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Tara Papillon first came to Sayulita 18 years ago for a women’s surf and yoga retreat hosted by Las Olas, and it changed her life. Over the years, she often thought of Sayulita, never letting the magic she experienced go. So, when she and her husband, Chops, were looking to relocate from the east coast, Sayulita came to mind. Tara and Chops wanted to be by the ocean, the economy was good, and they wanted their children, 10-year-old Hank and 8-year-old June, to attend a quality school. Learning about Costa Verde International School, the deal was sealed, and they sold their house with all of their belongings, and moved to Sayulita in August of 2015. Within a week of their arrival, they found the location for their business, Papillon Family Studios, and they opened for business in December of 2015.
First off, why did you choose the name Papillon Family Studios?
Our last name is Papillon and the studio is more than just a tattoo and jewelry shop. It’s a family endeavor and we welcome everyone who comes through the doors as family. The name has nothing to do with our egos. It‘s about having a cooperative workspace where we can host galleries and art groups, carry jewelry and work from local artisans, and create a real community arts space.
What made you want to open a studio in Sayulita?
What we love about Mexico is the culture of respect for artists you don’t find everywhere in the world, and the focus on family. Everyone is so welcoming, happy, and celebratory – even the people who have little monetarily. It’s a big influence on us as artists. There is also a high level of craftsmanship here, in Sayulita, as well as a constant influx of new people.
Chops, you’ve been doing tattoos for 21 years now. How did you get your start in tattooing?
I tattooed myself at 13 years old. I have always been fascinated with tattooing since I can remember, and I’ve always done art. It was a natural progression for me. Back in 1994, I was fortunate to be invited to learn from talented tattoo artists in Tempe, Arizona.
What do you find most rewarding about tattooing in Sayulita?
It’s great because I get to work on locals, tourists, and people who fly in specifically to get tattoos. We have great conversations and everyone is enjoying themselves and is so happy to be here. Tattooing is becoming fairly universal, but here people request a lot more playful, fun, beach vibe, one-off pieces.
Will you describe the most intricate tattoo you’ve done?
For me, it’s not so much what I’ve done – it’s how I do it. You can do a rose so many ways. So, it’s not “Oh, I just did a rose.” It’s how I drew the rose, how it’s shaded, how it represents the body, where it goes best on the body. I do photo realistic portraits, illustrative, dotwork mandalas, reproduce works of fine art, everything. All the information is there for me – it’s about the execution. I enjoy coming up with the perfect piece for each person. Tattooing is the easy part.
Tara: I’d like to add, Chops’ art is so natural and fluid. I’ve never seen anyone so capable of doing anything. He’s an illustrator and it’s beautiful. He draws the tattoos on free hand – and then it comes out magic.
You plan to have several guest tattoo artists in the future. Will you tell me more about this?
Jose Sanjuan from Puerto Vallarta is currently here until the end of April and then will be back again in the winter. He works all over the world, including Europe. He comes from an airbrush background and specializes in beautiful, soft, smooth, black and grey, and color realism pieces. Phill Bartell is also here now from Boulder, CO, (His shop is Rising Tide Tattoo) and then in August will be here full time. He does wonderful, traditional, bold, bright, solid pieces, portraits, everything.
When clients come to you with a rough idea of a tattoo, do you draw something up for them? If so, can you explain the process?
Yes. The best way is for people to come in with ideas to allow us to see into their minds what they like. Colors, elements, etc., and then we can figure out the composition and design stage. What will work for the area, the best size for that body part, and how it will flow.
What do you like most about tattooing?
It’s a very intimate experience – it’s creating a relationship. I’m putting something on someone’s body for the rest of their life- it’s something personal for them. And it’s a group effort, coming up with ideas and what will work best. A lot of times people first getting tattoos only have so much reference to draw form – so the collaboration and trust is pretty special.
Do you suggest someone make an appointment? If so, how long does someone generally have to wait between making the appointment and getting the tattoo?
Yes. It depends on my schedule and their schedule. Generally for someone on vacation, I strongly recommend they wait until the day before they leave, so they can enjoy everything Sayulita has to offer -sun, ocean, and pools.
Tara, how did your interest in making jewelry develop?
I was a fashion stylist for 15 years and love fashion - it’s in my blood. My great, great Grandfather was a jewelry designer and I come from a long line of jewelry collectors, including my mother. I have a Masters in Fine Arts and have been designing and collecting jewelry for a long time. I started my own jewelry line, Fine Sparrow, in 2006. Most of my inspiration comes from beautiful artifacts.
How would you describe your style of jewelry?
Chola chic – one of a kind pieces. The new line I’m working on is big, strong pieces that stand out. I don’t do dainty. I like jewelry to be heavy and to know I have it on, and I like a lot of it. Even if you’re super feminine, a strong piece of jewelry gives you a little bit of Frida. She didn’t mess around and she’s a huge inspiration for me, and has been since I was a kid. I’m also going to do a men’s line, Sinatra, with pinky rings and a real vintage feel. Also, a focus on raw, rare stones, like raw rubies.
What kind of jewelry do you make?
I make really badass stuff. Rings, earrings, gemstones, silver, gold – very high end jewelry. Strong, elegant, chic, yet also fun. It’s also on the edge, but quirky and playful.
What do you like most about making jewelry?
Oh, it’s my everything. It’s so immediate – you design something and can wear it and be glamorous. There is a longevity that makes it authentic. You can keep it and pass it down to your daughter. I love gold, silver, stones, and what it represents when you buy someone a piece of jewelry. It’s a keepsake. I don’t make things that are to be thrown away – I make things to be treasured and have a story behind them. And when someone travels here, they can say I came to Sayulita, met a woman and found a secret treasure I will never forget. And maybe also say got a tattoo by Chops.