Stories in Ink: Litro Celebrates National Tattoo Day

Stories in Ink: Litro Celebrates National Tattoo Day
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 If you’re looking to get inked this year, these are the artists to check out! Litro Interviews a few of New York City’s most unique tattoo artists. 

Zlata Kolomoyskaya (Goldy Z); Artist at and Co-Founder of Dot. Creative Group

Originally, I was an architect. I’ve always done drawings. A friend of mine brought me to a tattooing convention and I met a person who liked my work and was willing to teach me.

I started hanging around the tattoo shop and watching other people do it. I was doing a lot of designs, and eventually people began to notice them and wanted to come. It happened fast.

I started working at a tattoo shop near est Fourth, and that’s how I met my business partner. We started tattooing at exactly the same time. A year later, we decided to do our own thing and opened Dot. Creative Group. It’s a very different experience from a typical tattoo shop – that whole atmosphere, with loud machines and a bunch of people. We have this very homey environment so when you go to work, you feel like you’re going to a second home. We have a very nice, private studio, very chill.

When I started, I was doing line work – I didn’t know how to do the stuff I actually liked. I always liked drawing and was always doing portraits. Slowly, I learned how to do the more realistic stuff.

 

‘Tiny Atlas of Wander’ by Vladimir Kush, Tattoo by Zlata at Dot. Creative Group

I started hanging around the tattoo shop and watching other people do it. I was doing a lot of designs, and eventually people began to notice them and wanted to come. It happened fast.

I started working at a tattoo shop near West Fourth, and that’s how I met my business partner. We started tattooing at exactly the same time. A year later, we decided to do our own thing and opened Dot. Creative Group. It’s a very different experience from a typical tattoo shop – that whole atmosphere, with loud machines and a bunch of people. We have this very homey environment so when you go to work, you feel like you’re going to a second home. We have a very nice, private studio, very chill.

When I started, I was doing line work – I didn’t know how to do the stuff I actually liked. I always liked drawing and was always doing portraits. Slowly, I learned how to do the more realistic stuff.

‘Fantasy Project’ (May 2019) by Zlata at Dot. Creative Group

For inspiration, I like to do research. Today I’m going to go to the Metropolitan (Metropolitan Museum of Art) because I need a statue reference for one of my tattoos. I have an appointment with a guy who wants a tattoo of a statue. He told me I could be creative. I’m going to take a bunch of pictures and get inspired.

If I need a flower for a tattoo design, I will go to a flower market and take pictures. I also like when people bring those retro photos of their family or grandparents. Some clients have a favorite book and might want me to use a line, a picture or an illustration. But if I need to do a design, I try to be as original as I can be by finding the reference myself. One of my favorites, from when I just started, was a whale with a city growing out of it.

What’s fulfilling? It’s always something different. You know how people say the best kind of job is when you find your favorite hobby and you get paid for it? When I go to work, I’m excited every day. You never know what kind of person you’re going to get. You never know what kind of placement or skin. I never meet my clients before we work together, so it’s always interesting to find the connection with the other person.

I also like working for myself – and my friend, who is my business partner. Lately there have been more and more female artists that I know who are shop owners. I think it’s not a male-dominated industry anymore. Right now, there is no limit to who is doing this. It’s just the art.

Lalo Yunda Founder of and Artist at House of Monkey

I am a first-generation tattoo artist from Colombia. That means we had nobody to learn from. I didn’t even have a concept of it being a profession. It was more: I like to draw and I like punk and rock, and in all this music the dudes have amazing tattoos. The only tattoos I saw in Colombia were the ones people got in jail or in the army, all handmade.

One day, when I was probably 16, I was at home after school and bored out of my mind. Without giving it too much thought, I took a sewing needle, thread and ink from a pen and did a little flower on my toe. Then I started tattooing my friends.

When I was traveling in the Caribbean, I saw some dude walk by with a real tattoo, one with colors. He told me about this Italian artist who was right around the corner. I wanted to ask the artist everything, but I was also 16 and wanted to be cool, so me and my girlfriend got tattoos. The artist asked me about the rose I did on my girlfriend’s hand and then explained how to make a homemade tattoo machine with a motor from a boom-box, a spoon and a pen.

So, I went home, broke my grandmother’s boom-box and made a machine. After that, I saved enough money to buy a kit. I didn’t really know a lot about the techniques or how to solder the needles. I just made do. The only guys doing this were me and my friends, and there were about six of us. Tattoos in Colombia were not big, but that’s when the MTV culture hit. Everybody wanted to look like the guys from MTV.

Untitled sleeve by Lalo Yunda at House of Monkey

I thought I was going to have to get a real job, but it never happened. At some point, I totally committed. I was like, I’m going to be super professional, learn and read every book. I decided to study drawing and fine arts in Cuba to learn the technique for realistic portraits. I had to break it down for myself. By the time I came to New York, there were not that many people doing realism. I was the realism guy.

I was very proud of getting all the details, but then I got trapped in a realism black hole, duplicating photos and doing that every day. I got so bored, I thought: “I have to shake this up.” At the time, I was also painting, doing abstract expressionism. I tried to incorporate that into my tattoos and ended up calling it “magic realism” – which is basically my tattoo technique, with license to transform that into whatever I want.

Untitled, by Lalo Yunda at House of Monkey

The first time I heard about magical realism in literature was in the books of Gabriel Garcia Márquez. The way a teacher explained it, anybody else who reads his books thinks it’s a fantasy and it’s not true. But when you live in a country like Colombia, surreal, crazy things happen for real. I thought it described my tattoos. I felt a connection with it.

Fineline is the oldest tattoo shop in Manhattan. My father, Mike Bakaty, started tattooing in 1976 out of the loft space I grew up in, at 295 Bowery. We advertised in the back pages of the Village Voice,but business was mainly word of mouth. When the tattooing ban was lifted in 1997, we moved the business into a storefront on First Avenue with a big neon sign in the window and the word “Tattoo” painted on the side of the building. During the 60s, 70s, and 80s, there were just a handful of underground operations in the city. It wasn’t part of the popular culture like it is today.

“…the business was literally a part of my childhood”

Mehai and his father Mike at the shop in Manhattans Lower East Side.

Because Mike was tattooing out of our home, the business was literally a part of my childhood. I was about 10 when I really became aware of what was going on and began paying attention to the books and reference materials he was looking at. It was sort of like studying together, and that feeling stayed until the end when he left us a few years ago. I officially served my apprenticeship with my dad from the ages 15 to 18. I’m 46 now, so tattooing and making art in general has always been a huge part of my life. I want to honor my father by continuing to study and striving to grow as an artist. 

My style has been described as contemporary American with a Japanese influence. I approach tattooing from a fairly traditional place. I want my tattoos to form well on the body, be clear and readable, diverse in imagery, and age well. That’s my goal anyway. I’ve been influenced by everything from Japanese woodblock print artists such as Yoshitoshi to the linear, pop-culture style of Tex Avery.

Full Back Japanese Phoenix by Mehai Bakaty

In this field of art, a good portion of the inspiration has to come from the customers. I like it when people come in with a commission that they have thought out, at least enough to give me a path to draw from. Things like text and quotes have always been a part of tattooing, and I’ve done a few portraits of favorite authors. Recently, I put a map of Middle-earth on a huge J.R.R. Tolkien fan. 

Now and again, people come in with ideas I can only scratch my head over. There is more diversity than ever in the tattoo world. Anybody that has worked in a service industry can tell you that dealing with people can be difficult, but over the years I’ve met some wonderful people and enjoyed friendships with people who are drawn to this type of artistic expression.


D.B. Miller is an American writer who has been living in Europe since 1995. Her essays, short stories and offbeat profiles have appeared in The Weeklings, The Woolf and Split Lip Magazine. Miller assisted Litro in putting this article together.For more of her work, visit her personal website.

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