Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Blagoevgrad, the two-room studio leads its own vibrant life.
Its white front door opened and an acute smell of ink escaped through it. Inside, the tattoo machine was buzzing. The thin needles were mercilessly penetrating the skin, drawing fine lines and shades.
He finished the infinity sign tattoo in half an hour. A ten- minute break, enough for a cigarette. Then, the next client would come.
“Tattooing is a passion, not a profession,” he said. “When you love what you do, you never have to deal with exhaustion or boredom.”
Yulian got hooked on tattoos one night in 1998 when he watched a friend of his being inked. Although, he was only 16 at that time, he took the decision that shaped his life- to become a tattoo artist.
Years of apprenticeship and close observations of tattooing techniques and styles followed. A neighbor was the first person to sit for a tattoo by Yulian. Being a Good Samaritan, the neighbor volunteered his skin without the slightest idea what tattoo he wanted.
“He went through some pictures and picked a tattoo of the dollar sign,” Yulian explained.
In the early years of Yulian’s career as a tattoo artist, materials and resources were scarce. The ink was Indian and sold in a local bookstore. Tattoo machines were harder to come by.
“I made my own tattoo gun in a class in my trade high school,” Yulian said.
Tattooing has undergone a tremendous change since then. Today, Yulian buys his ink from the USA and the UK and uses a US-made tattoo gun, although he occasionally switches to his Bulgarian one.
Although technology, style and techniques have evolved, the process of getting a first tattoo is still painful and disheartening for an overwhelming number of people, Yulian said. It is because of the inexperienced tattoo artists.
“Many young people go to rookie tattoo artists and get inked for pennies. The tattoo machine buzzes several lines and that is it. Done. The tattooists take the money, but the customers leave unsatisfied,” he said.
Several years ago it took him 12 straight hours and enormous amount of concentration to make the corrections to a sloppily- executed full back tattoo, Yulian recalled. The piece comprised of a male angel, flanked by two female ones. Yulain corrected the features and shading of their faces and gave lively, well-rounded forms to their stern bodies.
Yulian described himself as “a weird tattooist” due to all the unusual body parts he has marked with peculiar images. Being in the profession for more than 15 years, he has tattooed anything from question marks and paws on tongues to Celtic tribal symbols on faces.
Although a skillfully executed tattoo may be pleasing to the eye, the meaning behind it is all- important, Yulian said. He considers helping customers polish their tattoo ideas and fully grasp the substance of tattoo designs crucial parts of his work.