Sakis Mastrogiannis

Artists - Studios - Issue 17

The measured Sakis Mastrogiannis talked to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine for his worship of the Old School tattoo, for his family that puts above all, for the "attitude" that he doesn't like, for his honesty towards the customer, and the need to reflect on the skin what he paints, without considering himself as an "artist".

Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get involved with tattooing?

Ι started on my own in early 2010. My brother encouraged me, because I used to paint from a very young age, and so did my father who is an amateur painter, as he wasn’t able to live on his art. I wanted to know how it’s like, how tattoo is done in practice. So, one day, I went, got all that was necessary, and I started, firstly at home, where I gave tattoos to my mates.
Before I get involved and then dedicate myself to tattoo, I used to work for the Red Cross, in the Vehicles Service, in the charitable foundation. At the same time I studied to be a graphic designer. Even though I completed my studies, I felt that graphic design was not for me… I dug tattoo since way back.

So you began tattooing as an amateur, without thinking that it may turn out to be something of a profession.

Yeah, it’s exactly like that, I didn’t even have the slightest idea in my mind that I could make a living out of it at some point.

What happened between 2010 until now that we are in 2015?

I realised that I like it, that it suits me and that I can do it. I saw that I had progress and wanted to make it. I met Konstantinos, we opened Skink Tattoo Studio in 2011 and I am tattooing.
What do you think are the reasons for your relatively fast development in the tattoo field?
In general, everything I do, I take it really fast. I don’t enjoy being stagnant. I have a bit of courage when it comes to these things. I don’t hang back, to put it this way. I said I’d do it and I did it. Whenever I set a goal, I always succeed in it.

So, as I was entering the tattoo world, I liked it more and more. Together with Konstantinos we made the shop gradually and we are still taking things slow. We learn, we study and we try. Truth be told I don’t actually have any crazy story to tell you, for example “I went to apprentice there” or “the x artist taught me that”. I am completely self-taught, no one has ever taught me, not even how to set the tattoo machine, nothing, I’ve learned everything by myself.

Did you happen to watch videos of the whole procedure?

No, absolutely nothing.

So where did you experiment on? Yourself?

Yes, on me, on my brother and on my friends. As everyone has, I guess…

Is this though something you would suggest someone who wants to start?

I have nothing to suggest to no one. Everybody can do what he thinks is best.

What can you say was the thing that attracted you most to tattoo, apart from the fact that you really liked it?

First of all, it seemed to me really hard when I first started. I had in my mind that I would like, at some point, whatever I am drawing, to be able to do it on skin. I didn’t actually had tattoo in my mind as a notion or culture. As long as I am part of the tattoo world, I find myself discovering tattoo’s culture and lifestyle, and I keep these elements that suit my personality and way of life.

What do you mean?

I didn’t have it like that in my mind… That I would be a “tattooer”, as people now see it.

How do they see it?

Very strange.  That you are “someone”, that you are doing “something”, just because you do tattoos. I don’t generally appreciate the “attitude”. I do this with the people I love, inside the shop, where we are like a family. Then I go home to my wife and kids. I don’t see it as doing something special.

Since you mentioned the role of the family, how do you manage to combine your professional and your family life? For many people tattooing is a profession that once you are done from the studio you carry it with you back home.

I combine it during the night, when everybody goes to sleep. Of course, I don’t carry it with me in the house to a large extent. For my people, it’s just my job. It’s not a different thing to, let’s say, working with the Red Cross. I go there, do my job, earn my money in an honest way and then return home.

You do, however, have some sort of artistry.

Ι’m not entitled to talk about artistry when there are people in the business doing “miracles”. I think I capture on skin whatever I am drawing. This is what I do. I don’t consider myself to be an “artist”.

You mean that you are a “tattooer” and not a “tattoo artist”.

Yes exactly that, just like you said it.

Are the designs you give your own?

Yes, everything is custom made.

So you do have artistry in you, because then you would have to make exclusively readymade tattoos (e.g. flash), instead of your own designs!

Yeah ok, Lydia has artistry. She could, just sitting on the corner there, make a portrait of us within ten minutes. Everything is artistry; I just think that mine is the humblest form of them all. What I do is the simplest thing there is in the tattoo field. What I like, what fulfils me, is when my design turns out beautiful and the client is satisfied with it.  This is when my day gets perfect.

What is your relationship with the client?

It’s very good because I will give him what I have shown him before and I don’t do stuff I can’t pull off. I keep a clear head. When someone comes into the shop I will say to him “man, this is what I do. Do you like it? We move on. You don’t like it? There are so many out there doing unbelievable stuff. Why should I give it to you?” This is my opinion.

Nowadays information is more accessible. Has that fact helped you?

Surely, you now learn more easily. You study, check out those people you like, and you try to reach this level, without copying them.

How would you describe your tattoo style and why did you choose it?

I can get involved with other things, I can do them technically, it’s just that I like Old School because it’s clear, perfectly clear to be more precise, and very strict.  The painting comes through me and I am happy when I sit and set it up. Other styles make me a bit stressed, because I can’t pull them off that easily. This is why I have chosen this specific style. Of course, when it comes to Old School, I think that I still haven’t managed to do what is in my mind. Therefore, I still have lots of things to learn and to evolve.

In your opinion, what is more important in tattooing, the technical or the artistic part?

Well, here is the thing; once you are into the tattoo world, things kind of change. Especially when it comes to the stuff I’m doing, where whatever you draw on paper must be identical with what you’ll do on the skin. This is pretty different from what I used to draw before I get involved with tattoos, which was a bit abstract and I generally did whatever came in my mind. What I am drawing now has many rules and I am still trying to find more. As long as you draw, you evolve. In Old School, specifically, you can set up many things; this happens in a rather strict framework, yet you can still evolve that. Ι discuss that with colleagues who work on the same style.

Was your family supportive of your decision to quit a rather “reliable” job and turn to the tattoo world?

A great deal. My wife was extremely supportive. If it weren’t for my wife, I wouldn’t have done this thing I adore so much. My kids are still young. They like what I do as a living. My older son, who is nine years old, kind of reacts, because he doesn’t want me to get any more tattoos on me. Because he is an athlete, he is disciplined, and therefore is against it.

Well, another issue emerges now. Do kids whose parents, like you, are full of tattoos, happen to have negative reactions to their parents’ image?

I don’t know about that. I can reassure you though that these kids do not discriminate people the way other kids do. I attend parents’ events at school and I have realised that some of the kids are staring at me. My kids never stare at people who have tattoos.

Have you ever worked abroad?

No, and the truth is that I am really afraid of flying. However, I won’t be able to avoid it for much longer since this summer I will be tattooing in Dortmund, Germany.

Where would you like to be in five years time?

Here. I can’t think of anything special I would like to change in five years. I believe that when you have kids they are the first thing that you think about, nothing else. I want everyone around me, all the people I love, to be fine, I want things to be ok, and I want us to be healthy. Simple things, nothing more. Just to be here and do my job.

If, for example, your younger son decided to follow your career path and become a tattooer, would that be something you would be in favour of? Even if in the long run the demand for tattoos is not the same as now?

Yes, of course, it goes without saying, I wouldn’t object to that.

You generally keep a low profile. Do you think that this kind of behaviour has helped you in your work or not?

No, it hasn’t helped me, because I see other people, who are more extroverted and sociable than me, having more work. But it’s fine; everybody has his own personality and does it his own way. I like the way I do it and I am telling you once more that I don’t consider it as something special. I just give tattoos. With respect for the client. You can’t just solely do backpieces or sleeves, etc. You will have to make some lettering or small hearts. These are the things that provide for my kids. When I have the chance to do what I want, on top of that, then my day just gets better. Of course, there are some kids who have taken lettering to another level.

Before we begin this interview you mentioned these tattoo flashes you are currently making.

Yes, I am currently working on these flashes. It’s my preparation for the upcoming conventions I am planning to attend in Athens and Dortmund and it’s also the way I would like to function in the future. Only with flashes made from me and chosen by the people. Tattoo flashes as a notion match perfectly my old school philosophy, which is also my style.

Tattoo work photographs courtesy of Skink Tattoo.