AT FIRST glance his stunning works of art would be mistaken for photographs.

However, on closer inspection, the portraits of the wild cats or the famous faces are in fact tattoos inked on his customers’ skin.

But Eugene Rubuls, who specialises in the realism genre, has no formal art training and only became a tattooist by chance just four years ago.

Now the Latvian tattoo artist, who works from Southampton studio, Ian Ink Tattoo, is causing a stir in the tattoo world after scooping 14 prestigious awards for his work – even winning prizes over renowned artist, Louis Malloy, who famously designed David Beckham’s tattoo of a guardian angel on his back.

But it’s hardly surprising because Eugene was so determined to perfect his skills, he spent 60 hours creating two awardwinning portraits of a lion and a tiger on his thighs upside down.

The 40-year-old, said: “I have to admit it is a bit bizarre to think five years ago I didn’t even have a tattoo and now it is my life.

“I learned a lot of skills by tattoing myself- especially doing it upside down.

“I wanted to feel and know tattooing inside out- how ink goes in the skin, what hand movements are more efficient and less painful.”

Ironically it was when Eugene got his first tattoo in Latvia that his life changed forever.

He said: “I drew a design for the tattoo I wanted of Egyptian God Anubis. He was really impressed and asked who had drawn the design. He said to me: ‘Why are you not tattooing yourself?’That’s when I started thinking about it.”

Eugene, who came to Southampton to work on board a tanker as a chef when he was unable to make money drawing portraits in a seaside resort in Latvia, got to work on his portfolio of designs and was offered an apprenticeship where he spent hours in the studio and visited international conventions on his days off to ask questions to artists who inspired him.

Despite being self taught people are often taken aback by the realism of his detailed designs.

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But Eugene explained his passion for art spans decades.

He smiles as he recalls his first toys as a child were pencils and paints and took inspiration from his father, who worked as a sculptor as well as the animal world.

Realistic tattoos have become more popular in recent years with many music and TV stars opting for the art style.

I’m A Celebrity contestant Helen Flanagan, 22, has movie icon Marilyn Monroe inked on her left forearm while more recently supermodel Cara Delevingne showed off her first ever tattoo- a portrait of a lion on her finger when she posted a picture to a social media site-throwing out the rule book that models should stay tattoo free.

Eugene said he is happy to see the tattoo industry growing.

He said: “Wearing ink is not being associated with certain people in society, they no longer reflect ex-convicts who were inked in prison but we know many businessmen, nurses, doctors, lawyers all wearing beautiful designs.”

For Eugene, who is surprisingly modest and self critical given his track record, said his favourite tattoo he has inked is the 100- hour masterpiece of two lovebirds surrounded by roses he created on fiancée Justyna Nowak who he met when she came to get an old tattoo covered up three years ago.


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“But that’s the style I love. I like the harmonious colours and different features animals have. Every animal has something different. I like animals because they’re natural, they behave how they behave they’re not pretending.”

Eugene, who says he is constantly developing his artistic skills, dreams of hosting an art exhibition in the city showcasing his work.

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But for Eugene, who explained he has become a Vegan due to his awe of animals, nothing can beat tattooing.


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“It’s challenging of course but that’s why I love it. It’s art but it requires responsibility.

“Working with skin is very different to working with other media. You have to look at things from a lot of different angles, there’s the technical skills too. On paper it’s a three dimensional picture on a two dimensional surface, but skin is three dimensional so you have to think about shapes as well such as bone and muscle because some shapes can distort an image.

“I start from basic shapes and then add shadows, values and details. I see a tattoo as a decoration of the body and want to be sure the design is the best it can be.

“Tattoos can have stories behind them but sometimes it’s just because it’s a beautiful decoration which will stay there for life and I like the freedom of experimenting with colours and creating that.

“I like the thought of someone waking up in the morning and seeing themselves as more beautiful. A tattoo can make you feel good about yourself, it can become part of you because it’s an expression of what you love.”

For details on Eugene’s artwork go to To contact Ian Ink Studio, in Shirley, Southampton, go to