Solaris interviews: The Monkid
I first met Mik and Manou Rahner on the dance floor of the Mojo Club in Hamburg in 2016. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was hanging out with them on a daily basis in their design studio EMMAR based close to “Sternschanze”! Apart from being fantastic motion designers I realised that they created pretty awesome art as well. Just check out this animated wall tile piece…
The longer I shared the office with these guys, the more I saw Mik scribbling away on small pieces of paper. Upon closer inspection I saw pretty neat black and white line drawings that fuse vintage sensibilities with the modern designer eye. Turns out he is a tattoo artist as well!
So last week I swung by Fräulein Tinte’s Tattoo Shop where Mik aka Monkid currently set up shop every Monday and asked him all the tough questions…
Hey Mik! When we first met I saw that tattoo around your collarbone but didn’t know you were deeper into the culture. How did you first get into tatoos?
I must have been 8 or 9 years old when my parents took me on a trip to Denmark. When we visited Copenhagen we went by a couple of tattoo parlors that had their signs out on the street. I was mesmerized! The bold and colorful imagery, the nautical and religious symbols, the reflection of life, love and death really fascinated me – I knew I wanted one! This was the late 70ties when tattoos still were associated with sailors and prisoners and were considered everything but art. In addition to that was I a kid so I had to wait till the early 90ties till I got my first tattoo.
There are many different flavours when it comes to Tattoos. How would you describe the style you are digging the most?
I always liked tattoos that have a deeper meaning, like a symbol on skin that reflects the mindstate of the person wearing it. So for me its not so much about a certain style. Wether its an abstract sign, icon or pattern or a realistic rendition of a tiger, as long as it speaks to me, it works.
Remember your first tattoo? What was the story behind it?
I was about 21 when I finally got my first tattoo – a heraldic lilly with an eagle on top, a cross in the middle and a skull on the bottom (did i mention i’m into symbols…?). I was working on the design for weeks, trying to create the perfect shapes and composition. This was way before computers with design programms so I worked with rulers and compasses and a copy machine. I went to a tattooer close to where i lived, that worked out of a backroom at a barbershop. He was that classic oldschool Rock’n’Roll guy, pretty shady and very unreliable. I wanted the tattoo to be super small – I was the first one of my friends to get tattooed and I guess I just wasn’t brave enough to go big!
So the tattooer wielded a single needle to do the job. But he wasn’t really experienced with single needle work, so he went too deep into the skin and after a couple of years the lines were blown out and the whole thing looked like a blurry spot on my shoulder. The good thing I learned from this is that skin has some sort of resolution to it too. So if you want to go small you have to simplify the design to make it readable and hold up over the years. And open space is very important in a tatoo design also.
Can you describe the feeling of getting some ink done to someone who never got tattooed?
Well, I think there’s two things about getting tattooed. The physical part of actually getting the ink into your skin, when a set of tiny needles puncture millions of holes into your body. It’s about enduring the pain, being hurt and the healing process afterwards. It’s a bit like excersising really hard. Your body hurts but you fight through the pain and afterwards you feel your sore muscles for some time but you’re super proud you made it!
And this is the second part the mental aspect of getting tattooed. It’s a huge commitment. It puts you on a rollercoaster of opposing emotions: fear and confidence, insecurity and pride. And if everything goes right and you had a good tattooing experience, the positive emotions win over the negative and you charge your personality with pride and self confidence.
What inspired you pick up the needle yourself?
Even though I wanted to tattoo for a very long time, I always hesitated to getting started because I thought (and still think) it’s a huge resposibility to mark someone else’s skin for life. Plus in the early 90s, when I was the age when you usually decide to go for a tattoo career, beeing a tatoo artist really wasn’t an option. But observing the tattoo business from a distance for years I saw so many shitty tattoos from poorly talented tattooers.
I knew I can do better than that and if I learned how to tattoo I’d be able to save some people from really bad tattoos and put something that works on their body. And if people consider it art, I well surpass my goal. So I went for it.
How did you find out about equipment and the tricks of the trade?
Well this was the hardest part. I made a first attempt to learn how to tattoo in 2004. All the tattoo suppliers in Germany wouldn’t sell to non-tattooers so I bought my first machine on a trip to the states and ordered all the other stuff from an US online store. I paid a fortune for shipping and customs! When i finally got everything, I realized that the needles didn’t fit the tubes, the machine was running way too fast and tattoo education dvds were super expensive. So I threw everything in a box and forgot about it for the next 9 years.
At one point my wife Manou and my kids went away for a whole week on holiday so I decided to give tattooing another try. I started by researching YouTube and tattoo forums for 8 to 10 hours a day. I noticed that a lot had changed since I tried to learn tattooing for the first time! There was way more information than before and tattoo equipment had made a huge leap also. I absorbed every little bit I could get my hands on.
It was a weird mixture of leaked tattoo education videos, self taught tattooers (scratchers) and timelapse tattooing videos. There was a lot of wrong information too. So I took notes, compared and sorted the infos and made my own compendium. After that I threw away most of my old equipment, ordered new stuff from Italy and the UK and started practicing on fruit and pig ears for several months.
Was it hard to get started? Drawing on skin is a bit more permanent than on paper I guess… I assume it’s quite nerve wrecking to practice…
Yeah, well I knew I wanted to practice on myself first. I didn’t want to mess up somebody else and deal with the guilt! And I wanted to learn so I considered this my investment. I came up with a design (or more like a framework) for my calf that allowed me to progress in tiny steps and have a lot of repetition cycles, to learn from my mistakes of the previous session and try something new in the next one. So rather than go for a whole design on the first attempt and messing up a whole bodypart! I knew you just can’t get everything right the first time.
By the time I tattooed myself for the first time, I was pretty confident from what I’ve learned from practicing on pig skin. I knew how to set up my station, how to hold the machine, all the moves from pushing the footpedal at the right time to wiping while holding the machine was already in my muscle memory, so how much harder can it be, I thought. Little did i know… but the insights I got from this way of learning were priceless. I always went by one rule: I never use a technique on someone that I haven’t successfully tested on myself!
Tattooing techniques, needle configurations or healing and aftercare methods, there’s so many things within tattooing that affect the process and/ or the result. I would recommend this even to experienced tattooers: Just because you once learned something from somebody it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way to do things! It’s such a big difference how different needles will affect the skin and you can’t unfortunately observe your clients healing process on a day to day basis. So why not try it on yourself first and see how it works?
So i’m still working on that initial tattoo, I consider it a playground or a lab where I test new needles, different inks and sometimes do something wrong on purpose just to see how bad it really is…
Is the tattoo scene open to newcomers or is it hard to get a foot on the ground?
It felt very closed until a few years ago. Tattooers kept their trade a secret, suppliers wouldn’t sell to non-professionals and apprentices had to work for free or/ and pay to learn tattooing. It is still this way today for the most part, but the younger generation of tattooers is way more open. A lot of them are coming from an artistc background, they see fellow and new Tattooers more as an inspiration and subject for collaboration than competition or menace.
How would you describe your style? Being a designer I assume you have a quite miraculous approach to it…
I always considered myself somebody who loves drawing. Thats how I got into university to study communications design and I ended up as a motion designer producing fully digital animations that live on a screen for a couple of seconds and might as well be forgotten a few seconds after.
So tattooing for me is a bit like going back to my roots but with all the skills and the knowledge I gained from working in the design industry. It merges my love for drawing with designing a rendition of an idea on skin. And as a designer I want to pick and choose the style that fits the subject and idea of the tattoo best. Of course I’m drawn to certain styles that are tested and true like in traditional Western and Japanese tattoos and folk art or woodcut or etching techniques to modern illustration, icons and logo design.
So I’m trying not to use one certain style for everything but try to develop a variety of styles to choose from for a certain subject. That being said, I’m sure some people would say I have a certain style – I’m trying not to… at least for now, who knows…
Hamburg had a lot of sailors. I assume there is quite a strong local tattoo tradition?
It sure does have a strong tattoo history! I guess Herbert Hofmann was the most famous Tattooer from Hamburg, his old shop on the “Hamburger Berg” still exists to this day!
But there are others, not so well known artists like Christian Warlich. Hamburg art historian Ole Wittmann is working together with the Museum for History of Hamburg to unveil and protect the legacy of Warlich and other Tattooers that were a vital part of Hamburg.
Tattoos are getting quite fashionable now. Especially facial tattoos are not as frowned upon as they used to be. How do you feel about it?
In my opinion the face is the most expressive part of the body. You can tell so much from a persons facial expression. If someones arms are covered with ink, it doesn’t really make a difference, if the face is covered, it does. So tiny tattoos are ok in my opinion, if it gets bigger it starts distracting me and interferes with the facial expressions. And I think its not for younger people, because you should really know what you’re doing. You can cover up a youthful mistake on your shoulder, in your face you can’t.
Any artists that inspire you?
Sure, but this would be an endless list starting from early stoneage cavepaintings and petroglyphs to streetart. But I want to point out Jeff Gogue (http://www.gogueart.com/).
Not only is he an increadibly talented tattoo artist and great personality but he shares his knowledge in courses and films also. “Tattoo as i see it” (https://vimeo.com/74232904) tought me a lot, not only about tattooing and visual art in general, but also about the personal growth and development as an artist. I watched it a couple of times and I always learn something new or remenber something I forgot about. I highly recommend this film to anyone creating visual art!
So if I would like to get a tattoo from you… how would we go on about it?
Go to my website (http://www.monkid.de/) and fill in the email form or write directly to me via firstname.lastname@example.org first. We’d meet for a consultation talking about all things concerning the tattoo and the process and make an appointment when we’d be actually be tattooing. Or if you live in Hamburg just swing by the shop! Every Monday I’m working at Fräulein Tinte’s cosy little Tattoo Shop (https://fraeulein-tinte.jimdo.com/) in Hamburg Eimsbüttel.
You tattoo under the name The Monkid… how did you come up with it?
I was born and raised in Munich. The name comes from monks that settled there first and the city uses a little kid in a black cowl (Münchner Kindl) as it’s symbol. It’s an image that you’ll find in various forms all around the city and that stuck with me since my early childhood.
So I merged monk and kid and came up with Monkid! I used it as my DJ name for a couple of years as well and when I started tattooing I thought I might as well just stick with it.
What are your plans this year regarding your art?
Besides trying to make more time for tattooing and art in general and exploring new ways and techniques I’m currently working on an exhibition of my drawings and flash sheets. I have so many ideas for that so I’m super excited to see how this comes along!
Got any advice for someone who is about to get his/her first tattoo?
Find someone you really trust and “surrender” to him or her – meaning take the advice, let them do their thing and have faith in them to create the best tattoo and experience possible for you.
Any shout outs?
Thanks to the universe for steering me in the right direction and my family for bearing with me!