Interview with Ruben Riksfjord

   Hello Ruben Riksfjord! 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? Hey guys, my name is Ruben. I'm a tattoo artist from Norway, but now based in Copenhagen. I got a bachelor degree in Digital Arts and Visual Communication. Most of my drawings are not digital tho, I would always prefer the analog and hands on materials, working not only on canvas but also clay, wood and metals.

Q: What inspired you to start tattooing? Was it hard to learn the basics? Did anyone help you or are you a self taught artist?
A: I first got inspired to become a tattooer when I moved to Copenhagen, since it’s a very progressive and diverse city, there were so many people who had visibly striking tattoos. The colleagues in the kindergarden I was working at, also had tattoos which also inspired me and motivated me to start building my portfolio and eventually to apply for an apprenticeship. It took me around two years before someone took me in, the first six months I worked part time in the kindergarden and part time in the tattoo shop. After about a year, I had enough clients to start full-time tattooing. I could not have done this without the unwavering support of my wife, and her parents, they let me stay at their house rent free!

Q: How long did it take to figure out your creative direction and start feeling confident?
A: I would say it took around 4-5 years before I figured out that I was just better at black and grey than color. As soon as I got large scale requests, I could finally use my vision to create what I believed to be more unique and aesthetic.

Q: Who were some of your first clients and when did you start working in a professional tattoo studio?
A: The studio I first started working at was a street shop located near the red-light district of Copenhagen, which had an amazing location and probably the best client flow of all shops in Denmark. Everyone in the shop was busy, every weekend was walk-ins and the shop was open from 10 in the morning until midnight pretty much 7 days a week. I think, working in a shop like this made me the tattooer I am today, for better or worse. I wouldn’t be without it. Getting mileage in both tattooing, client care and being apart of a busy shop like this gave me a lot of confidence to later stand on my own feet. The clientele was from every walk of society, from drunk sailors to the girls on the street walking in. I would say tho, most people were just totally regular guys. When I started focusing on black and grey, my clientele shifted heavily towards men. Now I would say 98% of my clientele is men.

Q: Even the super talented artists have a hard time in the beginning of their careers. What kept you motivated? Did you have support from your friends and family?
A: I actually felt very comfortable from the get go, I knew that I had a solid background and knowledge of academic drawing and so on. This, together with the support from my family I would feel no stress focusing solely on improving my skills and spending as many hours as possible in the shop. So yeah, I felt immense support in the beginning.

- What were some of the biggest challenges you overcame?
The greatest challenge I had to overcome was taking the steps out of the studio I started in. There comes a time, when its right you got to move on and find artists who inspire you and motivate you at the level you are on. This is also something I say to the artists working in my shop right now. When they have learned what they needed to learn, go guest, travel and meet up with better artists to elevate to their next levels.

Q: Today your work looks amazing Ruben! When I look at your portfolio, I get the feeling like I'm in some luxurious gallery and I'm looking at paintings. Really cool, honestly. You mastered tattoo realism! Do you have any special reason why tattoo realism and why not other styles?
Q: Well, thank you! I think realism is what captivates me the most, because of the process that I now use to create it. Basically I build it up in layers, almost molding it like clay, or oil painting, to bring out volume and shapes. There are no strict rules per se, and I can play around with compositions with ease by changing out the references size, placement and movement.

Q: The big tattoos are impressive. I bet you can really show off your skills in big projects like back tattoos or sleeves, unlike small tattoos. The perfect balance between the white and black ink is also evident. It gives that pop effect on the details too. How important is it to know proper ink application, skin types and how the healing will take place? We all want that super look even after the skin heals.
A: Understanding your own techniques, is fundamental. I spent a lot of waking hours
trying to optimize every aspect of my process, from the design principles to application. Having a great understanding of the skin limits, will make you aware of any trauma you might cause. I would say I'm relatively light handed and careful. I would always let it heal, instead of overworking an area. Being patient with this, and explaining this to your clients is key.

Q: We are talking about realism, probably the most challenging and demanding style. No room for even small mistakes here. Do you feel pressure sometimes? Like when working on big tattoos, long sittings and high expectations.
A: I always feel pressure and high expectations not only by my clients but from my self too. I think, generally it's a good thing. What is important to me, is whenever I make mistakes, I understand the mistake. I study my choices and make sure I won't make the same mistake twice. In general, I feel most comfortable working with bigger tattoos, as small mistakes can be hidden, and in some cases make the tattoo look perfectly imperfect.

Q: Let's talk about the creative process. How do you prepare your designs? Do you draw some sketches before the session or?
A: Fun fact, I never draw or prepare any designs before I meet up with my clients on their first appointment. I would always start the design process with a small interview to get to fully understand my clients vision and boundary, which sometimes can get lost when It's only over emails. I will always tap into my clients ideas as much as possible, and like this, they are part of the process. I will explain my choices, and my design principles together with my clients, this way we can create something unique together. When we have brainstormed for a while, and talked about various ideas I will make a decision on what direction we will go. I will find the main figure, then later we will build the story around it.

Q: How important is it to be open minded and collaborative with the clients?
A: I personally love when clients bring something to the table, I think it has always been necessary to become a good tattooer to understand that we are indeed working in a luxurious service industry where we have to accommodate our clients. By being
confident and routined, there are plenty of opportunities to educate our clients and guide them in the right direction, to create striking tattoos and also where they feel like they are part of it. Should It happen that I cannot get across to my clients, or not being able to earn their trust – I would choose not to collaborate with them.

Q: The most challenging tattoo you did so far? I'm talking about a complex but beautiful tattoo design you are proud of.
A: I think working on leg sleeves is very hard, (in general) because of the sheer size and complexity with joint areas and skin variations. Because my style is heavily focused on creating connections, depth and a captivating scene, it can be harder working on sleeves instead of a backpiece which is more classic “picture in a frame”.

Q: Many tattoo designs in your portfolio are inspired by old European architecture and history. I love it. Do you have any favorite historical place or a person?
A: There are many places I would mention, and where I would like to go to get more references. Thankfully, we have the internet so we can get access to so much. I would say the baroque period in art history is what has captivated me the most. With an abundant amount of details, almost to the point of extreme, it has always been something that intrigued me. Also, living in an old european city like Copenhagen, there are plenty of museums, architecture and a rich culture.

Q: Talking about old Europe, we have so much to show. You're a Danish tattoo artist. I bet the beauty of Copenhagen is inspiring even for tattoo artists. Do you like the local tattoo scene? Do you see progress?
A: The tattoo scene in Denmark is definitely top notch, even though we are a little over 5 million people in this small country, there are a bunch of amazing artists. I think personally, most are from the same generation, and by sharing knowledge when guesting at each others studios and meeting up at conventions, we are seeing a rapid increase in skill sets. There are also, unfortunately a lot of artists who are struggling to reach their clients at the moment, even though that seems like a global phenomena.

Q: What about the global tattoo scene? Do you feel like we are heading in a good direction creatively? I think we are on a different level when it comes to quality. Do you agree?
A: 100%, the artistic level is just insane at the moment. It's definitely something that keeps motivating me to keep pushing my own boundaries and to not stay complacent.

Q: Do you have any favorite artists you would like to work with, like a tattoo collaboration?
A: I mean, there so many good ones. Even tho I'm not a huge fan of collaborations myself, I would love to work alongside artists like Yarson, Carlos Torres, Daniel Rocha and so on, these and many others inspired me about different aspects of tattooing.

Q: Talking about the global tattoo scene, I think without any doubt the American tattoo scene is huge and very diverse. If given a chance, would you consider moving to the USA?
A: I don’t think moving permanently is currently on my to-do list, as much as guesting regularly. I have a lot of friends and aquintances that I wish to have a closer network with, and I want to learn and acquire more knowledge, and then bring that back to Copenhagen!

Q: You are part of the amazing Drop out tattoo team in beautiful Copenhagen. You guys are a great team of professionals. How do you like working there?
A: As co-owner of Dropout, I couldn’t agree more! We are so proud and happy we managed to open this shop with a bunch of friends and now we are slowly growing and establishing ourselves as one of the biggest shops in Denmark. We focus on the collective, where everyone contributes equally while at the same time everyone is learning from each other. We are definitely a shop made by artists for artists, we believe tattooers should be empowered and be in an environment that makes it easier to elevate.. Also, it's an amazing opportunity to invite guest artists over, because we got so much space. For us, the collective is the essence of the tattoo community. If anyone wish to guest while in Copenhagen, they can reach out!

Q: Tattoo conventions, seminars, guest spots, lots of educational videos on YouTube etc. So much is out there today. Do you think it's easier for the young, aspiring artists if they want to try getting into professional tattooing?
A: I think they have it technically easier, because all the information is out there, but at the same time they are entering a scene that has drastically evolved into something that requires an insane dedication and skill set to be part of. I think new artists who start now will need more talent and dedication than ever before. I'm personally working on my own seminar, which I hope will be ready later this year. I don’t focus too much on the technique, but more on the mindset and the approach. This is something that isn't going to teach anyone how to tattoo from scratch obviously, as I think the most solid way into the industry is finding an apprenticeship and paying your dues.

Q: How often do you participate in those types of events? Please list some of your accomplishments here.
A: I've attended the first two years of Frankfurt, Gods of Ink convention which is truly the most baller event in Europe. Working alongside these fantastic artists is humbling. I've been invited to both the Elite convention and also the Elite guest spot by invitation in Cologne, Germany, which also brought together some incredible talents in a intimate, closed venue with selected artists. Truly an amazing experience. Since the start of my career I attended quite a few conventions and won multiple awards in Denmark. Most notably “best nordic artist” from Nordic Ink back in 2016 I believe. “Best Black and grey” and “realistic” at Prison Ink. I took a break from conventions and guest spots to focus on my family, my house and my own shop. Now things are becoming stable, and I'm truly enjoying traveling and doing guest spots and conventions again! The next convention is coming up in Hamburg in August, called Tattoo Titans, come say hi! Next year, I hope to have my Visa sorted and then I will focus more on the American scene, but also considering conventions in Asia, as I've heard they are all mind-blowing.

Q: That's amazing Ruben! Can you list your sponsors too? How hard was to get sponsored by these great companies?
A: I have been fortunate to be a collaborator with a great bunch of sponsors. Being part of the Bishop Rotary Family I get taken care of everywhere I go. I have been using Bishop rotaries since 2015 and never looked back since! For needles I prefer Kwadron, which are just solid and always delivers quality over quantity! I'm also sponsored by Bheppo, Inkfillers, Killerink and Tattoo Armor Pro as its all products I can stand by and believe in 100%. I've been invited to become a part of the respective teams, some I had to reach out to, and thankfully got accepted!

Q: Being a tattoo artist is for sure one of the best jobs one can have. It's often not even a job is almost like a life long passion project of self development, self expression and giving a beautiful gift (art) to those who recognized your talent. Beautiful shared energy, right? What do you like the most about being a tattoo artist?
A: Indeed it's nothing like this. I also think it's because I feel so blessed to have this job, that I also feel a responsibility to treat myself, my clients and the industry with respect. The path has been paved into the scene that now exists, I am just enjoying the ride! The most amazing part of this job for me, is the network I've gotten over the years. The relations that stretch across borders and being part of this community that keeps growing while at the same time I'm getting more and more familiar with.

Q: Do you still have the same enthusiasm? Would you change something about your style, like maybe trying some color tattooing?
A: Actually, I feel more enthusiastic and optimistic about this year and the next than ever before. I'm motivated, engaged and ready to progress and strengthen both my network and artistic skill set. I want to keep honing my black and grey abilities, to keep my level at amongst the pioneers that inspire me. I don’t feel like I've reached my skillcap at all, and as long as I haven't done that I won't change styles. If I were to change, I would go full on traditional Japanese style. But yeah, that might come later!

Q: Ruben, what would you recommend to those who want to get into professional tattooing?
A: If you want to get into professional tattooing, you need to know the industry. Get tattooed. A lot. Attend conventions and most importantly, draw until your hands bleed.

Please write down your contacts, social media links, and studio location. Please let us know if you are available for bookings.

Contact: Ruben Jordan Langsted
Studio: Dropout Collective, Copenhagen Denmark. IG: @rubentattooer
website: www.dropout.dk My bookings are currently closed, but exceptional and exciting projects will always be considered. Expect about a year on the wait list - my manager Martina will take good care of you!