Pooka Machine is a Cuban-American tattoo artist working from Ocho Placas Tattoo Company in Miami and the author of Of Honey and Mud (2015) a book of pressed botanical drawings and paintings.
Taking her inspiration from her deep love of nature, Pooka has created a unique ‘feminine floral style’ she transfers to the page as original drawings before meticulously etching her designs on the body. Building a cult following over the years, fans come bearing gifts of potted plants and heirloom seeds as they arrive in the studio to receive one of her transformative art pieces.
Pooka selects a few favourites and discusses the creative force behind them.
On inspiration: “I am deeply inspired by plants. I spend time almost every day in my garden. Most days very early, alone and quiet just studying the plants and observing. There is a deep feeling of awe within the garden and it’s the best place for me to recharge and get ready for work. There are times when I forget about certain beautiful flowers or foliage that inspire me and all it takes is one trip to the garden to remember! I’ll come into work and most times I try and incorporate those plants into larger pieces. Life gets so hectic but my work, the inspiration, the planning of upcoming tattoos – it calms and centers me.”
On style: “Usually, women will tell me what plants they’d like and I have to figure out a way to compose those elements in a way that flatters the body. I tend to look at the plant life more like shapes and weight to create a successful tattoo. When I can remove myself from the process, let the plants speak to me and just let free-flowing images and different compositions come into my head without dissecting them, that is when I find I do my best work.”
On representation: (left) “A friend of mine is half Cuban, half Mexican. She first got this Soldadera tattoo to represent her Mexican side and I am creating a Cuban pin-up for her other thigh later this year.”
On strength: (middle) “She initially just asked for a chest piece. Because, we had known each other for a while, she gave me complete freedom. Fellow artist Javier Betancourt actually pushed me to ask her to do her whole torso. I expected a NO but got a YES and was able to create a really elegant but powerful shape on her body. It suits her perfectly and it is one of my favorite tattoos that I’ve done.”
On unity: (right) “When focusing on just one plant in a design, you can honor the plant more successfully. More detail
can be given to it – subtleties that are otherwise removed or ignored for busier, more complex compositions. It’s something I really want to explore more of as I think the end result is really powerful.”
On ancestors: “She wanted a pseudo angel wing shape created from the Royal Poinciana tree for her grandmother that passed. She has grown up with this tree since she was a little girl. I tattoo this flower a lot because it grows so easily in Miami and it grows a lot in Cuba too. I think every time I have tattooed this flower, it is literally because it reminds the person of Cuba, their Cuban grandmother or mother.”
On body image: “I have definitely had clients tell me that after getting tattooed they see themselves completely different and that their self-confidence has just gone through the roof. A lot of times I look at my tattooing as merely a selfish means to an end. It’s a way that I get to express my art in a permanent and long lasting way and am able to sustain my household financially but really I tend to forget the profound impact that it may have on the people I work on. It’s always a nice surprise when a person talks about how the piece has changed the way that they or others see them. Personally – it’s very fulfilling.”
“Here she gave me complete freedom and I was able to cover a lot of scars that she has on the side of her hip with the darkened rose leaves. I was able to completely transform how this client sees herself; the power of tattooing! She has told me on several occasions that she feels so beautiful and is so happy she went this route. We have more appointments to do her other side later this year.”