Miryam Lumpini was only 17 years old when she started tattooing, using her thigh as her first canvas in Sweden. Fast-forward less than a decade—and in a whole new country—and the tattoo artist known as the “Witch Doctor” is taking Los Angeles by storm as one of the most sought-after Black tattoo artists in the U.S.
Lumpini, who is Swedish and Congolese, is one of the few Black women in the game. Over the last several years, her work has been seen on the bodies of Swae, Jhené Aiko, Slick Woods, Chris Brown, Cynthia Erivo, Skrillex, Javale McGhee of the Lakers and countless other celebrities. Lumpini’s star power is so huge that you’re lucky if you can get an appointment a few months out.
But what makes Lumpini a special tattoo artist is the connection she has to her art and her clients and the fact that she’s truly an artist at heart. Lumpini draws her artistic inspiration from growing up in Sweden and being surrounded by nature. A lot of her work consists of animals and nature tattooed in bold colors, which sets her work apart from that of other tattoo artists.
“While living in the countryside, I was living very isolated and I had to ride on the bus an hour and a half just to get to school,” Lumpini said about her childhood in Sweden. “During my bus ride, I used to read magazines, and I would see artists like Victor Portugal and all these people who really inspired me, because I was already into drawing and art and I thought art on the skin was so cool. I had never really seen anything like what I saw in the tattoo magazines. So I was like, ‘Wow, this is something I want to try,'” she continued.
The Witch Doctor’s big break came after meeting Skrillex during the Emmabodafestivale, a music festival held in Sweden. After peeping the logo she’d made for the festival, Skrillex asked her to do his logo, too.
“I went up to him and said, ‘Hey, my name is Miryam; I’m a tattoo artist. I did the festival poster.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool. I’m starting this record label called Owsla; this is the logo here,'” she explained. And the rest, as they say, is history.
After Skrillex saw Lumpini’s work and got her to do a tattoo for him, he told her she would do well in Los Angeles and invited her to his 23rd-birthday party. Shortly after getting bitten by the L.A. bug, Lumpini packed her bags and moved to California in 2012.
During the last seven years in Los Angeles, Lumpini has developed a cultlike following. People travel the world to have their skin inked by her, and she even allows her fellow tattoo artists from other areas to use her studio for their own work. On the day of our interview, a fellow artist from Berlin was tattooing his own client in her downtown loft.
On darker skin, it’s extra important to make sure that there’s no scar tissue created, because of how the melanin can sometimes react differently.Miryam Lumpini
One would assume, because she’s the new woman on the block in a competitive field, that there would be bitter competition among her fellow female tattoo artists, but it’s been anything but that.
“Kat from [Black Ink Crew Chicago] is actually so sweet. She came and was like, ‘Oh, Miryam, I look up to you. You’re such an inspiration for me and everything.’ She was so sweet and came to my studio, so we’ve been friends since then,” Lumpini said.
In addition to Kat, Lumpini has a few other faves among her fellow tattoo artists and spoke about Debbie from Snax Ink in Atlanta, as well as artists at City of Ink in Atlanta.
Being proactive in her career is one of the things Lumpini is taking charge of. From brand endorsements to public appearances, 2019 is looking up for her. Most recently, Lumpini launched Bodymark, a brand of temporary tattoo markers, with Bic. She hopes they’ll be helpful to other tattoo artists, as well as those who enjoy drawing on their own bodies.
“For Bic to have me as their global creative director, I think was a really smart move for them in order to reach a bigger demographic with the product,” Lumpini said. “It’s also good to have somebody that has celebrity clientele and can promote the product in the right way, that is respected, not only in the tattoo industry but also in other industries. A lot of my clients are music artists, athletes and lawyers, so I think it’s important that the product gets represented well.”
As someone in control of her Witch Doctor brand, Lumpini sees herself as more than a tattoo artist; and with the time spent building her brand, and over 10 years of tattooing experience, she sees opportunities everywhere.
But where does she see herself in five years?
“I want to always be a healer with art, no matter what, you know?” she replied. “And for me, I don’t see a reason to stop tattooing. It’s impossible for me to tattoo frequently because of my body and my back and my neck, because I’ve already been tattooing for 11 years, and my body is like, ‘Why?'”
What many people fail to realize is that the life of a tattoo artist isn’t glamorous, with long hours of standing and bending. Lumpini says her body is crumbling.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 17, so after a while, your body just tears down from it. Because it’s heavy sessions. It’s heavy work,” she said. “A lot of tattoo artists, when they get famous or whatever, they stop tattooing because it doesn’t benefit their physical bodies. They usually do other artwork or whatever, but for me, I want to always be able to tattoo. I might not tattoo as frequently, but I go by the ‘Witch Doctor’ as a healer with art. I do a lot of healing with my art. So I want to be able to be 90 years old and still be killing it as the Witch Doctor.”
I want to always be a healer with art, no matter what, you know? And for me, I don’t see a reason to stop tattooing.Miryam Lumpini
As a person who is heavily tattooed, I was interested in finding out how Lumpini feels about tattooing on darker skin, and what the best practices are for pigments to come out dynamic on Black people. One issue a lot of Black folks say they experience with tattoo artists is that many of them don’t know how to tattoo dark skin so that the colors “pop.” But Lumpini is definitely one artist who knows how to ink on those with melanin.
“My art has a lot of contrast and it’s kind of bold. And it does tend to show up well on darker skin and has a tendency to absorb or make the colors pop a little bit more, the way I work with the contrast,” she said. “On darker skin, it’s extra important to make sure that there’s no scar tissue created, because of how the melanin can sometimes react differently. If you focus on going to a confident artist and know what you want, the better chance you’ll end up with a good-color tattoo on darker skin.”
With so many years of tattooing under her belt, Lumpini is definitely a storybook example of having a set goal and achieving it, no matter what. Her decision to leave Sweden and embark on a career in a country she had little experience in is just one of the reasons she’s admired and respected by her peers. As for others who are interested in launching their own careers as tattoo artists, Lumpini has a few simple words of advice.
“Focus on finding your true purpose in life, what really makes you happy and what heals you, and make sure that that reflects in everything you do,” she said.
To learn more about the Witch Doctor, visit her Instagram.