Tin Tin is a characteristic and important persona of the international tattoo scene. The witty Frenchman spoke exclusively to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine about good and bad tattooers, the reason why he owns a single tattoo studio, his freehand tattooing, as well as tattoo's current worldwide "dimensions". We also asked him about the upcoming tattoo convention in Paris, which he organises, "Le Mondial du Tatouage", and what are the criteria to select the participant tattoo artists.

Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

When did you first start tattooing?

I started back in 1984. More than thirty years ago. I learned tattooing by myself. I never apprenticed. 

Thirty years is a long time. What has happened from then until now?

It happened a lot (laughs). I first started tattooing when I was in the army. I was doing my military service - it was in Berlin - so I had a lot of flesh to work on; when you're doing your military service everybody wants to get tattooed so I was tattooing at night and escaping the army at day (laughs), mostly sleeping during the day. Then in 1984, after working few months in Paris, which is where I come from, I opened my first studio in Toulouse, south of France. It was 1986. I returned to Paris in 1992 and opened a tattoo studio. I changed it in 2000. Since then, I have the same tattoo shop in Paris, and I'm not going to change it, I guess.

I always had one shop at a time, cause some people have several shops; sometimes they have too many shops. It's already pretty tough to have one… So we're like six stationed tattooists at the studio and with the assistants and the managers there’s about ten people working in total. Apart form the permanent tattoo artists we also have many guests. Many friends are coming - sometimes almost once a week – for guest spots. It’s a different situation, which however I enjoy.

Apart from a tattoo artist and tattoo studio owner, you also organize “Le Mondial du Tatouage”. How did that came up?

I initially did it like fifteen years ago, for two years in a row. It was more like cabaret ambience back then, so it stayed in everybody's memory - that's what people said – as one of the best conventions of all time. Miki Vialetto said that, so you know!

Yeah, he definitely knows!

Yes, I didn’t, and I'm still, you know, not a big business guy. So I'm okay, I know the people, I know how to manage tattoo artists but I can't organize it alone. I got a good partner for all the technical parts. It's my friend Piero and he's the one who actually convinced me to do the convention again. So fifteen years after I'm redoing it, and it's working very well. Everybody apparently wants to come to Mondial. That’s why we had to change the location. The one we did in 2013 was in a very nice location but not big enough. We were like victims of our success cause we had almost fifteen thousand people coming, and we can't make people queue on a sidewalk all day long. So we moved it to “Grande halle de la Villette”. Le Mondial du Tatouage is already a very big show and again this year we're going to have many great bands, we're going to bring more interns and so on. So yeah we'll make another tattoo festival but it's going to be like a very good concert, not just like a band from the corner.

How do you “select” the tattoo artists participating in Mondial du Tatouage?

There are currently many great tattooers around the world. It is important for us to have like an equal amount of older and younger finest. In “Le Mondial du Tatouage” there is a unification of them all. I just separate the best from the bad ones so for sure no bad ones in my convention and that's the good point. I do the selection myself and I'm very picky on who's going to work at the festival. I prefer having less artists than bad ones so the selection is pretty tough.

Now that you mentioned the younger tattoo artists, how do you see the younger tattoo generation nowadays?

From the best to the worst, like the old artists. Some people are working like thirty years like me and they are still bad (laughs).

But I just heard you are the best here (ed. we were sitting at his booth in London Tattoo Convention), that you’re better than Jondix. Is that true?

I'm saying this as a joke, and probably some people take it at the first degree. I always wanted to be the best but the better you become the more you understand and realize that this is not possible! There is no best, because there are so many good tattooists. So doing the best you can is already good enough. I always did the best I could and I was considered one of the best like twenty years ago. But today there so many good ones, so it’s becoming harder and harder to be one of the best.

So you recon that the level in tattooing is currently “higher”?

Yes, the level has progressed. Of course it's higher, but the bad ones progress too! Now there are more and more “scratchers”, more and more people are working in their garage or in their kitchen in the suburbs or whatever, you know. So of course there are many more good ones, however the percentage between good and bad tattooers is probably the same as before.

Is it like a fifty-fifty measurement? Like for a hundred good tattooists there are another hundred bad ones?

I think for a hundred good ones you have a thousand bad ones and even maybe more…

What is your tattoo style?

Oh, it's not for me to talk about my style. It's for other people to do so. Now I mainly do portraits, realism and Japanese more towards Oriental Japanese kind of. I enjoy all these tattoo styles. I like dragons, koi fish and peonies, and all these flowers and waves; all these Japanese themes.

Do you think that they are probably some of the most classic tattoo themes?

Yeah, they're still going to work. It's like a part of tattoo history. It's classic and I like doing it, I don't follow or respect any Japanese rule because I'm not Japanese, so I do it just my way and the way I think it would look good on the body. I used to be a big portraits guy.  At some point I stopped publishing it because for a while people were asking only for portraits. So now they kind of forgot about it, and nobody asks me for portraits anymore (laughs). Now I wish I could do more, I don't want to quit doing them, I just don't want to do only portraits and that's what I was doing for a long period; only portraits and realism, and it was a pain in the ass (laughs).

How do you stay creative after thirty years?

Well, I'm not sure if I'm that creative anymore… I'm pretty much on my routine and I'm not as creative as I used to be, I guess. However, I still make my own designs. I draw all of them except when it's a copy of a picture or a portrait. I'm not going to draw the portrait myself because there is usually a picture to copy. When I copy a portrait I make a stencil. When it’s my design I work mostly freehand. So I draw in general but I mostly draw on skin. I don't draw much on paper or canvas. I do a little painting or little bit of colour every once in a while but not much.

Is the tattoo scene big in France? What’s your opinion?

Tattoo is big everywhere. So yeah, of course it's big in France. It's pretty much the same everywhere. How can you compare? There's not much to compare; there are good and bad tattooers, as well as all kinds of different styles, in America and in Greece for example. You can't compare some artist with another. You might prefer Filip Leu or you might prefer Jondix but you can't compare them cause they do totally different styles. And Jondix is from Spain and Filip Leu is from Switzerland, and Filip Leu from Switzerland is doing some of the best Japanese tattoos and Japanese people are copying him. One of the best Japanese tattooists is a photocopy machine of Filip Leu, so he can be proud of that, but what can you compare? Filip Leu could be Spanish and Jondix could be from Switzerland, it's the same…

It's global.

So where the tattoo artist comes form doesn’t really matter, because it makes no difference, and therefore there's nothing really to compare. It all comes down to the artist.

Tattoo work photographs courtesy of Tin Tin.