VITALY KRAVCHENKO: "YOU CAN HAVE THE COOLEST STUFF, BUT IF YOU ARE USED TO DOING SOMETHING ON THE STREAM, THEN YOU WILL REMAIN THERE"

Vitaly Kravchenko in his tattoo set up

My name is Vitaly Kravchenko. Originally I’m from Moscow, lived and worked there for a long time, but at the moment I live and work in Spain, Barcelona.

How and when did you decide to become a tattoo artist? Who taught you? How was it?

The answer to the question «how did I become a tattoo artist» is, frankly, a secret for me. I will not say that it was a purposeful movement towards this profession. On the contrary, I was educated in specialties that have nothing to do with art.

I have two diplomas. I’m a design engineer and also a history teacher. And my second profession – a historian, is directly related to my hobby – historical reenactment… I really love history, especially the early medieval period. Viking times and the formation of our state. And one day I just saw the work of Peter Madson (formerly the founder of Meatshop Tattoo studio in Copenhagen) and realized that I wanted to do it.

I loved tattoos, but for me they were revealed somewhat from the philistine side (some standard styles …). I just never went deep into this issue. And when I saw HOW it could be, it turned my world upside down. So I decided to become a tattoo artist.

Nobody ever taught me. I spied on familiar tattooists in one of the studios in Moscow, and the only thing they advised me was a list of equipment, in which was Mastek’s power supply unit and wild inductions from Sergey the Machinist (rest in peace). I tattooed my friends by trial and error, and watched a bunch of videos about tattooing. Honestly, I stole Peter’s designs, not completely, but just a general concept. This has shaped my style.

At one point I realized that teaching and being a tattoo artist are not compatible for me. And I left school. I changed a couple of studios, until I got into one good (at that time) studio, where my progress went up. But I didn’t work a lot in my style. Very little. There were practically no volunteers. So, like most of the young tattooers, I had tattoo everything from infinity signs to attempts at realism.

 

What does the word «tattoo» mean to you personally?A tattoo for me is a historically correct tradition of a person to identify himself in society. Hence the variety of styles, ideas and so on … In a tattoo, you can realize yourself as an artist who applied this tattoo, and as a person who created a certain idea and conveyed it to the artist in order to create a harmonious picture together.

Unfortunately, any other slag is also called a tattoo. But I don’t consider it a tattoo. In my opinion the tattoo should have an idea and its disclosure. Although, this is not a secret, society in Russia has changed a lot and the concept of a tattoo has also changed.

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"Since the Viking era is the era of travel, the mixing of cultures and genres was commonplace"

Vitaly Kravchenko's own head tattoos
One of Vitaly Kravchenko's works

Let’s talk about your work. How did you come to work with Scandinavian ornament?

As I said earlier, I have been doing historical reenactment for a long time. More than 18 years old. And the main direction for me is the Viking Age. I love it very much … This is a very important time for Europe … for the formation of statehood. It is also very beautiful, especially when it comes to art.

I fell in love with all these ornaments from the very beginning. And not only Scandinavian, but also Slavic, Baltic and so on. All Northern culture. Plus, I have degree as a historian. Was at the archaeological site. And all this seems to me so simple and beautiful. Really simple. Although, everyone sees it differently. It is precisely because of this that I decided to engage not just in tattooing, but in these ornaments. Even if in a new school.

 

Can you call yourself an expert in this area?

On a certain side, I can. I studied history and archeology -in principle, this is enough. The entire ornament is left on certain artifacts, mainly on carving and jewelry. It is divided into certain periods and regions. This is what I study. And also I compare with other nationalities. I even once made a video for people with a brief description of styles and differences. By the way, the audience really liked it.

 

Can I have a little history? Where does the Scandinavian ornament originate from? And how did it transform to the tattoo we see today?

You can endlessly talk about the theme of northern ornament. This is a huge layer of culture of a large number of peoples of the 8-12 centuries. I don’t call it Scandinavian ornament. Somehow, among fellow tattoo artists in this direction, the designation Nordic ornament was fixed. Since this is not just an art form exclusively of Scandinavia, but also of the peoples adjacent to them, to which the Slavs can be attributed, for example.

And since the Viking era is the era of travel, the mixing of cultures and genres was commonplace. Basically, the ornament itself remained on the surfaces of artifacts (objects created by human hands), in the form of carving on bone and wood, jewelry, and stones. Others pictorial sources are extremely rare due to their poor preservation.

In fact, we can even guess about tattoos, since no mummies have left from those territories, but there are only descriptions of travelers who mentioned only sometimes drawings on bodies, but we do not know whether it can be considered as tattoos. So, we are now using what was on the items. And the geography of these items is quite extensive. By the way, because of this, a number of mistakes occur among people who use symbols in a tattoo from completely different cultures. And it sometimes looks like you took a Japanese print and added Thai ornaments.

 

What types of northern ornament do you use in your work?

Personally, in my works I like to use simple and more or less primitive ornaments from Borre, or vice versa, I switch to intricate Mammen and Ringerike. It all depends on what kind of complexity and detailing I need. But again, I want to say that we only name these styles. In fact, it’s, so to speak, the new school. The historical ornament was more primitive and simple. Excluding late Scandinavian or Celtic patterns.

"Ornaments are absolutely fabulous, they look brutal and belligerent, especially if they are large-scale. I have already forgotten about when I was doing small tattoos"

One of Vitaly Kravchenko's works
Vitaly Kravchenko working on a tattoo

What is the basis of such tattoos? With what request do clients come to you?

That is why I love this ornamental pattern, because, like in ancient times, you can put any plot in the basis of a tattoo. Starting from the ancient sagas, ending with your personal life. Or something modern. These ornaments are absolutely fabulous, they look brutal and belligerent, especially if they are large-scale. I have already forgotten about whenI was doing small tattoos. But, the hits, so to speak, have not changed: Odin and the crows, Ragnarok and so on… and of course the runes, which I take quite seriously.

 

How do you transform a client’s idea into a tattoo sketch?

This is generally a difficult question. I hardly ever draw sketches. All freehand. I just need to find out the client’s idea, and then everything is somehow by itself. I proceed from the anatomy, the client’s trust, and the area that he is ready to give me. But usually, I do not skimp on the size, and the client does not mind.

 

Are there any frames or limits in this style that you can’t go beyond?

Frames that cannot be exceeded? Rather, it’s just logical errors. Such as write in runes in English or Russian transcription, or use a salad of symbols of different peoples.

 

What features of your work can you highlight?

Well, I can most likely highlight a lot of details, as well as line contrasts (thick and thin). I always draw thick lines by dots. Thin lines can simply be drawn as usual. In my work I mostly use 5rl tight 0.25. I like very small dots, which later define the texture. I also like to play with white and black ornaments. Adding a brick color. This pushes the layer over the layer.

 

Where do you get your inspiration?

As I said earlier – in medieval artifacts, as well as in the works of my colleagues. They all have very different visions, there is something to learn and what to borrow.

 

Who most often asks you for a Viking tattoo? Is there something in common between your clients?

Here we can say that they are very different people. But mostly, those who have already crossed the 25th age. Both girls and boys. All professions. From the army, to teachers. The sensational series Vikings (which I as a historian, hate, by the way) gave a special impulse to the clients. By nationality, they are mostly Europeans. Although I even once made a tattoo to a Hindu. This style is universal, I think. But what unites all clients is most likely a love of history and the Vikings.

 

Are there many tattooists doing this kind of tattoo?

Now the number of tattooists in this area has grown significantly. I’m not talking about quality now. But quantitatively, it has become more and more mainstream. Especially in Europe. When I started, about 8 years ago, the tattooers could be counted on one hand. Now many of them have their students, or just enthusiasts have appeared. I don’t know if this is good. But I would not say that this affects to famous tattooers.

"Conventions and guest spots make tattoo artists develop and improve their skills, as well as learning something new"

One of Vitaly Kravchenko's pieces
One of Vitaly Kravchenko's pieces

Do you have any idols among tattoo artists?

Well, I will talk about them specifically, as about tattooers. I had a chance to meet and work with them, and I prefer not to disclose my opinion about people. But as a tattooers – Piter Madsen (he can be called the founder of modern Nordic ornamentation), Jannike Wiese Hansen, Colin Dale.

 

What equipment do you prefer to work with and why?

I used to work with cartridges. And I used machines from Lithuanian Irons. I still think that these are some of the best machines on the market today. But then, when my rotor broke, and on top of that I was desperate to find good cartridges, I switched to primade needles. And I tried Dan Kubin and Workhorse irons.

Now I have three of these tattoo machines, which help to work very efficiently and quickly. I want more! And also it is purely aesthetic pleasure to work with them. I think Dan knows how to make beautiful machines. And expensive ones.

 

What about travel? Where have you already been? What is your favorite place on this planet?

I haven’t found my favorite place on the planet yet. The fact that I moved to live in Europe and received residence has only one plus – free movement and legal work. I have worked in many European countries: Germany, France, Spain, Czech Republic, Holland, Austria, Italy. All these countries are beautiful and they have something of their own. Its own peculiarity. But, the mentality is still alien to me specifically. So I’m still on the road. At the moment, I can especially highlight Bavaria. I like it very much – the countryside, and the earnings are above average. So I go there with pleasure almost every month.

 

How do you feel about tattoo conventions? Tell us about your experience. Do you think it is necessary for a modern tattoo artist to participate in them?

I am absolutely positive about conventions. And I sincerely believe that conventions and guest spots make tattoos artists develop and improve their skills, as well as learning something new.

I was at several conventions. At Moscow Tattoo Week, I once even took 1st place in the nomination «Best Russian Tattoo», 1st place in nomination “Best ethnic tattoo” Luxemburg tattoo expo, 3rd place nomination “best freehand” in Zaragoza. I was also at a very cool convention in Mallorca. And it was dedicated exclusively to ethnic tattoos and cultural exchange. And there was no competitive part, but it was just unforgettable. There were so many cool artists from all over the world. Now it is closed.

The problem is that at these conventions there are no special nominations for styles like mine. It would be cool if there were separate ethnic ornamental nominations. The difference between geometric ornamental tattoo, and Maori, for example, is huge. And to judge them is already a matter of taste of the judges. But even if you don’t win anything, you need to attend conventions! This is at least your own personal advertising and PR, meeting cool people, so the maximum is an invaluable exchange of experience.

"I miss the days when tattoo artists were like pirates! They were special among everyone else"

One of Vitaly Kravchenko‘s pieces
One of Vitaly Kravchenko‘s pieces

Do you follow the tattoo industry in general? Is modern tattoo an art or commerce?

I follow it a bit. I scroll through Instagram regularly. And I note the trends. But they tend to revolve around certain styles. And speaking of a tattoo as an art or mere commerce, you can put it in both of these angles. It’s just that someone chooses for himself, first of all, making money, and secondly – art. And vice versa. 

For example, the work of Stepan Negur is the coolest non-mainstream freehand work. But they are far from free. This is precisely the professional approach. He built himself for many years, and now the name speaks for him. Or, on the contrary, a bunch of new tattooers who spank all sorts of small tattoos in which there is no art, but these artists are so cool in their social networks that they can call any prices for their, often very famous clients. This is also a professional approach. But on the other side. First of all, money. Which of these is bad and which is good? It’s not for me to judge.

But personally, I miss the days when tattoo artists were like pirates! They were special among everyone else. And now the conveyor has spanked a whole bunch of tattooists. And if you do not publish your personal life on Instagram, a bunch of stories, etc., then you won’t be so popular. I would still prefer to pollute my Instagram «on business». With my work. But all this, like «Well, cats, I slept well, ran to the session» – sorry, not for me (laughs).

 

What future for global tattooing do you see in the next few years?

Yes, in fact, I don’t think that something can change much … There will be more tattooists, the industry will develop, but still something will remain unchanged. New colors and new machines will not replace the artistic look. You can have the coolest stuff, but if you are used to doing something on the stream, then you will remain there.

On the other hand, there will be exactly that artists who embody their ideas on the skin, and they will always be in demand. And the price tag for them from an economic point of view will grow as an elite art. The industry will simply be divided into general and specific. As a tattoo shop, it has become synonymous with something commercial, and a tattoo studio is a union of like-minded artists. It’s my opinion.

 

What advice would you give to beginner tattoo artists?

My advice is simple: be ready to sacrifice everything, but go exactly for your goal. Don’t be afraid to lose everything. If you devote yourself to your favorite business with your head, it will pay off in the future. If you have already chosen to be a tattoo artist, then you will not be able to try to get tattoos and at the same time work on some kind of work. You’ll just burn out and quit the tattoo industry. This will not give you the opportunity to develop. And look for your style, your own peculiarity, it is in this that you will find specifically your client. Nowadays there are a lot of artists… and either you are popular and you have a lot of clients, or you are promoted… all the others who have nothing special in their work, or are simply lazy, will have to sit in the shadow of the first two. There is such a topic – either you work hard or finish the bread without salt. 

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