interview with tattoo artist Al Minz

 Hello Al Minz! Thanks for taking some time to do this interview. Please start by telling us something about yourself and your beginnings. I have to make it clear that I started in pre-historic times in the post-Soviet Ukraine, the only known tattoo tradition 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, they are not extinct yet. That’s the environment I emerged from, having to do various stupid jobs to earn a living and in the meantime 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 the artists I saw in the 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 processing photos. But there was a clear moment when I made a firm decision to become a professional whatever it takes, I quit the job and miraculously, soon I had a studio and equipment.

Q: Your thoughts on apprenticeship? Is it the right way to start?
A: I learned by myself, through trial and error, wasted a lot of time... don’t do like I did. But at that time, I didn’t have much to choose from. My main source of information was spending time on 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 working and helped me with advice and information. The Ukrainian builder Stas ‘Stasura’ Aksonov made machines for me and taught me a lot, 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. But one has to understand that for a teacher all too often it is a donkey work, spending effort 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, 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 the 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 your style changed over time?
A: Like many others, I started from doing everything and anything and until now I'd 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: 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. 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 and artists like AD Pancho, Timur Lysenko, U-Gene, and 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: How important is to have a "signature" style?
A: Honestly, I'm not very skilled at just copying photos and not patient enough, so I always try to simplify and stylize. There are many artists nowadays, one has to find and promote his own distinctive features to become recognizable.

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

Q: How long clients wait to get an appointment?
A: 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 the 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 accepted, as a result, more come-and-go people do tattoos and are tattooed.

Q: Do you have any goals?
A: I'm still far from being satisfied with my work, both from artistic and technique perspective, so I will 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?
A: Oh, a lot of things, and would also give myself a good slap. To put it shortly - to set priorities correctly, focus on what is really important and don't get distracted by trifle things.