interview with Jakob Holst | Venlig Hilsen, denmark |15/04/2019

Hello Jakob Holst! 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: Tell me a little about yourself and your work, your background and your journey to become a tattoo artist?
A: My name is Jakob Holst, I am 30 years old, I have two children and a girlfriend who I love very much, I live in Aarhus in Denmark and I own the tattoo studio Venlig Hilsen, together with 5 of my best friends. I have been drawing my whole life, but not seriously until I began getting tattooed myself. I went to an art school when I was 19 because I wanted to take drawing more seriously.

Q: Many young people are struggling to get apprenticeships. There's uncertainty that creates a frustration right in the beginning. Either there's no room in the studio, the cost is too much, or you are just not good enough to begin with. Is it possible for one aspiring artist to learn the basics just with constant hard work and some reference from social media, videos etc? How was your start?
A: I bought my own tattoo kit when I was 20, but I could not get the results that I felt people deserved so I stopped again pretty quickly. I had a friend who was also tattooing and he got pretty good. He opened his own studio and when he was good enough to teach me some stuff, I started tattooing in his shop. I did my first shop tattoo when I was 22. I got into tattooing right when it became ”mainstream”, and I was lucky enough to get in a shop that my friend owned. But he didn't apprentice me that much, I had to teach myself a lot of stuff and try ALOT of different techniques out, without any help. I would always recommend getting an apprenticeship, and not starting on your own. There is SO much that the internet can't teach you. That's why I gave up the first time, was because I didn't feel like I had to knowledge to permanently scar someone. My advice to newcomers would be to just keep grinding, get good at drawing, develop your own style and understanding the principals of building a good tattoo, that flows well with the body and has the contrast to hold with time. Build a solid portfolio that shows a lot of understanding of tattoos and how the anatomy of the body has to be taken into account. I draw every day still, because there is so much to learn and explore.

Q: I really love your style. I like when an artist has one signature type of work, so there is a clear vision of what a client can get. Is there any artist or art style that inspired you to create your own?
A: I think the style that I first fell in love with was Japanese. I love Jeff Gogue and Shige, and still look at their work for bigger pieces. The way they work with the body is just perfect. From that I went on to love new school and neo traditional, because of the vibrancy and feel of it. Victor Chill and Jamie Riis are still huge in my world, even though I never draw new school anymore. I started drawing a lot of Neo and tried to imitate all of the big neotrad guys, like Peter Lagergren and Rodrigo Kalaka. I fell in love with dot work when I wanted to try something completely new, and when I first did it I knew that it was that technique I wanted to work with. I never felt like I could do soft shading with a magnum needle, and the dot work just made it easier for me, and had such a different look and feel, so I kept doing it. It took me a long time to get it right, but now I feel like I'll never do shading any other way. It just feels right. From there I just kept building my style, drawing everyday and looking at tattoos for inspiration. Right now my biggest inspirations are Bruno Santos, Fredao Oliviera and Robert Borbas. The look of their tattoos and art is just awesome. It's simple yet detailed and the contrast is always perfect.

Q: Do you look back at the beginner mistakes and feel accomplished or there's still so much to learn?
A: I don't feel accomplished in any way, at all. I feel like I'm a lot better than when I started drawing and tattooing, but I make mistakes everyday. That's a part of getting better. Realizing that you made a good tattoo or drawing, but also knowing that it could be a lot better. There's always more to learn. About everything. I have a lot of knowledge about everything tattoo related, but knowing and doing is not the same. If you can't take your knowledge and put it into practice, then it isn't worth much, I feel.

Q: Would you change something, like playing with color inks for example?
A: I'm still trying to develop my style and I hope that I will never stop doing that. I did do a lot of colors earlier in my career, but I feel like I really want to focus on dot work and black/grey. It's just timeless and classic, and it I feel like it heals better and looks better than color does. And I often think that putting one or two colors in to your black/grey is cool, but I don't want to play too much with that. It can look really cheesy. I think that Christian Kasas and Bruno Santos does it really well, but I'm not there yet.

Q: How do you prepare your designs? Do you use digital media like pen tables? Would you refuse to do a ready made design from the internet?
A: I use an Ipad Pro with the Apple Pen. I used to really hate on using tablets and Photoshop, but once I got my own I quickly realized that this is the future and there is no looking back. I still love drawing on paper, and I really wished that it was just as easy and practical to prepare on paper. But the iPad is just superior in every way. There is no mess, no paper waste, no printing out reference in the right sizes, etc. It's just awesome.

Q: Do you negotiate with your clients on ideas, placement, size etc?
A: I don't negotiate as much as I tell them how it should be. I'm too far into this career to let clients tell me how to do my work. I know what works and what doesn't, and I'm very straight forward about it. A lot of clients have to get used to me taking control, but it always works out for the best in the end so I'm not too worried about peoples reaction. Mostly clients are very open to all my ideas and suggestions, which is amazing. But I've sent some people home again, just because they were really set on placing it somewhere that would look like shit. At the end of the day it's my name on the tattoo. It's my call to do what's best for the client, and I'm not about to make a shitty tattoo just to make someone happy.

Q: Would you say that having more experience not just makes your skills a way better but makes you more creative as an artist, or in time a person can get to one level and barely make any progress?
A: I'm in a really good place right now, and I feel very inspired to draw and make tattoos. In the past, I struggled a lot in periods, with getting something down on paper. I wouldn't be inspired for months and I would only draw the tattoos that I had to do. I've always been way into drawing skulls and flowers, and I've probably done over a thousand skulls in my career. I really love doing them and I feel like the possibilities are endless. I always felt like I couldn't be drawing skulls all the time, and that I had to draw other stuff as well, to be good. But 6 months ago I decided “fuck it, I love drawing skulls so I'm just going to focus on that”, and it was like everything clicked for me. I feel way more creative, productive, inspired and like I've learned so much about my own style, since I stopped caring and just focused on what I feel is the most fun to do. So for me, the experience has made me richer in so many ways. But I know some people who are just not evolving anymore. Especially realistic black/grey tattooers who can't draw. They reached their peak too fast, instead of developing and progressing slow and steady. So now they do the same shit they did 3-4 years ago, but they don't know how to do anything else, because they just copy images. It's pretty sad, really.

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: I like how fucking good people have gotten. I got into tattooing about 10 years ago, and back then it was pretty basic stuff, compared to what's going on now. Everyone is killing it! And you have to stay on top of your own game, to not get left behind. I feel like the community have gotten a lot more supportive. I remember when I started, everyone wasn't talking with each other and everyone had beef, but now everyone is so cool to each other. It's the mentality and spirit of the younger generations, and not the old school tattooers who feel like they own everything in this industry. And that's what's so amazing about tattooing - there is room for everyone! Every type of person, every style of tattooing. And people care more about the art and art form across different styles, than what they used to, I feel. People who do neotraditional can appreciate color realism, as well as the color realist can appreciate black work and sketchy stuff. It's gotten more welcoming and people really care a lot about the craft and the people behind it. I also love the fact that clients have a way better understanding about the industry and the tattooers in general. People really care a lot more about what they put into their skin, and that also helps the industry to push forward. Because people won't stand for shitty tattoos and shitty people.

 Q: Any motivational words for those who are just starting?
A: Just keep doing what you do best. Develop your style, and get good at what you feel like is your thing. You don't have to be good at every style, as long as you're good at your OWN. Spend every day drawing, and look at art and tattoos every chance you get. Talk about the tattoos you see and how they and why they did what they did. It's important to know why you're doing everything that you do. Why do you have contrast there? How do you push something forward and something in the background? Where is the light coming from? I tell my apprentice that every element in his drawings should be fun for him to tattoo. So if you feel like hair is the most boring thing to tattoo - find your own way to make it fun! It shows in the tattoos when people are having fun and doing what they love doing the most. Working hard means more than talent, and if you work twice as hard as the other guy, you're going to get far. Draw EVERY DAY. I have two children, a girlfriend and I have my own shop, and I still find time to do designs for clients AND drawings for my own sake. Be very critical about your own work and don't cut any corners. It's not going to pay out in the long run. I've done it and I've gotten some bad habits that I'm trying to get rid of.

Please write down your contact info and studio location.
Thanks so much for letting me do this!
My contact info is
My studio is located in Aarhus, Denmark and it's called Venlig Hilsen.
Thanks again, Jakob