Wiji Lacsamana is a popular tattoo artist whose sweet and discreet illustration-type style challenges the tough and macho reputation of tattoos. The 32-year-old self-taught artist, who holds a political science degree, most recently took another turn and became…a perfumer. Her line, Radioactive Mushrooms In the Forest, is available in Common Thread.
You’re a tattoo artist and a perfumer, both unusual occupations and quite difficult to get into. How did you go about that?
It was at friend’s birthday party, in Oct 2009, I believe. He invited me and our other friends to tattoo him in our friends’ tattoo studio! Crazy guy, but that was my first tattooing experience. I went home that night in love with the craft.
Luckily, my tattoo artist at that time Dyun Depasupil was also at the party. I was able to convince him to take me as his apprentice. I apprenticed for him for a couple of years. He was actually very lenient with me, which I am so thankful for, because I learned so much right away. He made me tattoo people right away. I guess we both believe in learning through actual experience, not just conceptually.
With perfumery, I think it was just last year, shortly after giving birth. I stumbled upon it (though I’ve always been into perfumes naman) and I acquired most of the books I could on it and studied it. I was studying it even before the pregnancy pa. When I got pregnant, I had to stop because essential oils aren’t good for pregnant people.
That’s the thing with me, if I become interested in something, I really get into it and try to really study it. Case in point: illustration. I am a political science graduate, with no formal art training. I just finally asked a good illustrator friend of mine, Hannah Liongoren, to teach me the basics of water color and then I studied on my own na from there. With tattooing, I am so lucky I got an apprenticeship with an extraordinarily great tattooer. It’s the same with perfumery.
Did you formally in enroll in classes, at least?
When it comes to illustration and perfumery, I am self taught. In tattooing, I apprenticed. I’m not too aware of dates and all that, haha I kinda just do it. Experimentation is such a good teacher.
Can you tell me about the moment when you decided to go for it?
It was seriously love at first “try,” for tattooing. I went home that night after the party, unable to sleep. I woke up the next morning, just thinking about tattooing. I feel like it’s the same for perfumery, as well. Sometimes, I get sleepless nights, just thinking about possible fragrance formulas that might be good. I guess that’s just how I am: When I’m really into something, I dive in without hesitation.
Of course, when I started tattooing, it was scary, hurting anyone with their consent. But like I said, I’m usually not a logical person when it comes to hesitations.
How about hardships and difficulties?
I’ve always believed that if you try and do something with the best intentions, you will inevitably get better at it. Sometimes I would get sad when a tattoo I made wasn’t the best, but that fuels me to try to do better the next time. I hate regretting anything, and so I always, always try to give out the best I can give.
But how about costs? Surely pursuing a career in tattooing, for instance, is expensive. How did you manage?
Yes, tattooing and perfumery are both very expensive. They’re both very costly passions. That’s why tattoos tend to be very expensive also—the equipment, the skill, and the hygienic practices of a tattooer too are all considered. But, I am an illustrator and I design as well. So in the beginning, it was projects from those that funded tattooing. Later on, tattooing funded my perfumery naman.
What is life like tattooing people?
Tattooing people is the most interesting job, I think. The first time I tattooed a legit client was nerve-wracking of course, but I was always honest with my capabilities naman, he he.
And making fragrances? What’s that like? Do you still make mistakes? How awful are those to the nose when you do?
Nagkakamali rin! I have a box full of failed experiments! Pero it’s fun. It’s a very chill life, making fragrances; sometimes solitary, which I like also. I am left with my imagination, thinking about scent possibilities.
It’s kind of like cooking, I guess. I imagine a scent that I want to create, sometimes inspired by a movie or a song, sometimes even by a name or an imagined scenario, and then try to pick from my arsenal of natural essences, which notes will be best for this (fragrant) story.
I dabble in natural perfumery—different from perfumery that involves pretty intense chemistry. I guess first step is: research, research, research. You’ll be able to read what equipment you need, where you can buy them, etc.
What makes it worth it?
I really, really love doing what I do. So beginning pa lang ng day (ha ha, as opposed to at the end of the day), the process of creating is so worth it na, be it making fragrances or tattooing. I seriously, seriously enjoy doing them. And then when I see a client love what I did for them, or when I get an email from a customer gushing about the scent and when they really get what I was trying to evoke, then it makes it even better.
Advice for people who dream of pursuing something as off-the-wall as tattooing and making fragrances?
Let go of hesitations! If you must do anything, do it the best way you can, no matter how simple or trivial you think it is. Also it’s very important to be authentic. When you decide to pursue something, do it because you are hopelessly in love with it, not because you think it’s cool or because your friends are doing it.
Illustration: Madel Crudo
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