interview with Al Minz | Tattoo Style | realism | poland |02/05/2019

Hello Al Minz! Thanks for taking some time to answer some questions for our readers. I'm so glad to share some of my thoughts with you and hopefully our audience will learn from our conversation or just get inspired by your journey.

Q: When did you realize that tattooing can be a lot more than just a hobby?
A: I have to make it clear that I started in pre-historic times in the post-Soviet Ukraine, the only known tattooing traditions being from prison and from the army. The first studios with more or less professional equipment and materials started to appear in the late 1990s, home tattooists with their prison style machines existing in parallel, and I think, not gone extinct yet. That’s the environment I emerged from, having to do various stupid jobs to earn my living, and in parallel scratching my friends and their friends in the kitchen at my place. At the same time I kept dreaming about a studio, about professional machines, about the scale and techniques like those of artists whose works I saw in magazines. The density and saturation of color in the works of Boris or Marcus Pacheco seemed to me something unreal, and at that time I had no idea about post processing of photos. But there was a clear moment when I made a firm decision to become a professional tattooist whatever it takes, I quit the job and miraculously, soon I had a studio and equipment.

Q: Do you have any knowledge of any art medium?
A: I was fond of drawing since childhood, for few years I used to go to a kids’ art studio, but this was always just for fun and I didn’t develop my skills much. I can say that I took a more or less serious approach to drawing years later, after I started doing tattoos. Later I took up academic drawing lessons from a teacher, then started doing acryl and digital, and over the past two years I am taking lessons again. And I was drawn into tattooing out of pure curiosity: how is it like to leave un-washable marks on the skin, so I sharpened a piece of a guitar string, poured some drawing ink and started experimenting on my own leg.

Q: Many would agree that getting apprentice is a good way to start in this business, the right way to learn and time saving. But I know from talking with aspiring artists that getting an apprentice is very hard sometimes, either there is no room in the studio or you're just not "good" enough to begin with. It could create a huge frustration for many, especially when they have nice drawing skills or they do well in other mediums such as graffiti, painting etc.
A: I learned by myself, through trial and error, wasted lots of time and later had to get rid of wrong practices. Don’t do like I did. But at that time and place, I didn’t have much to choose from. My main source of information was spending time at tattoo Internet forums. There I met Mike Metaxa, now owner of Arthouse Tattoo in Austin, Tx - he became my godfather in tattooing, supported me, provided with everything necessary to start work and helping with advice and information. The Ukrainian builder Stas ‘Stasura’ Aksonov made machines for me and taught me to understand them, and I still work with his rotary. Further I learnt a lot from artists I was tattooed by, I would highlight Sergei Voychenko and A.D. Pancho among them.

Speaking of apprenticeship - it’s the fastest, although not the only way into the profession. But one has to understand that for a teacher all too often it is a donkey work, spending efforts and time which, especially for a tattooist with a family, is as valuable as gold. Thus, to take an apprentice, one needs a serious motivation, most often it’s the wish to raise a tattooist who will stay working at the studio, not only bringing profits, but also participating in an artistic exchange, and teach others something new as well. At the same time, no one can guarantee that after doing the apprenticeship, the tattooist won’t leave the studio and become a competitor. So there is nothing new I can tell you, study the tattoo culture and get your tattoos from good artists, prepare an impressive portfolio of designs and sketches applicable for implementation on skin, develop your individual style. I know many artists who became known for their designs only and after they started tattooing, this is the best scenario. A good high quality style is nearly 100% sure to find its way to success.

At the same time, in countries where the industry is still in development and formal apprenticeship has not become a common practice, many people still study on their own, luckily any information is available now - whatever you want, we could only dream of it in the old days.

Q: How has your style developed throughout the years of experience? Any particular style you started to learn or you tried doing all kind of things, pushing constantly in order to get better?
A: Like many others, I started from doing everything and anything, and until now I consider small-scale black tattoos, letterings, etc. a necessary training for a beginner. When you are one of the few tattooists in a small city, of course, you get various requests, from kanji to tribal, from old school to black and grey realism. Eventually, I chose for myself two schools: realism, based on photos and mainly using gray washes, and illustrative, with outlines and more often in color. Over time I felt that I am coming to a dead end, so I took advantage of the offer that turned up just in time, and moved from Ukraine to Poland, which is famous by its very strong school. You couldn’t miss their huge bright super contrast color tattoos without any needless details featuring at conventions, so I went there, first and foremost, to learn. Seriously, I don’t think there was another country with such abundance of high end artists like in Poland at that time, their conventions looked like sport competitions. It turned out I was not alone in these aspirations, and surprisingly, I found in the new studio some old friends, so I can say that my tattoo style was formed already there, under influence of both Polish school and such artists as AD Pancho, Timur Lysenko, U-Gene Goriachiy, as well as others that I worked with at that time. It was a joyful time. A busy schedule required fast preparation of designs, realism was in demand - so I had to switch to digital photo collages which I supplemented with abstract elements and rendered to maximum readability and contrast. The Polish audience is quite open, so I had a good field for practice.

Q: Do you have one of those moments when you look back and thinking oh, I'll never do that type of work again, but then realizing how much progress you have made since then?
A: I think every artist sees his works, even those done half a year ago, with different eyes, and notes what he would do in a totally different way now. Honestly, I have few works which I can’t find faults with after a time, and I guess it’s this dissatisfaction that drives you forward.

Q: I see lots of beautiful, bright colors in your portfolio. I love all of them. I would say that you have the ability to put some personal touch in each of your designs. How much is important for one professional tattoo artist to have its own "signature" style?
A: Thank you, I'm really trying to keep it this way. Honestly, I'm not very skilled at just copying photos, and not patient enough, so I always try to simplify and stylize. With so many artists strong in technique nowadays, one has to find and promote his own distinctive features to become recognizable.

Q: How do you call your style?
A: I like the term semi-realism.

Q: When I see some of your portrait tattoos, it's like seeing a painting. Amazing! I clearly don't know how it's done, but I know that it takes lots of practice and knowledge to be able to get those results. How much time usually it takes to finish a piece like this? Do you collaborate with your clients when it comes to ideas, size, placement etc?
A: I can’t say I'm a good portrait painter, my rendering is quite naive, as I see it. But I try not to stay in the same place. Depending on the size and degree of detail, such work can take me from 6 to 10 hours. I try to have the last word on choosing the most impressive reference photo and general composition. As for ideas - sometimes a client comes with a ready concept in mind, more often they just give the overall direction or even choose a ready made design. As a rule, the client knows where he/she wants to have the tattoo, another thing is that it might not be suitable for implementing the idea because of the size or form, so such things are agreed in the process, sometimes the initial idea transforms into something radically different. As for the size of a tattoo, it is always determined by the chosen part of the body and by the design.

- How much clients wait to get an appointment?
My schedule is quite free, so waiting doesn’t usually take longer than one or two months.

Q: What do you like the most about the tattoo industry today compared to just 6-7 years ago? I think there's undeniable progress we should all appreciate.
A: The technical and artistic level has strongly increased, a lot of great artists have come into tattooing, so it has become much more interesting and diverse. Thanks to artists sharing their knowledge and producers improving the tools and materials, it has become much easier to work on skin. At the same time, tattoos have become much more mass market, as a result, more come-and-go people do tattoos and are tattooed.

Q: Any kind of progress, pushes people further for more accomplishments. Both personal or professional. Even if we speak about the industry in general. As an artist, do you have any particular goals for your work?
A: I'm still very far from being satisfied with my work, both from artistic and technique perspective, so I keep learning. I would say I'm in the process of getting rid of excessive details in favor of greater expressivity and brevity, to use the full range of possibilities that the medium gives within the limitations of human skin.

Q: What would you say to your younger self when you were just starting in this business?
A: Oh, a lot of things, and would also give myself a good slap. To put it shortly - to set priorities correctly, to focus on what is really important and not get distracted by trifle things.

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Mr.Al Minz, Thanks for the interview,
Kind Regards,
The team