Lonis, aka Leonidas Skiadas, known for his distinctive painting style, spoke to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine about his artistic past, his love of classic painters, his years alongside Andreas Marnezos, custom tattooing and his “non-devotion” to one specific tattoo style, tattoo cultural education and the lack of it.

When did you first starting tattooing and what lead you to it?

I first came into contact with tattoo in 1999. I have been doing it professionally since the early 2000s. That’s when I started with the late Andreas Marnezos at Barcode. Andreas liked my work and decided to hire me. He showed me the basics regarding tattooing and after a while I started working properly. I mean, I got to handle a tattoo machine very early on. I had the background, of course, and that definitely helped. 

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So you had an artistic background?

Yes, I was always into art, long before I got into tattooing. I have been doing oil paintings since my teens, which is how I did my recent art exhibition “Animalism” at Romantzo. Me and my brother have inherited our talent from our father. I also did professional airbrushing for years. Specifically, after my national service in 1993, I opened an airbrushing shop for bikes, cars, helmets and I also did store decorations. I have also worked alongside the amazing Dimitris Ziakas as assistant set designer and special effects. I consider my participation at Nikos Koundouros movie “Antigoni” as my peak.

Where does tattooing fit into all of this?

I didn’t expect it! A friend of mine who knew Marnezos encouraged me and insisted on introducing us. That’s how I ended up in Barcode studio and how it all started. It was love at first sight. Simple as that. 

Did you have tattoos before going professional?

Yeah, I had one from Suzana. An historical piece…

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How long where you an artist at Barcode?

I worked full time for Marnezos until 2003, which is when I opened my own tattoo studio in Argyroupoli with a partner. Partnering is difficult, you know… So, in 2007, I left and after “wandering” for a while and some guest spots, I opened Lonis Tattoo in 2009, here in Agios Dimitrios, which is currently in its 5th year. 

As far as I know, many well-known tattooists passed through Barcode. Where you part of the first bunch?

I was part of the third “bunch”, if you want to put that way. I was with Taki Tsan, Kostas Pliakas for about a year and with Klodian Luca for a very short time, he was already there and left a short time after I arrived. I think we belong in the third generation; of Greek tattooers. Jimmys' is the first generation on his own.

How was the atmosphere in the studio back then?

Panic! We had all the celebrities, actors, basketball players, footballers etc. Andreas was behind all of that. We had tons of work. Five of us were doing tattoos all day non-stop! I remember doing an average of five - six tattoos a day. There were times when I even did twelve a day. So imagine how swiftly I got to know things. It was a major school with a very fast program. I kept tattooing occasionally at Barcode until 2009, when I opened my own studio.

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How has tattooing evolved since then in your opinion?

Things have changed a lot since then. In those days you just gave your clients a “stamp” on their arm and the queues were endless. On the one had we had a lot of clients and on the other there wasn’t a big demand of complicated designs. The work was more commercial and “simple”. The majority of people back then hadn’t come into contact with complicated tattoos. There weren’t any “social media”. You had to know your stuff in order to enter Robert Hernandez’s personal webpage for example. I think that the tattoo has made a huge leap globally since 2005. I remember we used to see tattoos by foreign artists and we couldn’t believe our eyes! What they did seemed “perfect” even though it wasn’t that “perfect”, whereas today, no one seems to be that excited anymore, because the level of tattooing has really improved. And the tattooists here in Greece do excellent work and you ain't seen nothing yet!

What is your opinion on the Greek scene?

It is at a high level and there are artists who are really evolving. Some specialize in certain styles and are very good at them. Others keep climbing up and as a country in general we are globally recognized in tattooing. I think that, even though we are such a small country, we are definitely on the “tattoo map”. England, for example, compared to us, doesn’t have such a large number of recognized artists even though as a country it has a history in the world of tattoo. 

Where do you think this bloom and improvement stems from?

That’s a tough question (laughs). I guess it is due to healthy competition and fair play. When an artist has motive, he evolves and thus achieves higher levels of quality. Of course, there are still those who still remain where they were ten – fifteen years ago and only do outline – shadow. Come the end of the world, they will continue doing outline and shadow (laughs). Zero evolution.

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Do you think that people’s perception of tattoo has evolved?

I believe that many more people are more informed today, they know what they want, have some basic tattoo knowledge and are acquainted with ten good artists. I am honoured when someone comes and tells me they chose me because I am very good at doing something. That wasn’t the case in the past. The majority of people would come just because they see the tattoo sign. Now they know. They will go to Leonidas for that, to X for this etc.

How you see the tattoo in Greek society today?

It is a little better. We are moving at a glacial pace towards something better. I mean, it is almost accepted, but not yet, even though the tattoo is going through its 4th decade in Greece. And let’s not forget that all of us professionals in this art, owe everything to Jimmy's. He went through it all, the heckling and rushing to get permits etc. All that was unheard of back then. Don’t think you can’t find it today though. In 2003, when I phoned to rent out a shop for a studio, one owner laughed at me when I described what we wanted it for. Also, when we were going to get the permit, I took a piece of paper with the law printed on it for them to see! There will always be people out on the street who will eyeball you. It really got to me ten years ago, but I don’t care anymore. A Greek is closer to “bouzouki joints” than tattoos. 

Yeah, but tattoos are making an appearance there as well!

So what? Most of them will be “lasering” it off before you know it! They think the tattoo is like a shirt which is in fashion now and when they don’t like it they can just take it off. But the tattoo isn’t like that; you “marry” a tattoo. Many of those people are already getting them removed. They did their bit of showing off on the beach, in clubs and dance floors. People like that are going to have trouble with it because they don’t love it and don’t support it. Of course, there are probably those who know their stuff but I don’t think there are many. Also, how many people are full of tattoos from top to toe and at the same time are consciously “full”? I don’t know many. I don’t even know many tattoo artists who are full of tattoos. I am not either. But I am trying to fill up.

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Do you get to do a lot of cover ups?

I always got cover ups. I just think they are more now because the profession is saturated. I mean, there are loads of tattoo studios now and some people don’t have the know-how and therefore don’t do good tattoos. So sometimes I get really bad tattoos and I try and fix them up. I personally like doing cover ups. I want to work on them, and if I can do something to improve them, I take them on. Unfortunately there also cases were the skin is damaged, has a keloid pituitary, swells and un-swells and there’s nothing you can really do; you just sit and stare. The thing is, if you don’t take care of your work’s quality, you damage the whole tattoo scene as well as your client. 

How can people “protect” themselves in your opinion?

Research. There are so many studios. People should do their research beforehand. Also, people should know that a newly done tattoo will look very different in the photograph uploaded onto the internet to the way it will look in reality six months and two years later. Personally I think that the artist is solely responsible for how long a tattoo will last. The artist is responsible for how the ink “sits” on the skin and how the finished result will look and it all depends on skills and technique. That is why you pay him!

So you believe that the lifespan of a tattoo depends solely on the artist’s technique?

50% technique and 50% experience. Talent has nothing to do with how good the tattoo is. Talent differentiates you as an artist but it doesn’t make you “technically” better. The whole issue is solely about the tattoo and what will remain on the client’s skin.

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How would you describe your tattoo style?

My style is a little bit “Roma”. I divide my time between all styles and after so many years I can’t differentiate a specific one so as to complete “devote” myself to it. So I generally do custom designs, whether those are based on photographs or are my own works and drawings from scratch. I believe that every artist leaves his “seal” on a custom design. I mean, when I do an Old School piece, I try and give it the aesthetic colour of my own paintings. I think someone who observes my work, for example, will discern my style, whatever sort of tattoo I do. Either Realistic, Old School, Japanese, Oriental etc.

When do you think your personal style developed?

My style is still developing after fifteen years. My base is still Realistic, Old School, Japanese and Oriental and I sometimes experiment and mix them up. I like that. I think it is good for an artist to have worked on as many tattoo styles as possible, at least for some period before he “specializes”. There is something weird going on today with styles and specialization, and I say that without wanting to speak less of anyone specializing in a certain style. Tattoo isn’t a one way street. Everything has artistic value and things to offer. That is my personal opinion.

What are your influences?

The Grand Masters of the Renaissance and the Naturalists are my great loves. I really admire Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Salvador Dali, Van Gogh and many more. 
 
So your influences are solely from classical artists?

No, my tattoo influences don’t come solely from classic artists. I try and pass my painting style through the tattoo any way I can: either via colour, or a certain line, or playing with light and shadows or a clever background. All of that was left to us by the great artists. That is where I am influenced from, from their techniques.

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Do you think that, in order to become a tattooist today, one should do an apprenticeship?

I think that apprenticeship is necessary. A professional must show you at least five basic things. You have to see how he uses the needle, how many watts to use, how to set up the tattoo machine etc. Basic issues which can take up to ten years to learn (if you do) and until you do you will have “destroyed” half of Athens. It has to take its own course. No one can take you by the hand and tell what to do. It is like painting, if you have the talent, someone will show you the way. You either have it or you don’t and it is up to you to develop it, if the talent exists. No one can stop a trembling hand but you can show him a technique so it trembles less. 

Other than the importance of an apprenticeship, what else do you think young people should take into account if they want to get into tattooing?

Develop their knowledge. Get to know the people who built the Greek and global tattoo scene and respect them. For instance a kid who has been doing tattoos for a year can’t just turn up and say he only does Realistic tattoos and disrespect Mike the Athens because he doesn’t like traditional Japanese! He will be chasing after his tattoo six months afterwards to try and get to stay on the skin and not look like a washed out henna, whereas if he had studied Japanese style, his tattoo would probably have remained longer. The fact that people can be tattooists today is 90% owed to Japanese style, which has been completely ripped off even if some people take the mick out of it. It is about time tattoo artists acquire knowledge and tattoo culture.

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Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

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