Adrian Portilla Talks The Journey of Finding His Inner Artist
Patrick Coste: Good day Adrian Portilla! We had the pleasure of meeting at the last NIX tattoo show in Toronto. It was my first time meeting you and I was like, “Who is this new kid? How come I’ve never seen him before?” I had all sorts of questions! How are you, and where the hell DID you come from? Lol, because your tattoos are up to par!
Adrian Portilla: Lol, yes! First, thank you for this opportunity. I feel really blessed that you considered me for this one.
Yes indeed, Toronto! It was the first time for me in fact, like quite a bit of everything that’s happening.
I’d say it's new to me as well. I decided to put my old life behind me, then mixed both “office work” and tattoo life at the beginning, that's it. I was wandering from one side to the other perhaps! Like many, I wasn't born an artist, let's say.
The art of tattooing came when I was a bit older in life. I started a bit when I was in high school. I found a place to purchase tattoo supplies and did all that in my kitchen, with no information and no idea…
All of this opened doors to spending more time in a studio where I got my rite of passage.
PC: Tell me more about your upbringing. You’ve travelled quite a bit in your life!
AP: I’m originally from Costa Rica. I lived a part of my youth here in Montreal and a bit over In Costa Rica. My first encounter with tattooing, I was living in Costa Rica. I was working at an office job, and I was interested in tattooing, but back then, my first attempt at tattooing didn’t last that long.
In Costa Rica the tattoo scene is not the biggest, but it’s present. It was at that moment where I started, but I had to work to pay the bills for quite a few years. Being a phone salesman, I can now honestly say the only thing I was doing was drawing, but just for fun, you know?
I didn’t know at the time that I was gonna tattoo for a living. I didn’t see myself tattooing… The reach was too far, if you follow me.
I was born in Costa Rica, moved to Canada, went back to Costa Rica, came back to Canada. In 2013, when I came back to Canada, I was working at an office job when I got a tattoo machine from the internet.
Many people of my generation have it “easy”. We can find all the information we need online, compared to 15, 20 years ago, let's say.
PC: Very true. What was the machine? Was it a knock-off?
AP: Oh, it was a crappy machine; a kit with 50 pieces and came with a practice skin. At that time I was just colouring, this was my ticket!
I did stay at my workplace, I retouched some tattoos my wife had, but I put the machine aside for a little while. I kept doodling while having that sales job.
Then I did a few infinity signs on two or three people and it was then that I felt it… It came and took me from the inside, and I felt I needed to learn more and do this in the right way, and have a good work ethic, tattoo ethics.
PC: It was at that moment you had the epiphany!
AP: Precisely. It was so interesting, even today I can still feel the great sensation. The “in the moment” feeling. The moment that’s yours and that you get to be with yourself, some sort of meditation. It’s like a movie you can’t stop watching.
PC: Did you have a hard time finding a place to work when you were starting out?
AP: Yes, everywhere I went they were asking for a portfolio, and I had none. It took me a while to build a “tattooing” portfolio. It was also hard to make it a tattoo portfolio and see how it all worked.
PC: It must have helped that all information was on the internet.
AP: Yes and no, but I knew I had to knock on doors to learn with other people so I could learn correctly and perhaps better understand how it all worked.
It took me a few years to draw properly. My drawings were too flat, so I focused on the art of tattooing and making them pop.
It was a bit of a hard process, but the opportunity came in 2019 to go to The Art Tattoo Show in Montreal. I went with the shop that accepted me, as a non-tattooer. I was still a bit lost at that time, but met great artists and that helped open my eyes to tattooing even more. The overall message was “You’ve got to keep drawing” and you’ll succeed.
At that time I started to work the best and hardest I could. I started investing myself in drawing, not just doing it for fun at the sales job.
In the two years that followed, I drew like a madman. I wasn't born with the drawing skills I needed to make it happen, I need to evolve, so I did and you can see it today.
PC: Tell me more about the evolution of your drawing.
AP: I really needed to work on my drawing skills. I didn’t know how to draw a portrait, so I needed to train for it. The drawing was more square. It ended up being a bit of a traditional tattoo. I love traditional work but it’s very complex for me. It’s easier for me to copy a silhouette.
PC: Craziness! Congrats, because it shows that you spent a lot of hours drawing. It seems it was a long process we can’t truly comprehend.
AP: From 2013 to 2019 I’d say . During that time I had the chance to attend seminars with amazing artists and continuing to learn is important for becoming inspired.
PC: Learning and being immersed is fundamental.
AP: I personally think so too! Learning and being surrounded by great artists, good people who have that passion is ideal for me. I’ve got so much to learn still…
PC: I also saw you at this year’s convention in Montreal, you seemed like a happy fellow, lol!
AP: Yes, I love the convention feeling; the people, the exchange, a bit too big to describe. But it helps me to discover this tattooing thing, still to this day.
I’m always happy and astonished that I’m able to tattoo, because I remember that I wasn’t able to do it back a few years ago.
I’m getting to be able to do exactly what I want to do, to create exactly what I want to, so I thank you.
PC: Speaking of conventions, are you gonna go to the Costa Rica Tattoo Expo?
AP: Yes, in October I’ll be going back to Costa Rica for the convention there. They stopped for a few years but now it’s back in action.
PC: Is it a popular thing now in Costa Rica?
AP: No… Well, I’d say that more and more it’s a small paradise for quite a few. I went there quite a few times as an artist in past years and I always wanted to find a great tattoo shop to work at. I did, and now they’re my family.
PC: You’re such an optimistic person! I love it!
AP: I try. My life path in tattooing wasn't easy. Many times, sadly… maybe not sadly, because I’m so happy to be here, but I had doors closing consistently. It got me where I am today and I'm so grateful for it!
PC: Good or bad, we learn eh?!
AP: Yes, I always try to see the “WHY” it happened. How can I adapt? I had so many dry runs in the beginning. Everybody was booked and I wasn't… WHY!? It came back to my artistic abilities, so like I mentioned before, I worked on that part so hard that it paid off.
I also had many people who helped me big time, and of course I wouldn't be here without them.
PC: Is it hard for you to mix and match family life, with kids and all? Do you have any hobbies?
AP: Honestly, I don't have time for many hobbies. I spend time with my family. I have 4 kids between the ages of 8 months and 10 years, and they are very active, lol!
When I’m at home I'm truly there, and when I'm at the shop I’m focused on there.
PC: Very honourable my man! Well done! Tell me what’s next professionally for you?
AP: Work wise, conventions are next and I’d really love to do more Colour Realism!
PC: Easy isn't it? Lol…
AP: Yes and no, lol! Small steps, but I love black and grey tattooing. I get a lot of pleasure doing it. I do have an ease when doing Colour Realism, but to be great at it is my goal. It’s crazy when you do it very well.
PC: I saw that colour Spiderman on your IG feed. It stood out from all the Black and Grey.
AP: Yes, lol, hah thank you! I’ll never say “no” to projects like those! To be honest, I knew the person so I felt very confident.
PC: Amazing! I can’t wait to see what you get up to in the next months, years! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us!
AP: Truly my pleasure, thank you!