When you decide to get a tattoo, it’s almost as important to choose the right artist as it is to choose the design and place. I mean, if someone is going to tattoo you, they should have the skill and experience to make something amazing, right? After all, this will be on your body for the rest of your life. Well, yes, but what about skill? No, not always. Helen Fernandes can’t draw very well, but people still want to get tattoos from her. They are so bad that they are good.
The Brazilian opened her own tattoo shop, Malfeitona, in her home city of Salvador de Bahia. Her “tatuagens peba,” which literally means “trash tattoos,” have already gained a sort of cult following. It’s easy to see why her unique style is so popular, since she has over 57K Instagram followers and often posts pictures of happy customers wearing her new designs. It’s for real.
Fernandes has been tattooing people for about three years, but she has been in the game for a lot longer. She also makes art with her hands. “My parents took me to church three times a week, so I started drawing,” she told us. “They would give me a pen and paper to keep me quiet. But I kept drawing because I liked it.”
She said, “I was never into realism.” “I liked to draw because it was something I really liked to do. It made other people happy, which made me happy, too. It does still. But I never thought I could be a painter or sculptor. I’m a mechanical engineer by trade. I graduated in December 2016, and until last year, I was taking a post-graduate course in materials engineering at the Federal University of Bahia. But I’ve recently changed jobs and now study how tattoos and Instagram are connected. But I’m also interested in other things. I’m also a digital influencer, teach art classes (mostly on “how to find your own style“), and work as an illustrator.”
“In addition to my “official” work, I’ve been making art my whole life. And I’ve always drawn things that are funny, cute, unrealistic, and don’t follow the “technical” rules of the craft. My work has been on the mugs, bags, t-shirts, zines, and comic books of my friends. Even people who wanted to buy them bought them from me. I have also painted walls and made flyers for concerts, parties, and other events. And I’ve painted my nails and the nails of my close friends.” Helen also loves making her things look unique. She draws on everything, from pens to T-shirts.
“Once upon a time, in 2014, I gave my close friend Matheus a drawing of a bat. It had sharp teeth, and Matheus liked it so much that he asked me to put it on his body as a tattoo. We made a plan for everything, and I carried it out. He is a great person who has always believed in me and has a strong will. Later, another close friend of mine wanted to get a tattoo of a cat I had drawn. Another friend asked for a dinosaur standing on a planet. I didn’t charge them because I didn’t know how. It was just something a friend did (while following all safety rules).”
“In 2017, I set up the @malfeitona Instagram account. In Portuguese, malfeitona means ‘badly done.’ The title tells you everything you need to know. People who weren’t my friends started asking me for tattoos, so I charged them a little bit to cover the cost of supplies. Later, these people’s friends started getting in touch with me as well. Some of them were other tattoo artists who liked my ideas and gave me tips as I worked on them. This taught me a lot, and I got my own studio in the end. I stopped inviting strangers to my house and putting plastic over my whole room.” More customers have been coming in, and the artist is now at this point.
“Since I also do other work, I don’t tattoo every week. I might not pick up the needle for a whole month at times. But when booking is open and I’m ready, I can make 30 a week, especially if I go to Sao Paulo (I live in Salvador but do tours).”
“I change my prices based on where I work. The average cost of a tattoo in Brazil is about R$400 ($100). Obviously, it depends on how colorful and detailed the design is. And if I went to the U.S., I’d have to find out how much tattoo artists there charge their customers before I could set my own price.”
“I think my style is liked because it is cute and funny. But it’s more than one thing. People like my designs, but they also like my Instagram pictures, captions, and stories. Stories that help them understand and relate to my tattoos. Getting a tattoo is a very personal thing, so I try to make the whole process as pleasant as I can. I give my clients as much time as they need. We talk and come up with ideas together. Also, I have a very clear political view and use social media to spread it. Brazil’s government is in a very tough spot right now.”
Also, Helen will be in Mexico in April and would love to talk to some local tattoo artists. If you tattoo people in Mexico, feel free to get in touch with her!