Yannis Mellos

Artists - Studios - Issue 23

Yannis Mellos gave an interview to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine. Among other things he talked about his sixteen year old relationship with tattooing, the decision to leave his old life behind for tattoo, his preference towards Black & Grey, the reasons that contribute to his evolution, tattoo's current great popularity, as well as why he prefers to tattoo women.

Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

How did you get involved with tattooing?

I was painting and drawing from a young age. Whenever I had free time I painted. During my adolescence, I experimented with a few friends on the tattoo - with improvised tattoo machines made from Walkmans or from various other electric toys or even with three simple sewing needles and Indian ink – and I hassled them. When I was sixteen I had my first tattoo done by Jimmy’s in Plaka and I can say that I was charmed by the whole thing, because at the time it was not as common to have a tattoo, and if you did, it was frowned upon. Therefore, I didn’t get more into it. As the years passed, I continued my working on my great love, painting, and one evening with the help of a good friend of mine, we went to an internet cafe and searched for a tattoo machine.

When was that?

This was around 2001 if I remember correct. At the same time back then, I had ordered a small tattoo machine from the United States which got to me after a facing many obstacles… 

What do you mean?

You know, the usual problems with customs clearance and the typical bureaucratic issues. At first I started tattooing friends. I had converted the place on my roof over the house into a tattoo studio and I held my "experiments" there. And that was it! I was immediately drawn to tattoo. That day I set aside my oils, brushes and canvases and dealt purely with the tattoo.

What were you doing for a living before that?

I have done many jobs: I have worked in garages, repair shops, as a courier etc. I’ve been working since I was fifteen years old. Because of my love for painting, at some point I decided to go to an art school to learn how to do more things and grasp better in the concept of painting. It helped me a lot and I could learn more things about painting.

When did you decide that you would leave behind your former life, for the tattoo?

In 2008, when I opened Legend Tattoo. The truth is that I started late, but I already had a family - I had three children at a young age - and for that reason it was difficult to take the decision to quit my "stable" job and risk my life by opening a tattoo studio. I could not know whether my career would pick up, especially since Greece was not yet as accepting of tattoos. Also, I needed a few years to learn and get better, to feel more confident. Personally, if I'm not sure about something, I prefer not to do it at all especially when it is about something that stays on you for a lifetime. So, in 2008 I was doing better financially and my children had grown up a little bit, and, with the help of my wife Helen, I decided to open the tattoo shop. Because, as I said, the art of tattoo got to me immediately. I wanted to get involve purely with the tattoo. 

Did you learn tattooing by practising?

Yes, by practising. Nobody showed me how.

Did you ever try asking anyone or did you just not find someone to teach you?

Back when I started tattooing, there were not many studios and it was a little difficult to find someone to show you. That’s why I didn’t go after that and I got involved by myself. Last year I went to the United States where I followed a few seminars on colour tattoo, given by Nikko Hurtado, even though I am not such a big fan of colour. 

Why don’t you like colour that much? 

I find black and grey to be more artistic and impressive than colour is. Same as with painting, I preferred working with charcoal and pencil rather than with colour, and that’s something that passed on to tattooing too. 

Do you believe that people are more impressed by coloured tattoos?

Probably yes, but I think that such thing happens more abroad and not as much here. Judging by my customers, they are more impressed by black and grey tattoos and that’s what they mostly ask for.

During these sixteen years that you are involved with tattooing, when did you feel safe the most?

I don’t think I ever will, at least I won’t in the sense that I will stop trying to get better. In art, there’s no “ceiling” to stop you from growing. You always learn and you always discover something new. Whether it is a new technique or a style, whatever really. 

Tell me about your tattoo style…

I like realism and that’s mostly what I do. Part of the charm in realistic tattoo I think is the fact that the client will come in and will share his thoughts and ideas and you are going to have to come up with a drawing. It’s as If I were entering the client’s mind and creating a drawing that he would like with my artistry, first on paper and then on his skin. I also really like the freedom realism offers when it comes to the creating part. Besides all that, all you need is inspiration and time, which is sadly not always the case and so, you sometimes end up running in panic in order to finish in time. 

Realism or surrealism?

I like surrealism too. One of my favourite artists is Salvador Dali. Surrealism is more mysterious and it needs more thinking to create it. 

What is it that helped you evolve ever since you got started?

Patience. If you are patient, you can do everything. And that’s probably a quality that young people lack these days. You see a young person nowadays and he thinks that he was just born like this, to be the number one in everything. It has happened to me a lot of times from people who come here to ask me for a job. You start telling them “let me show you how” and they go like “you don’t need to show me. I know how”. You can’t know everything. Only with patience you will achieve things, either in drawing, or painting, or tattooing. 

And with persistence. 

Of course, with persistence too. 

Is there a possibility that either of your three children might get involved with tattooing?

Yes, Christina who is also the youngest. She seems to be the only one with an artistic spirit and she is really keen on tattooing. She attended a painting school for two years and now I have here at the studio as an apprentice. She is doing really well so far. She really loves tattoo and painting and I believe that one day, all this will lead her straight to the top. George, my oldest son is involved with body piercing and works here at the studio as a body piercer. 

Was it something that she wanted to do on her own or did you encourage her when you realised that she has talent for it?

No, she wanted to tattoo. Ever since she was a child she kept saying that she was going to become a tattoo artist.

Nowadays, people are getting tattooed much more than they used to. What do you think has changed?

Tattoo has really changed these past seven, eight years. All this prejudice that if you had a tattoo you were either a sailor or an inmate, it has ceased. If not from all, then from most. Television and internet really helped for that to happen. Whichever celebrity, star, footballer you look at, they have at least one sleeve. In the past when you went to the beach you saw one person tattooed in one a thousand. Now you see one in a thousand that is not tattooed.

Of course, the technique has changed too, it is more like painting, like a jewellery on the skin. It wasn’t like that in the old days. I remember when I had my first tattoo done, in order to pick the drawing, Jimmy opened a shoebox, in which he kept his stamps, and took out three different drawings of the same theme that I wanted to do and he said to me, “I have these three, pick” and these three drawings were already done on hundreds of others. Now people come to the studio with a unique idea, they mull it over a lot, the majority of them at least. They come and they tell you, I want to do what represents me for who I am, or what has marked me as a person, or something I love. There was this one time when a girl came to me and she wanted to get tattooed with her parents’ initials in Chinese ideograms and because she didn’t like the father’s ideogram, she asked me to replace it with one she likes, even if that one wouldn’t represent the right concept. She just wanted to like the letter. All this has changed and this is something positive.

Do you tattoo more women or men?

I would say that I do about the same amount of both. I prefer women though; they don’t ache as much men do. 

Is that so?

Yes, women have a higher pain threshold. They are by nature more resistant to pain. Moreover, they tend to be more patient than men. You could put a woman on her side for three hours without moving. A man doesn’t do that. He would tell you to go have a smoke together, even if he doesn’t smoke, only to stop for a while. 

And what about the artistic part?

When it comes to that, men tend to have done a better research on what they want. Few women would tell you for example that they want a full sleeve. They are proportionally fewer.  

Do your clients come mainly from Piraeus?

No, they come from Athens and the countryside too. I would even dare say that I have more clients from Athens and the countryside than from here; from Keratsini. Internet has really helped achieve that. You don’t need to have a studio a central spot anymore.

How do you see the tattoo scene in Greece?

I believe that it will grow more. If the financial crisis that we are experiencing doesn’t stop us. Over the next few years we might even become one of the best countries in tattooing in the whole Europe. We already have very talented artists and there are more to come. I look at works from some other studios and I have even come across apprentices who do wonders. 

Do you think that there is a mutual support between you, tattoo artists?

As it happens in every profession, there is competition. Same in ours. It’s normal that there is. And as the fingers on one’s hand are not identical, same is with people, so you choose with which artist you click most. If you look at the convention that takes place in Athens, everybody is talking to everybody. There’s no reason not to have a good relationship with other artists, because with so many studios and so many different styles and techniques, each one of us has the possibility to go online and search for the artist that suits him best.

Tattoo work photographs courtesy of Legend Tattoo.

Yannis Mellos paintings.