Name: Manuela Soto Sosa
Hometown: Lausanne, Switzerland
Now lives: A one-bedroom loft in a high-rise in Downtown Los Angeles.
Claim to fame: Ms. Sosa is a tattoo artist known for her portraits of voluptuous, G-string-clad young women, called Soto Girls, that evoke Japanese anime and gang tattoo culture. Her tattoo work, which graced the cover of a Billie Eilish single, has also spawned clothing, fine art and animation.
“I started the Soto Girls because I needed someone to save my life, somebody to look up to — a version of me that I can create and that I can go back to like a spirit animal,” she said. “And everything I do revolves around being at peace with yourself and being the stronger you.”
Big break: When she was 18, Ms. Sosa visited Berlin and met a “beautiful punk girl,” she said, who taught her how to do stick-and-poke tattoos using sewing needles and beer caps filled with ink. She bought a cheap tattoo gun on eBay and posted her work on Instagram. Fans in Japan, America and Europe booked appointments with her over DMs.
In 2017, one of her clients, Kate Moross, an art director in Los Angeles, introduced her to Billie Eilish, who needed cover art for her single “When the Party’s Over.” Ms. Sosa sketched the singer crying on the floor. “It was just a simple drawing, and I feel like that was why it was so impactful,” Ms. Sosa said.
Latest project: Last fall, Ms. Sosa held her first solo art show at the New Image Art Gallery in West Hollywood, and collaborated with Ms. Eilish on sweatshirts and other merchandise, which sold out in two hours. Despite the pandemic, Ms. Sosa also opened a tattoo studio, Soft Flex, in Downtown Los Angeles, where she mentors younger tattoo artists. “The tattooing industry is very toxic, and I wanted to create a safe space,” she said.
Next thing: She is developing an animation show with AMC Studios called “Tender Force.” The show features four Soto Girls with uncontrollable superpowers that are triggered by past trauma.
The idea was borne out of experience. “I was really traumatized over being over-sexualized at a young age and being sexually assaulted,” she said. “But I’ve made peace with myself. And I can use those girls to speak to people from all backgrounds to say you can be whoever you want to be.”
In Her Image: Ms. Sosa rejects the idea that her drawings are inherently sexual. “I’m drawing the female form in a way that people see as seductive,” she said. “But then I want people to challenge their view of breasts and bodies and rolls and being cute.”