If you’re searching for some vintage Disney designs, traditional kewpies, or a little Victorian-style artwork on your body, look no further than Orange, California’s Evie Yapelli. The artist better known as Show Pigeon has become one of Southern California’s most sought-after tattooers, and it’s all because of her classic, simple, and beautiful black and red designs. More than many other tattooers, Yapelli has managed to build a career by doing only the artwork that she loves the most, so we picked her brain on what it’s like to be an expert in kewpie tattoos.
FunHouse: How did you originally become interested in tattooing?
Evie Yapelli: It’s funny, because when I was a little kid I was a prude about tattoos because I’d read a negative Dear Abby article about them — I even scolded my dad once for coming home from a party with a fake tattoo that I thought was real. I don’t remember having a strong opinion about it during my teenage years, but then in college I knew a gal who had these really beautiful American Traditional pieces. I’d never seen that kind of tattoo on a woman before and I found it so striking. I didn’t realize at the time how much that would influence my life. Eventually, after college and working odd jobs and not knowing what I wanted to do, I had an epiphany about wanting to pursue tattooing as a career. I’d always made art, and in more recent years I’d started collecting tattoos, and there was a moment in my late 20s when it crystallized. I’d tried so many “regular” jobs by then and I was miserable. I knew I had to pursue something that mattered to me even if it seemed far-fetched and terrifying.
FH: How would you describe your style of tattooing?
EY: My style is based in American Traditional tattooing — AKA old sailor tattoos — with a strong vintage illustration influence. The technical elements are bold lines and textured black shading with saturated red and sometimes a hint of golden yellow. The subject matter is most often from the Victorian era through the 1960s, whether it’s delicate ladies’ hands, kewpie dolls, early Disney characters, or sassy flapper gals.
FH: In what ways have you noticed tattooing influencing your other artwork?
EY: Tattooing was my first professional art, and it’s where I found my focus and personal style. A lot of contemporary tattooers are aiming to bring what they know from formal painting into the world of tattoos, but I’m doing the opposite. I’m bringing what I know from tattooing into my paintings. I took art classes in high school and a few in college, but I wasn’t significantly trained in any art other than tattooing. I started painting regularly during my apprenticeship by using the same techniques that early tattooers used to paint their flash. Over time — rather than putting multiple images on one sheet — I started highlighting single designs and framing them like a fine art piece. I started showing in galleries, and as my painting style developed, I loved the contrast of the folk art technique with the formal presentation. More recently, my work has branched into 3D through my collaboration with Bitter Squeaks, a fellow vintage-inspired lowbrow artist who makes sculptural work based on the toy designs of Edward Mobley. Kate helped me bring to life a character I designed that grew out of my love of kewpies, and my love of kewpies is certainly rooted in my tattooing.
FH: After spending so long working in shops, what has it been like having your own studio?
EY: Having my own studio is better than I could have imagined. For a long time I didn’t think I would want my own studio because of the extra responsibility involved, but eventually I got sick of working for other people. I wanted to be able to do things the way I like to do them in a setting that felt comfortable to me. What I hadn’t anticipated was how much my work would grow after going out on my own. I was able to focus better and be more efficient, which opened up more time for my non-tattoo artwork. I’ve also taken the opportunity to host events in my space, which has been awesome. I’ll invite in other artists who I love and work with them for a little while, and it keeps me fresh and inspired.
See more of Yapelli’s work on her Instagram profile, @showpigeon.