interview with Max Pniewski | Southmead Tattoo, Bristol 25/01/2016

Originally from Poland, Max has been in the tattooing game since 1999, during which time he has tattooed in Italy, Poland and now in the UK. Max is the owner and tattoo artist at Southmead Tattoo Studio in Bristol (England) since 2010. As a Bristol tattoo artist, Max has been rapidly developing his skills in both tattooing and many medias of painting and digital art. Now comfortable in all styles of tattooing but is particularly focused on the “realistic” path, focused on color work mostly. Max is know as one of the most traveling artists in the UK as well, heading conventions and guest spots every month for last couple of years. His hard work and dedication is giving him strong roots on “tattoo map”.

Max, thanks so much for taking time to answer some questions for my magazine. My audience already know you, but let's start with some basic info about you...

Q: What made you to become a tattoo artist? How it all started?
A: It was my youth growing up surrounded by heavy metal music and my mum painting in another room of our flat. The different forms of art were always there around me and I was always drawing something next to my mum who is amateur painter and she gave me love for the art. Because heavy music is strongly related to tattooing it was just a matter of time I would put my interest in this form of art.

Q: What kind of art interested you in the beginning? Did you feel inspired by someone?
A: To be honest I never really followed the classical art, even though I really like Rembrandt, William Turner, but never was a follower. After I started tattooing, like most of us, I looked closer at the art of H.H.Giger, Beksinski or Alex Grey. It's a shame I hadn’t focused on this before, I'm trying to do it now a bit more.

Q: You have an impressive tattoo portfolio. Your color portraits are probably the most eye-catching designs, but then also some great mix with black & gray inks... How would you describe your style?
A: Thank you. I'm working mostly in realism, It's a style I like the most. As you’ve noticed I'm more into color work but it's good to do a nice black and grey every now and then, and again to take the brain to different areas heheheh. It's funny because 2-3 years ago I was scared to do portraits and now people seem to like them the most in my portfolio. I'm also the creator of LEGOLISM style which is the combination of the Lego bricks world with realism. I get fun doing it as I can create any story using the same techniques I use during tattooing a realistic piece.

Q: You also play with some cool textures and saturations when it comes color work, that makes every piece so unique. What details are most challenging to work on? How much time do you spent on a portrait tattoo?
A: I just like to put some detail into the piece and I'm a fan of black color! I use a lot of it in every single piece, I think it's essential to built the depth, contrast and to hold a tattoo in place. I don`t use outlines so I have to give that “black frame” in different shape somewhere. The most challenging is the creation of the design, the whole composition, to make sure we can built a nice story with the concept using the whole area we are working on. I'm trying to put the same aspects of it in every piece I do (alternative light, couple plans of composition etc.), to make sure people will know it's my work. To me, the process of tattooing is kind of less stressful then creating an image itself.

When it comes to portraits the most important for me is to catch the character of the subject. Catch the personality and the vibe of the character, right proportions and values. As I said before couple years ago I was scared to do them but now I feel more confident, trying new solutions all the time and I hope I will still progress to make them even better.

Q: Do you work with some reference images or the whole creation comes spontaneously?
A: All my work is being prepared digitally. Most of the time I draw in Photoshop or work with photo manipulation using the same program. Everyday I design a piece for my customers as I only do pieces prepared individually for each customer. When I have spare 5 minutes I have a lot of my ideas written down in notes so I can pick the subject and work on them as well to be tattooed later on or make some canvases or prints.

At the moment I'm learning 3D graphic programs like zBrush, Poser or Maya 3D to take my ideas to the different level. Would like to focus on creating my own designs straight in 3D environment without using any photo manipulation. It's long process but I'm sure it will be worth it.

Q: Portraits nowadays are really popular. People are getting tattoos of their idols, family members etc. Has anyone reveal their story behind the ink? Let's say someone tell you, I wanna get a portrait of Hitler? How would you react? hahah Let's just not forget the fact that you meet a lot of different people every day!
A: Yes they are and it's a cool thing for me because I like doing them hahaha. Most of the time I do some film characters or musicians so they are people's idols etc. Family members are tattooed to show love and respect I think, to show how important people are to other family members’ life and that's a challenge. You can tattoo daughters’ portraits and they can say it's just a girl to the customer because you didn't catch the character 100% - it's the hardest moment for the portrait artist I think but I like the challenge and so far situation like this didn't happen (touch the wood).

If somebody asks me for Hitler's portrait I would probably do it after long conversation about it. You can catch it in different forms and show it from different perspective, you know. If somebody wants to live with him on the skin that's their decisions and consequences.

- Do you have any person you want to put on someone's skin? haha
I can't really force people to have a portrait of somebody I would like to tattoo. It's a personal thing. I do some portrait based designs showing on social media “ready to tattoo” but not forcing anyone. If someone likes it I'm more than happy to do it.

Q: Tattoo artist are all covered with tattoos. Can you tell me about your tattoo collection?
A: I don't have that many. I have a full sleeve done by Tofi, half sleeve done by Jason Butcher and I have my daughter's portrait done on my forearm by Meehow Kotarski. Also I have some random mess on my legs mostly done by myself and a hanna mask on my back done by my ex-boss. I don't have any hands, face, neck tattoos or body suit.

Q: I have many tattoos on my body, I can say I'm kinda addicted, would you say that for yourself too? What's your opinion on "ink addiction"? haha I'm having this weird feeling that my tattoo virgins would love this question. hah
A: A lot of collectors are saying they are addicted to it, but I think it's more about collecting a tattoo art on their body. This is art just in the form you wear your whole life and people want to collect art in the best form possible. I think this is an addiction, not the process of tattooing as they all hurt. I'm not addicted to this. I have the tattoos I wanted to and not planning anything else to be honest. I love tattooing full on, doing it, designing etc. - it's enough for me to give every day to it as it is hehe

Q: What would you say to a tattoo virgin, not just the fact to come to your studio, but...?
A: Do the research first!!! The homework you have to do before you choose your artist is the most important to satisfy you 100% in the end. Got to ask yourself what tattoo would you like, than search for the best artist possible for the job you want. Today with all the social media, internet etc it's easy to do. Spend some time, don't be scared to travel for it and to spend some money on it. The best tattoos are not cheap but if it's the best art you can get why not to pay for it? It's on your body so respect your skin and give it the best!!!

Q: Seems like you're the master of the tattoo conventions! You visit tattoo conventions since 2009 and keep getting awards! Congratulations, well deserved! How much the awards mean to you? Would you say that getting an award will keep you more enthusiastic?
A: I'm not a master at all but I do travel a bit. I do one convention or guest spot a month. I think it's still a lot considering that I'm married with two kids. I’ve got to balance it all the time and we have “family deal” - once a month! I would like to say “thank you” to my wife who supports me in this game and still let me go every month to promote my work all over the globe.

Awards are cool and they mean I do something right but it's not essential for me. It's nice to win them but at the shows it's all about promoting my art, meeting artists I respect, spending time with them and sharing the knowledge. It's all about the progress and without traveling it wouldn't happen.


Q: You own "Southmead Tattoo Studio" in UK. Tell me more about the shop and the work environment. Also feel free to add some details on how we can get an appointment.
A: Southmead Tattoo Studio is based in Bristol (UK). We have awesome team here covering all styles of tattooing. Apart from me at Southmead Tattoo works Piotr Cwiek, Bryoni Marsh, Tallulah Belle, our apprentice Amy Gould and the manager Kayleigh Heselden. It`s like the second family to us as we spend more time together in the studio than at home. We support each other making sure the customers will get the best out of us. In the end it`s all about customers!

Also we have guest artists coming regularly to Southmead Tattoo to offer even more than we can every day. If you want a tattoo from one of us the best way is to send an email through the website - where you can choose the best artist for you looking at our gallery and also you have an email form to fill in and send straight to us with any enquiries. We try to reply as soon as possible so rest assured to get an email back from us fairly quickly.

Q: What is the biggest mistake when it comes to art progress? What the beginners should know?
A: The young tattoo artists want too much too soon!!! Focus on drawing first. I did that mistake and started tattooing before I learned more about drawing and it resulted in bad habits difficult to get rid of. Try to save it to yourself and start studying art before you start tattooing. Today's tattoo world has changed a lot to when it was let's say 15 years ago. Even customers are more educated and expect more from us, they want more custom pieces/stories tattooed on their skin. Without basic art skills it's harder and harder every day. You even have to know photo manipulation on average level to do something these days. In a minute tattoo artist will have to be computer graphic designers as well to stay in the game. Everything evolves, the equipment, approach, hygiene, customers. Look after yourself mentally and physically as it`s a hard game to be in. It's not a job - it's a life style. You will need to sacrifice a lot to be in the game!

Q: Do you have any plans for the near feature?
A: Keep progressing as tattooist, stay healthy and keep my family and customers happy. I’m planning to move Southmead Tattoo to different building to get an open plan studio as at the moment we are in two different rooms and I hate it. And, of course, travelling all the time. My personal website will be launched soon so you will be able to check where I'm headed to book in and let me do some cool work on you…