Arts,  Events

Portrait of an Artist: Berto Santillan

Earlier this month, local arts organization Words Beats & Life hosted the latest in a series of “paint jams”–communal mural painting parties in public spaces. More than 25 local artists were on hand for the “Roll Down Get Down” event. Their canvas? The walls and roll-down gates of a strip mall at 1301 Rhode Island Avenue NE. There, I met up with Berto Santillan, an artist who has worked with Words Beats & Life for two years. In addition to murals, Berto is also the artist behind Toka Tattoos in Manassas. (Check out his work on Instagram @tokatattoos.)


Berto’s tattoos and murals often incorporate flowers, especially roses, in their designs. “I have had a good relationship with anything that has to do with roses,” he explains. “My mother’s name is Rosa and so is my mother-in-law’s, and I’ve met many Rosa’s in my life that have played a big part in it. The rose is something that I’m fascinated with–its colors, its meaning of love, strength, beauty, and life.”

While there may be common themes in  his murals and tattoos, the process is different. According to Berto, when he paints a mural, he wants people to see his ideas, vision, and story. Meanwhile, with his tattoos, he draws most of his inspiration from his clients’ vision and the stories they want to tell.

What is the most unique request he’s received for a tattoo? “Tattooing a mole on a customer’s face,” Berto recalls. “Very unusual. The customer was a big fan of a rapper named Gucci, and wanted the same mole that Gucci has.”

Berto at the Fine Lines Paint Jam (Apr. 2016) on the 500 block of Rhode Island Ave. NE
Berto at the Fine Lines Paint Jam (Apr. 2016) on the 500 block of Rhode Island Ave. NE


All images © Miki Jourdan

A photographer since 2013, Miki goes by "Miki" to avoid all the Michael Jo[u]rdan jokes.