meanings of tattoos. I don’t think drawing the same picture as a photo is the most important. I am drawing pictures that can touch my clients and many people who love my works. I want to show them real tattoos in easy and interesting ways.
[The pieces] taking a long time and much effort to be completed is another charm. Despite the importance of the content and design, my hard work is also an emotional element, I think. I think perfect realism is powerful and greatly influences people, and realism is virtual reality. I like pictures composed of more realistic virtuality than reality, which is what I would like to sublimate into a tattoo.
Tell me about your own pets.
Since I was young, I have raised dogs and cats. Now, I have three cats. Their names are Sangsil, Bangbang, and Bom. I always miss them because they live in Korea and I live in LA. They’ve had a huge impact in the way I draw and how I approach every animal portrait. I really love animals; every work related to animals makes me feel happy.
Your animal portraits are gorgeous. Are animals your favorite thing to tattoo?
There are many artists who specialize in pet tattoos. Each artist has a different artistic approach and technique to express the pictures. And I think I have many strengths differentiated from them. My personality has influenced my tattoo style a lot. I have great concentration and patience, so I can work on delicate animal hair, soft shade, and clean and accurate color packing for a long time. I have a great passion for portrait, color realism, still-life, nature, pets and all animals in general.
Do you have a favorite — or especially memorable — tattoo you’ve done?
When I got in an elevator of my friend’s apartment building, I was welcomed by a dog that was already in the elevator. The dog was really kind and so cute. As soon as I saw the dog’s owner to say hello, I realized he was my client. The dog that welcomed me was the one I drew. We were all surprised and felt pleased to meet with each other.
Tattoo artist Evan Kim on why pet ink is the ultimate (and unregrettable) homage. Plus, 15 of the raddest dog and “cattoos” on the Gram.
“Blackie was a friend and a collaborator. I never saw him as a pet and I don’t see Bosko as one either — they are family members.”
“I think the relationship between a woman and her animal companion can build out a character a lot — they’re more like witches’ familiars than pets.”
From mental health tips she learned from her dogs to the shame of running out of poop bags, her illustrations are playful and relatable.
Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.