Life in ink
2019-10-02 | By Tracey Taylor
Gone are the days when a tattoo was simply a heart emblazoned with a name. Today tattoo pieces can be intricate and stunning works of art in their own right. The Netherlands has always been one of tattooing’s creative leaders and, with the latest edition of the Tattoo Expo taking place in Amsterdam in October, autumn is a perfect opportunity to discover more about life in ink.
New Amsterdam Tattoo Studio
James Nidecker owns and runs the New Amsterdam Tattoo Studio with his talented crew of artists. It’s a popular shop, often with a waiting list of three months. Nidecker has been a tattoo artist for six years, since relocating to Bangkok in 2013 to learn the basics of the craft. He followed this with a move to New York City to continue developing his knowledge and style at a small tattoo shop in Brooklyn. The experience in New York taught him about art and life. On moving back to the Netherlands, Nidecker began with an apprenticeship at Red Rose Tattoo in Schiedam, before tattooing at Tattoo Mick–one of the original Dutch tattoo artists–in Dordrecht.
Since deciding to become a tattoo artist, Nidecker has never been happier. “The best thing is having creative freedom,” he says, “and I get to meet lots of interesting people, to travel and to tattoo alongside other inspirational artists.” When tattooing, a connection is formed between the artist and their–human–canvas, and for the tattooist there is, foremost, a desire to create a stunning tattoo that the customer will be satisfied with. Nidecker is well-known for his style–particularly mandalas (a spiritual or ritual geometric configuration of symbols), dot-work and geometric tattoos, and for his sleeves (a collection of smaller tattoos that has a unified theme and covers most or all of a person’s arm) and larger-scale projects. “I used to do a lot of fine line tattoos, but nowadays I prefer bolder lines in my work,” he says.
But it is not only about the talent of the artist and the choice of design; knowledge about all aspects of tattooing is vital. “The world of tattoos has such a rich history,” Nidecker says, “which means it is not in the least bit boring. But knowing about the history of tattooing and the tools of the trade is so important, and a key part of the overall culture of tattoos. Unfortunately nowadays many new artists often don’t even know how to ‘tune’ their machines.”
While Nidecker, who tries to live by the quote, “Don’t think problems, think in solutions,” is busy with his studio and becoming a father for the second time, he still likes to tackle new challenges. The next, linocut printing, is a tattoo-related art, a printmaking technique where a design is cut into a linoleum surface with a sharp tool and the raised areas are inked with a roller and impressed onto paper or fabric.
Tattoo art has been an integral part of Japanese culture for many years, so it might be a surprise to discover that a number of Japanese artists are located here in the Netherlands.
Maguchi Takashi is the proprietor of Tattoo Magu in Zeist, to the east of Utrecht, and has been an artist for 21 years. Takashi is self-taught and learned his craft through old-fashioned practice, attracted by the desire to turn his passion into a profession. He focuses on mainly black and grey designs and particularly enjoys full sleeve and back pieces. “The customer and tattoos are my first priority,” says Takashi, “and although I enjoy every day, when a customer walks out with a new tattoo and a big smile is the best moment.”
Tattoo Magu’s appointment book is often busy for months. Every day Takashi will tattoo until closing time, but once back at home, his work continues as he develops designs for existing and new customers. Takashi takes pride in every piece he undertakes, however large or small. “Practice makes perfect,” he says, “and patience is also a beautiful thing. Every day I see new challenges and new opportunities, which is what I love.”
These days Takashi has the company of other talented artists in his shop. Shu has been an artist for 18 years and enjoys the confidence that comes with such a career, but also loves the opportunity to continue learning every day. He tries to live by the motto, “If you do, there is only now.” Also self-taught, Shu favours realistic art in black and grey and is an admirer of the artist Horiyoshi 3. “I am always most excited about the next piece of artwork,” says Shu, “and I love to get positive feedback from my customers and hear about the meaning behind their tattoo choices.”
Katsu, another talented artist at Tattoo Magu, has been tattooing for 25 years. The world of tattoos appealed to him simply because he found it “all just super-cool.” Also self-taught, Katsu favours traditional Japanese-style artwork and has ambitions to eventually start his own shop in the Netherlands. “My expectations of myself are constantly high,” says Katsu “and I always want to give 100 percent to my profession.” Katsu is also rightly proud of the mountain bike frame that he has designed for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and his life mantra is “It’s going to be another good day!”
Sara Koning started making tattoo designs when she was just 15. But, as with many tattoo artists, while Koning always knew she wanted to get into tattooing still felt it would be wise to graduate first, to have something to fall back on. Four years ago she graduated from Erasmus University, Rotterdam, with an MA in Art Culture and Society. “Looking back, I should have perhaps started earlier with tattooing,” she says, “but I am also happy with the insights I’ve had and people I’ve met through my studies.”
Koning’s main objective with tattooing is to create custom works with a high-level of craftsmanship and originality. “Over the years, a lot of colleagues have influenced my style of working in various ways,” she says, “and now I work with a large team of fine line artists, which also pushes me to further strive for detail and accuracy in my work.”
With a love of combining various styles–colour elements, black, grey, graphic lines–in her artwork, Koning enjoys the craft in executing a piece. A key guidance at the start of her tattooing career, Digz Tattoo is now an encouraging close friend. Koning works four or five days a week in her tattoo shop, and for the rest you will find her painting one of her own projects.
“I have been fortunate enough to have worked in various countries,” says Koning, “including Italy, Australia, Israel and Ireland. While inspiring on a personal level it also influenced my professional work in a significant way.” Koning feels life is too short for anything mediocre, and her life motto is the particularly poignant, “I will flourish,” which was the last advice given by her father before he passed away. She is always striving to improve her technical skills while also keeping in mind that every work should be original or contain creative significance.
Ink as art
While permanently marking your own body might not be for everyone, the level of skill, creativity and professionalism in tattooing is undoubtable and the art has a continuing influence on many other creative fields. We are extremely fortunate that the Netherlands is home to many of the industry’s leading artists.
Tattoo Expo 2019
The 15th edition of International Tattoo Convention takes place in Amsterdam 25-27 October at the RAI Convention Centre. With hundreds of artists participating from various countries including the USA, Italy, Russia, Japan and Greece, it looks set to be a very impressive couple of days, with piercing, clothing and jewellery and live music. This year’s featured charity is Sea Shepherd.
About the author
Tracey Taylor lives in Maastricht with boyfriend Dave and cat Little Tubbs. She is Irish, a blogger, foodie, radio co-host and aspiring photographer. @traceytaylor_nl @littletubbs_nl @themaastrichtedition