Interview with Nikol Isopchuk

   Hello Nikol Isopchuk! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. Please start by telling us something about yourself and your background. Do you have any formal art education? Hello, thank you for having me! I am known as Nikol Histon. I'm a 27 year old, from the small, beautiful city of Chernivtsi, Ukraine. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. I've been into art since I was crawling on the floor. I don't have any art education from university or anything like that. I'm a self-taught artist.

Q: What inspired you to start tattooing? How long have you been tattooing?
A: I feel tattooing chose me. I love tattoos and tattoo culture since I was a teenager. There's a whole story behind it. My tattoo journey began in the summer of 2017. One friend of my friends, who was a tattoo artist, asked me at a party if I ever considered tattooing because of the paintings I'd post on Instagram at the time. I first thought, "Is this guy drunk?", so I didn't listen to him. After a few weeks, we met accidentally in front of his studio. He invited me in to show me everything, and on that day I did my very first tattoo on a human. After that I started to practice on fake skin as I was supposed to.

Q: Was it hard to learn the basics? Did anyone help you? What type of tattoos you use to do as a beginner and how long took you to figure out your creative direction?
A: For me, it was very hard mentally at first because I used to be extremely scared of needles and of the concept that i'm putting permanent things on someone’s skin. Technically, it was also difficult, but I had someone who taught me the basics, such as needle configurations, preparing coil/rotary machines, and understanding skin layers. The rest I learned on my own through YouTube and by searching for information online. Unfortunately, there wasn't much information available at that time. My first clients were mostly my friends. I did pretty much everything from tiny tattoos to large cover-ups, and black work.

Q: Talking about creative direction, your portfolio is very interesting. You like tattoo realism and other types of tattoos too. Mainly in black and gray. Cool! I like the realistic tattoos, but those crazy, stoke like designs? Is that a style? Looks like a gothic tribal but cooler, way cooler, guide me a bit.
A: I learned different tattoo styles right from the start. I tried to learn everything and anything I could. This helped me start to form my own unique style, which is a combination of different techniques I've practiced. The strokes came to me from dark lettering style that I really like. I call it dark abstract because it has nothing to do with letters and a lot with aggressive gothic, abstract, and a bit chaotic art.

Q: What was the idea with the dark stroke/graphic designs?
A: My dark abstract is meant to show the flow of body movement. I want my tattoos to compliment the body to the point where it looks natural as if you were born with it. I also think it looks very hot!

Q: You have a very interesting neck tattoo, did you design your own tattoo? Who was the artist?
A: Thank you! I really love this one. It was inspired by dark lettering. The piece says “Mad”, and continues to my chest, which says “dreamer”. I got this piece when I first saw this style. A talented artist, Oleksandr Kusiak, did this design for me. At that moment, he painted walls and cars with this style but wasn’t a tattoo artist yet, so my friend Alina Horobets, talanted artist based in London, UK, did it for me. Painful? Yes. Worth it? Hell yes!

Q: I think every tattoo artist must have a unique style, otherwise will be just a tattooer. I think it's important to stand out and express yourself in a creative way. Your thoughts?
A: I totally agree with that. It starts with how you look and express yourself, and finishes with details and concepts of your tattoo designs and techniques. If you are not trying to create something unique - it’s not art. Copying is never art. I believe that you have to work to find your style. Through taking risks and challenging yourself, you'll become more creative and get better every day.

Q: You're very talented, and I believe you will do well in almost any style. Do you plan to experiment with other tattoo styles?
A: Thank you! Yes, for sure! I pretty much stick with b&g realism and dark abstract because I love it. However, I can’t stay with only one style. It becomes too boring for me. I always want to explore and add more to my skillset, but I try not to overwhelm myself. For now, I’m working on black work and adding dark abstract to realism, playing around with some neo traditional looks for color lovers. It makes the piece look aggressive, while also adding a pop to the tattoo because of the bright colors used.

Q: Everyone wants something unique and personalized. How do you prepare your designs?
A: My designs are made in very different ways. Some of them can take me days of searching references and drawing, while others, I finish in a couple of hours. My process usually looks like this: I have a rough idea, I search for references, (now slowly I’m working with AI to create my own references), then start to make a concept on my iPad, I draw based on this concept, I come back the next day to check if I like everything, I add some edits and voila- the design is ready. With dark abstract it’s different. I never have a concept for it. I just need the tattoo placement and I start to draw chaotically. However, these designs are anatomically directed. I tend to mix designs with some spikes, lines and shapes. I either prepare the sketch on my iPad and freehand the design on the skin to finish it or I do it fully freehand. Freehanding is key to ensuring that it fits a body's dynamic perfectly.

- Since some of your designs are very detailed and quite complex, have you ever refused to do a certain design? Or at least tried to change someone's mind on body placement?
I can refuse if it’s not my style or it’s too small for a certain placement and the client doesn't want to change their mind. For example, on a thigh you’ll never do a size like for a forearm. It’ll be just too small and sticker-looking. In this case I always suggest my clients the best placement and will try to change their mind by explaining why it’ll look better than their original idea. I won't do a tattoo if I know it’s gonna look bad. I view every tattoo like a representation of me. In other words, I want them to be perfect!

Q: How long does it take to finish a big tattoo like a full chest piece or a back tattoo?
A: It again depends on the style I’m doing. A realistic b&g chest piece can take me 3 to 5 full day sessions, each 4-5hrs of working on the machine. While with dark abstract, I can do a full back in the same amount of time.

- The longest session with a client? How do you handle the pressure to deliver good results meanwhile maintaining a hyper focus and good stamina?
The longest session I had was 14 hours long. I was working on two neo-traditional shoulders for one client. That was one of the most exhausting works. Another one was at the tattoo convention Inked Circus. I did a three-day leg sleeve. Each day was about 7-9hrs of tattooing. I feel exited to see the result, so I just forget about time and everything happening around me. I get lost in it, which helps me focus on the tattoo process. I just wish my back wouldn't hurt after those long sessions but I'm passionate and love my work, so I push through.

Q: Where are you located? Do you like the local tattoo scene? Do you see progress?
A: I’m located in Toronto, ON, Canada. I like the local tattoo scene but it’s very different from my home, Ukraine. There isn't as much style variety like in Europe. However, over here there are a lot of apprenticeships that help artists learn and create something new that I've never seen before. It’s good for progress, especially for me. In my small city, I never had a chance to work every day and improve my skills, while here I’m booked 5 days a week for 2-3 months ahead. This has helped me expand my skill set and grow fast.

- Are you available for bookings?
My bookings are open in Toronto. I'm planing to visit some other cities in Canada too. You can book through instagram link @histon.ink (https://www.instagram.com/histon.ink

Q: We live in a time when information is power and seems like we have a lot of information about anything and anyone. This can be because of social media, insta famous influencers, reality tv shows and fake fame, usually with zero talent and authenticity. I think this covers the tattoo industry to some extent. It's easy to confuse real talent and huge following... What are your thoughts?

- Do you think potential clients can be confused when choosing a good tattoo artist?
It’s a big topic in the whole tattoo industry. You can get lots of followers easily if you buy them. I saw many very talented artists with small amount of followers and copy-paste artists with huge followings because he/she did a viral reel or nice IG aesthetic and photo editing. Fake fame confuses clients on who to choose. They see a numbers of followers and think it’s a good artist, while forgetting to check the artist's skills and authenticity.

Q: Do you like the global tattoo scene? Any favorite artists you would like to work with?
A: Yes, it’s growing so fast nowadays. There are many artists with unique creative, visions. I like how it's progressing. I want to be part of it. I have of couple artists I'd really like to work with - Waler Montero, Ralf Nonnweiler, Levgen Knysh, Denys Sivak, Felix Seele, Jhade Lapos, and many others. it’s a big list that I keep adding to.

Q: The American tattoo scene is very diverse and continuously growing. Would you consider moving to the USA? That would be a great career highlight!
A: I completely agree! Yes, I have thought about moving to the USA, as it would provide a great opportunity for me to grow and explore new waysides in my career as a tattoo artist.

Q: If you get the chance to work in the USA, where do you want to go and why?
A: I'm looking for some warm areas like Florida, or California. I feel more comfortable to create when it’s warm and nice outside, winter makes me depressed, and unfortunately it affects my creativity.

16. Nowadays artists travel for guest spots and conventions. It is really nice to see so many great artists, sharing the knowledge, having fun, and if lucky win an award too. It's also really cool seeing live tattooing either solo or multiple artists working on one big tattoo. It's very cool to see it in real life. How often do you participate in these types of events?
A: Conventions are the most interesting part in tattoo career for sure! I started participating very recently and already had a chance to win some awards! This summer I'm planning to compete in four conventions and in one as a judge in “Inked Circus” Niagara.

Conventions:
Inked Circus, Markham
Inked Circus, Barrie (awards)

Awards:
3rd place best micro realism
3rd place best realism

Seminars:
Yevhen Oliynyk (tattoo_zhuzha) - colour tattoo
Coreh Lopez (10 masters) - black and gray realistic tattoo+drawing

Q: This job is very time consuming and requires full dedication. Do you have support from your friends and family?
A: It’s very true, I have a lot of support from my family, my mom that never liked tattoos now supports me and even gave me her leg to get tattooed for me to practice. Friends also cheer me up and I really appreciate it!

- What keeps you motivated?
My motivation comes from my clients and their positive feedback after their sessions. Additionally, seeing other artists grow and improve inspires me to keep pushing myself to be the best I can be.

Q: What do you like about being a tattoo artist the most?
A: The most enjoyable aspects of being a tattoo artist are the freedom to express myself through art, create new designs, try different techniques, make people happy, and explore the world of tattooing.

Q: Your advice for those who want to try getting into professional tattooing?
A: My suggestion would be to remain true to yourself. This will help you develop your unique style and authenticity. Of course, consistent practice and learning every day are also important. And remember never to copy another artist's work.