At the Brighton Tattoo Convention this past February, I had the opportunity to meet some wonderful up-and-coming artists, whose names you'll definitely be hearing more of in the near future, if not already. One such artist was Vasilis Tzamalis, better known in tattoo circles as "Captain," for serving the Greek navy and wandering the seas for 10 years, before pursuing his dream as a tattoo artist. Tattooing for just two years now, Captain got a real dream apprenticeship at the renowned Sake Tattoo in Athens, one of Greece's finest.
Since March 2015, Captain has been working at Dark Side Tattoo Society, also very well respected in Athens, specializing in custom traditional tattoos. Captain took some time away from his vibrant color work, to play along with our Proust Questionnaire.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Living good and healthy along with family and beloved friends
Your most marked characteristic?
What is your principle defect?
Your favorite painters?
Rembrandt and El Greco
Your favorite musicians?
John Coltrane / CCR / Pantera
Who are your favorite writers?
Not much of a reader, but really enjoyed "Still Life with Woodpecker" by Tom Robbins.
Your favorite virtue?
Who would you have liked to been?
How would you like to die?
What is your present state of mind?
What is your motto?
"There is a scratch in everything , that's how the light gets in." - Leonard Cohen
Find more of Captain's work on Instagram, Facebook, and on the Darkside Tattoo site.
I'm very fortunate to have shelves of beautiful tattoo and art books from artists across the globe -- books I've learned a great deal from and books that inspire posts for this blog. But it is not often that a book inspires how I envision further work on my own tattoos and has me excited about different possibilities of expression when designing the next steps of my body suit.
One such book is "Solstice Mandala" by George "Orge" Kalodimas of Sake Tattoo in Athens, Greece.
Last July, I first wrote about the Solstice Mandala project in which Orge set out to create a mandala a day, from June 21st, the Summer Solstice, to December 21st, the Winter Solstice. And he did so. Here's more:
In the morning of 21st of June, Orge was listening to the radio and was reminded that this is the biggest day of the year. This reminder pushed him to later spend hours online learning about the Solstice circle and the unstoppable circle of life every year since the beginning of time. That's when inspiration stroke. He would design one mandala per day for the next 184 days, paying tribute to the solstice. He spent every day for 6 months designing a new mandala inspired by religion, nature and sacred geometry.Those 184 mandalas are beautifully presented in a lush, limited edition 128-page hardcover with embossed sleeve. Even more wonderful is that the book is accompanied by a signed & numbered limited print.
And the most wonderful part: the book is available for purchase at only 75 Euros (about $102 US).
Personally, I love how Orge has created mandalas that are incredibly detailed with various patterns and imagery, but would not overwhelm the body and would translate beautifully when the art is put on skin.
For more on how Solstice Mandala came to be, check this great video below.
And for more on Orge's tattoo and fine art work, check his Facebook and Instagram pages.
In Athens, Greece, the Sake Tattoo Crew is an incubator for top tattoo talent -- not just respected in the country, but worldwide. One artist from this collective is Kiriakos Balaskas. Tattooing for 8 years after a tough apprenticeship with Sake, Kiriakos developed a style combining abstract expressionism watercolors and graphic art. But I wanted to learn from him how he views his work, and tattoo culture as a whole, so I took him away from organizing the Athens Tattoo Convention, which is May 23-25, for a quick Q&A.
If forced to define your style, how would you describe it? What are the strongest influences on your work?
My tattoo style in general has always been a combination of heavy themes/ lines/ shapes, and naive -- almost childish -- color details. I've always found this invasion of joy into strictness (two sides that equally attract me) very interesting and exciting. As soon as I started experimenting with the watercolor technique, I felt I had finally found the absolute way of expressing this ultimate combination. My pieces mainly include these distinctive elements: a black graphic stencil or sketch, and either a brush or wide, "clean," kid-style watercolors -- usually two colors only. It is hard for me to define it in a sole, strict term as there is no one else in Greece who practises this style, but if forced to define it, I'd use the term my costumers use when they ask for it, "Kiddo."
Some old school artists believe that "only bold will hold," and that every tattoo needs a heavy outline to stay strong longer. What is your response to this?
I agree and I myself use total black outlines in the stencil/sketch part. But as far as the watercolors outline is concerned, I feel the lines should create an ephemeral impression -- if you take the loose element out of the watercolor, the very substance of it is gone.
Because you are doing something new and innovative with your work, what kind of reactions do you get to it?
The reactions are positive, if not overwhelming. People are interested in trying this new technique or inflowing the style into their tattoos, and their eagerness to experiment with unconventional styles sincerely moves me.
What are some of the greatest lessons you learned in tattooing?
I've learned the greatest lessons and values of tattooing from the person who initiated me to this art, Sake. It was a tough apprenticeship by his side that I had to go through in order to become a respected tattoo artist, and one of the greatest lessons he gave me was to pay this respect back to the customers. They will have that piece on them forever, and that is something we always have to keep in mind.
What do you think makes a good tattoo -- and what do you think makes a good tattoo artist?
A good tattoo is a tattoo that remains the same over the years, as if it was only done two weeks ago. I consider good artists to be the artists who won't rest or let themselves go as far as their technique, style and inspiration are concerned.
How have you seen tattoo culture in Greece evolve? How has mainstream culture in Greece adapted to the art's popularity?
It's growing stronger and stronger, meaning that it is not considered a taboo anymore. It took a long time for tattooed people not be thought of as being gang members or criminal figures! I think this progress was a combination of famous, successful people flaunting their pieces and the evolution of the Greek tattoo scene that managed to establish itself as art.
As the organizer of the Athens Tattoo Convention, what do you think are the highlights of your convention?
Except for a good sum of about 180 artists (30 of them from around the globe), the Athens Tattoo Convention combines all kinds of inspiring subcultures through BMX and skate ramps, graffiti and custom bike shows to live music and little surprises every year, from aerial dance to Fuel Girls performances. Last but not least, the venue is located by the sea side.
Personally, what do you love to do when not tattooing?
If you had to sum up your personal life philosophy, what would it be?
"Be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn. In that case, you should always be a unicorn". I love that quote.
Check more of Kiriakos' work on Facebook and Instagram.
Having a Greek father who once told me that tattoos would never be accepted in the motherland, it's with true pleasure (and a bit of "I told ya so") to see a tattoo publication rise to international popularity, which happens to come out of Greece.
HEARTBEATINK is an online tattoo magazine in English and Greek with excellent photography and videos, and thoughtful interviews with tattooists, musicians, and collectors. I'm honored to be among those collectors interviewed by the magazine's most excellent editor Ino Mei. Our Q &A was just posted today.
I first met Ino in person at the last NYC Tattoo Convention, where she beautifully captured the scene in her convention coverage for her mag. Then we got to hang at the London Tattoo Convention in September, for which she also took wonderful images and video. There, we found a moment to chat about a possible "tattoo gene," the comparisons between tattooing & plastic surgery, tattoo law, and what happened when my dad did find out I was heavily tattooed (and more). It was a fun talk. Here's a bit from it:
How did you get into tattoos?
Me: Ed Hardy once told me in an interview that he believes that there could be a "tattoo gene." It made a lot of sense to me because, when you ask somebody who has a visceral response to tattooing -- who sees tattooing and has an actual physical reaction and is attracted to it -- that is something that's ingrained; people can think back and say, "Well, I've always felt that way". I remember when I was very young, looking at my mother's National Geographic magazines and coming across tattooed tribal women, and I was instantly thinking that this is really beautiful, mysterious and bad-ass. Of course, this is an ideal way of looking at it. really, if I would be honest with myself, it is because I liked tattooed boys when I was teenager (laughs).
HEARTBEATINK: Where you then tattooed when you were a teenager?
I was a nerdy teenager, did good in school, and my parents were very conservative. I didn't run around a lot. So when I found myself at tattoo shops at a young age, it held a kind of magic for me. Keep in mind that getting a tattoo was illegal back then, until 1997, in New York, so it was more secretive. You had to know where to go and ring the right buzzer. It was like a clandestine operation. However, when you were "inside", it wasn't what you'd expect, like a biker shop. At least in my experience, when I was first exposed to it, I was seeing really beautiful custom tattooing. There were art books rather than trendy flash for inspiration. I respected it so much that I felt I really wanted to wait until a had the right idea and do it at the right time. So, I didn't get tattooed until I was in my early twenties. Actually, I got my first tattoo during the early weeks of law school. I felt I didn't fit it, and was afraid that I'd become something that I wasn't. I love the study of law, but I've never been super competitive and I've never felt that I had to be above somebody else to be better. It was really at that time that I started thinking about art and tattooing a lot in terms of individuation.
HEARTBEATINK: That sounds very mature...
I was a very mature kid (laughs). Now, I'm regressing. I'm like a thirteen-year-old boy (laughs). Back then, I was like a forty year old women (laughs).
Read more here.
HEARTBEATINK also posted some photos from my latest book, Black Tattoo Art 2. Tons of tattoo goodness!
My friends at the Greek tattoo magazine Heartbeat Ink have a fantastic in-depth Q&A with Mike The Athens, in English and in Greek. Tattooing for 24 years, Mike The Athens is not only one of Greece's preeminent tattooers, but has garnered international acclaim for his work, which is largely inspired by Tibetan and Himalayan Art, Sak Yant, and mantras, but also moving towards Japanese-influenced tattooing.
Today, Mike The Athens splits his time between Athens, Greece, and Goa, India. In the Heartbeat Ink interview, he explains what living and tattooing on two continents is like, how tattooers must have a conscience, and even the fun way he got his name. Here's a taste:
Where are you now in 2013?Read more, and view some wonderful photos, here. Also check Mike The Athens' site and blog.
Mike is also one of the featured artists in Black Tattoo Art 2, which is currently available for pre-order.
For some positive and light inspiration, check the Solstice Mandala project by Orge of Sake Tattoo in Athens, Greece. Since June 21st, the Summer Solstice, Orge has been creating one intricate and beautiful mandala a day, incorporating a variety of motifs including animals and elements of nature, skulls, and religious quotations, among others. Orge will continue to create these works until December 21st, the Winter Solstice, and they will culminate in a book of all his mandalas.
You can find more in Orge's Solstice Mandala Facebook Album and on Instagram.
Orge is the manager and a tattooist at Greece's renowned Sake Tattoo, and you'll find much of the sacred geometry that inspires his fine art in his tattoo work. Check him.
When I first began to get more heavily tattooed a little over ten years ago, the one great heartbreak I had as a result was the reaction to the way I looked when I would go back to Greece once a year to see my family. Despite so much of my designs being influenced by ancient Greek motifs, it was still quite taboo for a woman to be covered in ink, no matter what the artwork. I even wrote in 2009 here about outright hostility in Athens toward me in a number of tourist shops in which I was ready to plunk down a lot of coin for some crap; one shop owner directly informed me that I was a disgrace when I spoke to her in Greek. I didn't get a tourist pass on the tattoos.
A lot has changed in a short time.
The country's renowned beaches have become more beautiful with the greater number of tattooed bodies, and the artwork that is being created from Greek tattooists has become renowned as well. In my 2009 post, I noted just a few of my favorite studios here, but there are so much more.
In keeping up with tattooing in Greece, I check HEARTBEATINK: an online tattoo magazine in English and Greek with excellent photography and videos; interesting interviews with tattooists, musicians, and collectors; and equal objectification of tattooed men and women (eye candy for all!).
I met the magazine's fabulous editor, Ino Mei, at the NYC Tattoo Convention, and she explained that the goals of the magazine are to showcase the explosive artistry that is coming out of Greece, but also bring to the country news and features of tattoo culture around the world.
For example, she offers some great coverage of the Athens Tattoo Convention and the NYC Tattoo Convention, including the images shown below. For the latest issue, Ino also interviewed Paul Booth, rockers Red Fang, and the Medusa Tattoo crew, among others.
There's a lot of tattoo goodness in HEARTBEAT INK, so check it for yourself. You can also find the mag on Facebook and Instagram.
Criminality, ownership, and even secret codes among spies -- tattoos in ancient Greece largely served these purposes and it was rare to look at them as any kind of attractive adornment. In Greece today, however, there is an explosion of artful tattoos that defy the ancients and decorate their descendants in ways that have caught the attention of the international tattoo community.
One such Greek artist is Sake, of Sake Tattoo, -- a studio that has been beautifying Athens (and clients well beyond) since it opened in 2005. Sake's notable style, developed since he began tattooing in 2001, is color bombed portraits framed in graphic backgrounds, influenced by his long graffiti history. [You can still find him burning walls with his graffiti crew, the Till Death Squad.] While Greece remains a gorgeous vacation destination, here's an added reason to take a trip.
See more of Sake's work here.
See the full size images of the tattoos in the montage above on our Flickr page.
The past few weeks, Needles and Sins has been a bit light as I finished up my latest tattoo book and then fled for Greece. Right now, I'm on the island of Chios (where my dad is from) in the Aegean Sea. Yes, I know whatcha thinkin: Why the hell is she online when she's on a gorgeous Greek island.
Well, for one, I missed you. Two, I'm a nerd. And most important, I wanted to share with y'all a snippet of my experience here and get your thoughts on it. So, it is with great introspection, social interaction, and very expensive education that I have deduced the following:
Being heavily tattooed in Greece still sucks.
Ooh, I can hear your thoughts again: Boo-freakin-hoo. People stare. People comment. And they do so in different languages. Deal with it, Marisa. You're on a Greek island!
I have been dealing with it. For years now. Remember my whining last year to Athens News about being spit on and other fun interactions with old Greek ladies because I've defiled myself?
I've also promoted Greek tattoo artists here like Dimitris Kalomiris/Hellenic Stixis (whose work is above) and Mike The Athens. Both artists take a spiritual approach to tattooing in a country where many believe tattooing to be sacrilege. There are, in fact, many great artists in Greece, and that talent is growing. There are even two(!) studios here in Chios including Birthmachine Tattoo, who did the following work in progress. Nevertheless, the heavily tattooed are still significantly few here, and life isn't easy for those who are.
Which brings me to my point: because of the negative reactions from strangers and even my own family, I've been hiding my tattoos. I'm talkin' wearing long-sleeve tees to the beach in 100 degree heat, and wraps over all my dresses at night. [Now, when I go to baptisms and weddings, I cover up because I don't want the attention taken away from baby and bride. That's not a big deal for me.]
For those days where I just want a swim or a drink at a bar, I wonder if I'm doing myself a disservice by covering up and not instigating discourse to try to dispel the myths surrounding tattoos--and especially tattooed women. In this act of conflict avoidance, am I creating more problems by letting those in the know think I have something to be ashamed of? Or am I just trying to have a nice vacation with my family in a place I love without causing too much of a ruckus. I'm having a hard time figuring it all, which explains all this blah blah.
So my question to you as I look upon my next week here: To cover or not to cover?
Exercising my right to bare arms in Greece last month.
Last month, I wrote about tattoos in Greece, noting my favorite shops and even offering a meze platter of personal experience about being a heavily tattooed women who understands what people are saying about me as I walk the streets, from Athens to the islands.
A reporter from Athens News, Erinn Unger, saw the blog post and contacted me for a story she was working on focused on tattoo culture in Greece. That article is now online here. Erinn did a great job of talking to tattoo artists and including my experience to show how attitudes towards tattoos in the country are changing, albeit very slowly. And in my case, sometimes not fast enough. Here's a taste from the article:
There's also a great sidebar on the history of tattoos in ancient Greece, including those found on Thracian and Spartan women.
To see the print layout of the article with images, check the scan on Flickr.
I'm back from my 2-week big fat Greek wedding celebration of my best friend's nuptials (photos on my Facebook page) but it was more than just eating, drinking, dancing, eating, eating, eating ... it was also about
Specifically, I'm reporting back to y'all on some amazing work coming outta my motherland.
But before I give a list of my fave Greek tattooists, I should note that despite the Zorba-esque zestiness, jump-on-the-table-and-belly-dance desires of my peeps, it is NOT a country friendly to heavily tattooed people, especially women. In fact, it's pretty hostile, and I'm not just talking about the smaller villages but even in the big cities like Athens.
For example, in one day, I was stopped and cursed at by three different people for exercising my right to bare tattooed arms -- people who worked in tourist stores and could've taken my euros for things like erotic coasters depicting the ancients in various states of coitus.
One woman spit on the floor when she saw me, claiming I was a Satan worshipper. [Indeed, I would not deem Beyonce satan by any means!]
Of course, when I hung out with the satanists at the Rockwave Festival Tuesday, my tattoos were almost as big a hit as Mastodon, Kylesa and Lita Ford, so maybe there's something to it.
My point in writing all this is that -- while Greece remains one of the most beautiful places on earth to me, a place I go back to every year -- one must be prepared to suffer the evil eye of tattoo distaste despite the country's recent tattoo conventions and incredible local tattooists.
And speaking of, here's my pick of faves should you wish a souvenir from Greece other than the Athena is My Homegirl tee.
* Mike The Athens: Mike (whose work is shown here) is one of my favorite artists worldwide, even beyond Greece's borders, particularly for his Buddhist and East Asian iconography (in fact, you'll find his tattoo and fine art work in my upcoming book on blackwork). Mike takes a spiritual approach to tattooing and is part of MAHASHAKTI, a non-profit organization whose goal is to "preserve, promote and secure spiritual tattooing in our times."
* Sake Tattoo: For the less traditional, there's Sake, who is excellent for portraiture and new school stylings; work coming out of the shop also includes the Art Brut style popularized in France and Belgium (some work comes a bit close for comfort with artists like Yann and Jeff but I haven't seen any that warrant copyright suits).
* Greek Tattoo/Hellenic Stixis: Specializes in tattoos of Hellenic motifs -- akin to much of what I wear on my arms. Research in archaeology and ancient Greek arts inform the designs of the work done here, and so if you're looking to be adorned like a Greek vase, this is the place to go.
* Tattooligans: When traveling through northern Greece, in the great city of Thessaloniki (Salonika), head to Tattooligans for color realism, some of the best coming outta the country.
* Nico Tattoo Crew: The tattoo studios of Nico Tattoo -- found in Athens, Thessaloniki and Alexandroupoli -- have a lot of artists working there, some excellent and some still learning, but when I passed by the Athens shop, I had the freedom to browse all the portfolios at leisure and everyone was super friendly. Nico himself has been around awhile and is known as a top Greek artist, but I was also really diggin the work of Kostas at the Athens shop for Japanese and Eastern iconography.
* Jimmy's: Jimmy's is the oldest tattoo shop in Greece and I remember there was a time over a decade ago that it was the only shop I'd ever hear of when I asked people in Athens about their tattoos. To learn more about Jimmy's, read this fabulous article by Lars Krutak for the Vanishing Tattoo.
This isn't an exhaustive list of course, and there are many great Greek tattoo artists creating beautiful works of art throughout the country.