Markus Lenhard, also known as Lux Altera, is a tattoo artist who works in Berlin. In the tattoo industry, Markus has gained a leading role in the challenging field of biomechs. In this niche genre, that too often tends to repeat itself, Markus has brought a very personal, unique and innovative vision. He inspires many young tattoo artists fans of this genre and even veterans find stimulating sources of inspiration in his work.
I discovered Markus’ work about 8 years ago thanks to his famous “Wing” piece.
As a fan of the genre I started following him on social media, and after a few years I decided to contact him in order to get a tattoo from him. After almost 3 years getting the old tattoos on my arm removed, 3 years ago we finally started my sleeve. Now we have carried on with the leg with the aim of completing a project that will take up half of my body.
During one of the tattoo sessions I decided to ask him a few questions for you, this resulted in a very interesting hour long interview.
I’m pretty sure everybody in the industry knows you really well but how would you introduce yourself to someone who knows nothing about tattoos?
You know, it happens sometimes, when you talk to a new neighbour or when you talk to people that have nothing to do with the industry, you go to some kind of party or something.
People are normally really overwhelmed, if they have nothing to do with tattoos, knowing that I’m a tattoo artist and that people come for me, they travel for me, that’s already a stretch, they can’t even imagine why would anybody travel for a tattoo anyways.
To put into one conversation to somebody who doesn’t tattoo at all, how tattooing can be so important to somebody, that he would travel for something, that we can get so much tattooing done in a couple of days and that anybody would even want that… That already blows their mind.
Normally I don’t even start talking about biomech or showing anybody my work at that point, because people are already with their eyes glazed over and they’re not even listening at that point anymore. (Laughing together)
They’re learning so many things that they didn’t know. They must think something like: “Holy shit, there’s people in the world that are way crazier than I ever thought was possible”, so if I then would go on to talk about: “Oh and by the way I’m doing these really super abstract thing, this biomech stuff that people can’t even tell what it is when they look at it and here is, look at my work” And they are just like: “What the fuck is it?!” and I’m like: “I don’t know, what do you think it is?”.
I think that’s too much in one session. I have to build a relationship with somebody first before I can tell them that shit about myself, because otherwise they’re just going to never talk to me again.
It’s happened, you know, that people are just like: “Who the fuck does he think he is?! He’s like this fucking alien”, which I’m not, I’m not an alien, but for somebody, who’s never thought about tattooing, even being this kind of super-niche biomech artist that only does biomech and only does these big projects, on people who travel from all over the world, that seems really out there and people are just not ready for that kind of stuff.
Tattoos are considered micro surgery. In my opinion it’s not really micro surgery, just look at my leg or my arm, it’s more like plastic surgery… At some level.
So, do you think people just don’t get how important it can be for a person to get a tattoo?
Or just because they think that tattoos are some little things you get like a sticker on your skin and so they don’t really…
I have a good answer for that.
I don’t think it’s necessary for everybody to be on the same page about anything, so some people want just a small used car that can look like shit and that they’re only going to have for a year. Some people are totally fine with only owning elderly cars and being the last owner of that car, and after they’ve added a ghost to the dump and that’s what they do their whole life. They don’t care about cars, they just care to be traveling from one spot to another and they just don’t want to spend a lot of money on a nice car, so they’re just going through a lot of cars.
Then you have people who save up for years and years, then they buy the car of their dreams, they constantly wax it, polish it, take photos of it, driving around and drive through tunnels really loud, you know, and they are super into it and it’s like: “Hey I got a fucking car bitch”. People are different and cars are just cars to some people and for some people, it’s a love affair.
I think the same is true for everything, for absolutely everything.
Also for your own body?
Of course, yeah of course, some people use make up, some people diet, some people are in super into sports and workout and some people have this micro diet, some people are religious about their body, they pluck their eyebrows and everything has to be perfectly manicured, they are always wearing cologne, everything is shaved, of course people have different views on that.
Some people just let themselves go, they just want to live life, they smoke, they drink and they get fat, whatever, they fuck everybody without a condom…
Do you think it’s a cultural thing?
No, I don’t think it’s a cultural thing, I think it’s a very personal thing, it’s a thing of character, there’s probably some genetics in there, there’s some ways in how you’ve been raised by your parents, there’s probably a cultural aspect in there but I don’t think it’s the biggest aspect, I don’t think even gender is the biggest aspect.
Because I was thinking about cultures where tattoos are sacred, are part of a process, so that’s why I asked you if you think it’s cultural
Partly, it can be
This way of treating our own body like a commodity
I don’t think in Western culture tattooing has anything to do with tradition at this point, not yet, maybe in a hundred years or something from now, but it’s not we don’t have this ancient tradition of getting tattooed, we have an ancient tradition to want things, that’s white people. We just want things, If you want to get cultural there you go, that’s our tradition, we want things, we want people, we want other countries, we want many things, we want to accumulate riches.
Look at the Vikings, people don’t get more white than the Vikings and what did they do?
They just raped and pillaged and went everywhere and just wanted things and they were ready to kill people for it.
So it doesn’t surprise me at all that people treat tattoos the same way, we just don’t have any other mechanism bread into culturally than to just want more things and if we see something somebody else has then we want that same thing too, we don’t have the mechanism for tattoos that allows us to see that as anything different, that is for us, for our body, that has to be unique, so no, it doesn’t surprise me that most people treat a tattoo just like anything else that they acquire or buy.
What else is special nowadays, what else is so special that you have to appreciate something else other than having a child maybe, but even that people sometimes treat like “Fuck, I’m just gonna have a child now”.
I don’t know it’s a white people thing maybe? Maybe, I don’t know.
I don’t know, maybe.
We are in a period in which I call it, well, not just me, a sort of renaissance of the Western tattoo culture. What do you think about that?
Yeah, I think I would agree with that.
And do you think that this kind of, let’s call it renaissance of tattoo culture, will bring something good? Something more…
Oh yeah, I mean just what we just talked about right?
Yeah, that’s why I asked this.
Exactly what we just talked about, I think tattooing can be a way to help people appreciate special moments, special things. Getting something for yourself, getting something that is only for you, something that is unique, uniqueness and I think, especially in a time where we are just bombarded with social media, bombarded with the fact that we are only one blip, one like in a million likes sometimes, that we are not that special, that we are not that unique, that everybody kind of has the same wants and feelings and that we are kind of insignificant.
We’ve never been as confronted with our insignificance on a wide scale level as we are now through social media and I think we’re still in shock because we have just been attacked by social media just for the last ten years, as a species, or maybe little more than ten years, but you know, not for a long time not even for a generation yet.
Maybe a little less I think.
Yeah, for you and me maybe, but my kid grew up with it, she doesn’t know anything else, so they are going to grow up vastly
different than we do. So I think for them to get a certain sense of uniqueness, a certain sense of being unique, of having something that nobody else has, that something that makes you, you, over the fact that you might have a really well manicured moustache or that you have rainbow coloured hair or that you can take really good selfies of yourself and: “Oh, you’re so confident, look at how confident you are”.
All these things don’t really matter in the long run and I think that tattoos can be, especially when you pursue it in a way that I can certainly respect if you think about it, if you think it out, if you travel for it, if you’re willing to make sacrifices for it, if you’re willing to sacrifice a large amount of your body for a tattoo. That’s something that I can really respect in a sense of, yeah, not only have you really thought about this, but you’re able to make sacrifices, you don’t want to cherry pic the process like “Ah, I want to get a tattoo but I only want to sacrifice so much space” (indicating a small amount of skin) And then you end up like a whole sticker collection, maybe once you’re done you really think about getting a lot of stuff lasered and getting something that is more cohesive, which that happens, doesn’t have to but…
I really enjoy it when people make this big decision in their lives, I think that’s something that’s probably good for the character of a person that never really has to make these decisions in a society where everything is just for one second to the other. I think tattooing is good for us as a species.
Wow that got profound…
Yeah, that’s the same thing that I think.
Well, I had some softer questions before that, that was good maybe for later, but anyway it was good we went into that.
So, another question I had… Since “The Wing”, the famous piece you did about 8 years ago, my perception of that is…
It’s 10 years.
Oh, yeah, after I saw “The Wing”, the impression I had is that you became a sort of world phenomenon with that tattoo. This is just the impression I had from outside and that’s when I started following you on social media, appreciate your art and decided to get tattooed by you.
How did that affect you as a human and as an artist and was it something expected, something that happened by chance and totally unexpected…
Totally unexpected so there was a….
Let me attack those questions piece by piece.
Did that happen unexpectedly? Yeah, totally. I was super depressed when that happened. I was super depressed and I was actually thinking about stopping tattooing or at least stopping to pursue biomechs, because I was really… I was ready to stop doing biomech, I wasn’t ready to stop tattooing but I was ready to just do tattooing as a job and not something that I love, something that is made for me and that I’m made for, which I believed at some point and then I realized how hard it is, how derivative it is, and how everybody just steals it from everybody and how I’m doing that too; then I stopped doing biomech for a while.
I think that piece and a couple of other pieces… Something happened, but it was a gradual process, it didn’t just happen from one day to the other that I was like: “Holy shit I’m super successful now”. I think being successful in what I did came before that already, gradually, mostly because I’ve had influential friends, I had friends that liked me, that liked my work and wanted to help me along, like Guy Aitchinson for example, without him I would have never done the wing sleeve, although I doubt it, but nobody would have seen it, because he always made sure that I got attention because he saw something in me.
So I’m incredibly grateful for that but also, that wing sleeve came from pain, from panic, that came from me really really struggling. I was struggling so hard that I just started to panic, I lost myself a little bit and all of a sudden something came out that I didn’t even think I had in me, it was a good moment.
Since then I haven’t really plateaued out, since then I know what to look for when I get bored with myself, I have to push myself to an edge and then I have to relax, sit back and see what happens. It’s like a little bit of a balancing act and sometimes you get to surprise yourself, but I don’t really see it as me becoming some kind of phenomenon or anything like that, I didn’t really experience it that way.
It definitely helped my career, that piece definitely did something and it showed me how to do something right, definitely showed me that: “Hey there’s something that I can do that I really like doing, that everybody else also likes” And then my whole process just turned into finding out what that is, what’s the recipe, what did I do? Because I did it in panic, so I didn’t know what I did. I had no fucking idea what I just did there that made it so important.
So I started picking apart, like, was it the use of black, was it the thick lines, was it the contrast, was it the flow, what was it? What is it? Was it that people can… Because I didn’t call it the wing.
So you went back…
Yeah, yeah, I went back, I still do, I still analyze every piece that I do that gets a lot of attention because I want to know what makes people tick and I think with “The Wing”… I didn’t give it that name, people gave it that name “Oh it looks like a wing” and I just adopted it.
From there and now they started giving my pieces names because I thought “Oh maybe that was something there”, maybe people needed some kind of narrative because it is so abstract, the stuff that I do is super abstract and I think what they enjoyed is like: “Oh, but it looks kind of like a wing” And they had this little winning moment, where they were like: “Oh I think I know what he means. I think I know what he’s trying to say! It’s, it’s a wing! He’s retarded but I can understand it!” You know, “I can understand retarded persons, that’s awesome! I have a superpower!” You know, so it gives people a certain feeling, like they’ve found something out, it’s like this winning moment and I think that’s what’s immense maybe in their memory, a little bit.
Do you think it was a sort of golden seed?
Yeah, maybe. I think for me it probably was, yeah, but it didn’t come from a good place, my experience has been that most of the time when something good happens it happens when something really bad is also happening.
I was just talking with a friend yesterday about that. He’s struggling in his life for many reasons and I was just telling him the same thing that you’re telling me right now, that usually, you find golden seeds when you’re struggling with something in your life, so probably…
Yeah that’s because it’s when you’re looking, that’s when you’re looking under every stone and you turn every stone around, you know, under some stone there’s going to be something else but worms and shit, sometimes you’ll find something of value.
If you’re super-broke you’re gonna look on the street if you find a coin somewhere, you never look for a coin if you’re full of money, if you’re doing well, you’d probably throw a coin away every now and then, it’s like: “Ah what should I do with all that copper? Copper coins, neh!” But if you don’t have a copper coin you’re looking for that shit everywhere, that’s when you find it.
To expect that things just fly into your hand when you don’t even need them that hard, that’s kind of a tall order I think, that’s really an arrogant thing to ask of the universe, I mean you have to struggle and you have to be in a bad place.
People who are given everything without that struggle are most of the time real assholes because they don’t have a value system.
That’s why you don’t put rich people in power. That’s why you don’t do that, you put people in power that work for that power, that come to that place because they’ve worked really hard for it and then they know what they’re talking about. I mean, not to talk about current events or anything.
But yeah, I think an appreciation for what you’re doing is always coming from struggle. And not even artists, some people nowadays they put themselves through some kind of artificial struggle, I’ve noticed that with younger people that they put themselves through a struggle artificially where you’re like: “Oh yeah I’m making it really hard on myself. I’m making it really extra hard on myself” Oh yeah but that’s still really coming from yourself. You’re still calling the shot, you’re still calling the rules.
When I was growing up – I come from a really good household, we had money I had everything I ever needed – I never had a reason to complain, but of course I did because I was a terrible teenager, I became a punk, I was just riding trains and drinking beer, living in squatted places, not wanting any of the money, not wanting to have anything to do with the establishment, just to make it really hard on myself – I think now retrospectively – making it really hard on myself to turn into a grown up or to know who I am.
I didn’t want it to be easy and some people make it really hard on themselves. I still was calling the shots, I could still say like: “Oh, I’m not a punker anymore, I’m going to start working and earn money” Which is eventually what I did, so you’re still kind of in that safe environment, so that’s definitely a way to do it but I think if you’re really struggling, once you stop calling the shots, once you think you’re doing something well and it turns out that you don’t or once you think you can do something and it turns out that you can’t, that’s when there’s a real opportunity for growth, when there is that darwinistic pressure on you, then it’s going to come out: “will you survive or will you not? Do you have to find something else to do?”
And for me, doing that wing sleeve, that was definitely that moment of: “Ok, am I just going to do like tattoos, like trinket tattoos in the street shop for the rest of my life?” Still better than work in construction, still earn more money, still a great life, who am I to fucking complain about that? I would have done that, I still would do that, if this is not working out anymore, I’m still going back to that, fuck it, I’m not too good for that. You know, as long as I don’t have to.
And about the art? The design of that wing, did it happen by chance, were you just improvising, or was there some research?
Well there was no research, I had a phase of drawing no biomech whatsoever, so I took a break from it and that’s one thing that probably was really good, when you don’t just try doing something but you take a step back, you only think about it and I think that’s always the great thing to do to internalize whatever you’ve learned, to give yourself sometimes for that to percolate or to germinate or to ferment or whatever you want to call it.
That was definitely good but I was drawing a lot of Japanese based, new school Japanese tattooing, I was doing a lot of that, just learning how to draw water, how to draw scales on a dragon or a dragon claw, dragon face and learning how to draw all these things, that involved a lot of things that I wouldn’t have learned any other way, so I also had to change my taste, I only liked biomech.
So you didn’t have an educational training…
No, I didn’t…
You’re self taught.
Yeah totally, I’m completely self taught yes, so I had to make all the mistakes and for me, personally, mistakes are the best way of learning because I’m super arrogant. As long as I know something I think I know everything and then only if I walk into a cul de sac then that’s when I learn: “Ok I have to turn around”. Obviously, as I get older I get a little more humble, because you experience a lot more often how you’re wrong, so if you stay arrogant then you’re just dumb. I don’t think I’m dumb, but I’m not as arrogant anymore for sure. So It’s easier now.
And how do you feel now that worldwide so many people are trying to imitate your work?
I just say watch out. Because if you do anything I think it’s really really good I’m going to steal it, it’s really easy if you’re stealing stuff from me and you learn things that I haven’t learned from it I’m gonna take that. It’s just fair game.
I wasn’t talking about people that are trying to copy, but people that look at you as an inspirational artist and they just want to create their own way of doing things, but you can see they are using you as their model.
I have good days and bad days with that obviously. When I’m struggling with my own art you know, I look down on it and I’m like: “Fuck man I’m having a really hard time, can I have one thing for a while that makes me special? Can I have just one thing?” And no, of course I can’t, I put that stuff on the internet, what do I expect?
No, with that being said the answer still stands, if they are obviously inspired by what I do that’s very flattering, but if it turns out that they end up doing something that I find very inspiring then I’m not above going and be like “Oh, I’m going to incorporate that into my work too”. Obviously, that can homogenize the whole playing field, which is bad, but at the end of the day, we all learn how to write.
Shawn Barber said this to me once: “We all learn how to write with the same letters and everybody has a handwriting in the end and nobody was working on his handwriting, they all learned how to write, everybody wanted to write a story and they wanted to write something dumb like a shopping list or anything and then, in the end of the day, all of a sudden they had handwriting and nobody was worrying about that” And we in tattooing are so consumed by finding our own style we forget how to learn how to write.
We are not concerned with the story anymore and that’s dumb. That’s really dumb because you’ll never learn how to have a handwriting if you don’t have a good story to write first. Because your handwriting is never gonna look like your handwriting if you’re too concerned with it, it’s like trying to fake somebody’s signature, you’ll never get it right but your own signature will always look like your signature unless you’re thinking too much about it.
When I was in school I became pretty good at imitating the signature of my parents.
Yeah, you became pretty good, but your own signature? What about your own signature?
My signature is crap.
See because you’re thinking too much about it.
As artists we want our signature to look good under our paintings, so of course you fossil over that, you’re very concerned with your signature looking good and that makes it look crap because it makes it look unnatural.
The thing that you have to do is you have to sign a million things, you have to make a hundred paintings and sign a million things, or you have to really practice your signature and fill a whole book with just signatures and at the end of the book if you don’t have a signature you’re dyslectic.
So, do you have a method you follow for your work or you work by instinct and if you have it, if you follow a method, rules or whatever to create your work if you have something like that would you like to share it?
Sure, I share it all the time, I give seminars.
If there’s one thing that I believe, is that even if I share with you my method, it would be worthless to anybody else and it’s worthless to me after a while because I get bored really easily.
So, I have a method and I do that maybe for 2 or 3 years or something and then I get bored by it and I want it changed it. Because that boredom… Like not being bored, that’s my method.
That’s part of being an artist.
Yeah, I just can’t be bored, as soon as I’m bored I want to stop doing whatever I’m doing and I don’t want to stop doing this because this is my livelihood and I have responsibilities.
I can’t be homeless, so I have to do this so I have to keep it interesting, so I change my method all the time.
But I have a goal and at the end of the horizon I have a vanishing point that I’m walking towards, I’m not walking backwards. So I need my quality to get better, I need to be able to get where I want to go faster because I’m gonna die at some point right?
So I want to get there faster, I want to get better at what I’m doing, I want to produce better quality and I don’t want to be boring and I’m also of course getting to a point like I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years now, so I’m starting to reach a point where I’m starting to get afraid of losing my significance, of becoming irrelevant and if I can manage to not become boring, maybe I can stay relevant for longer. Not to say that I don’t want to go down with grace, but not yet.
So I have another question that you answered before about that.
I think tattoos should be subject of study in elementary school now, because nowadays people get tattoos without even thinking or knowing what they’re doing.
You basically already answered this question before but any other thoughts about that?
I think there are a lot of things that need to be taught in school, because parents just don’t teach their children that kind of stuff and tattooing is maybe on that list but it’s not on top of that list.
Yes I agree.
Right? And before we attack tattooing maybe we should attack how to be sufficient in a home, how to do your taxes, how to find fulfillment, how to – oh fuck – how to deal with social media, how to deal with the internet, how to find the truth, how to filter the bullshit, that you’re prevented with, what are conspiracy theories, why is the world not flat?!
Oh my god, the list goes on and on, how not to be angry, how to deal with anger, how to deal with heartbreak, how to deal with sex, how to have a healthy sexuality… There are so many things that I want to teach kids now, because…
Yeah I totally agree
But tattooing that’s pretty safe, if you get a bad tattoo either you recognize that and you get it covered, lasered or you just live with it, that’s going to be good for character. Get a bad tattoo it’s better for character than to get an amazing tattoo from the first day on, make your mistakes, if you make a mistake that you see every day, that you’re visually confronted within a mirror as: “Ah that fucking tattoo man” that is a reminder that you’re fallible.
You know, I always trust that badly tattooed person more than a non-tattooed person because I think they know better that their decisions are not always the best decisions, they have a daily reminder of that, visually.
That’s really interesting
So I don’t need to teach anybody anything about tattooing, I think it’s a good school of life to get terrible tattoos, but I have terrible tattoos, so of course I would think that because I have made mistakes.
So, what was one of the most challenging things you had to face as a tattoo artist and how did you overcome that?
What kind of challenge?
I don’t know…
Being a father.
No, as an artist.
Being a father while being an artist. Being anything else but an artist is really hard if you’re trying to be an artist. Being anything else at the same time. Being an artist is really not that hard once you earn money with it it’s fucking easy. We have such an easy life dude. I’m still looking for where’s the catch, but I found it, and the catch is that we really suck at being anything else. It’s really hard.
I don’t want to whine about it, I don’t want to be like: “Oh it’s so hard being an artist” because it’s fucking not. But it’s hard to be a father, it’s hard to be a good father because it’s such a selfish endeavor. Being an artist is so incredibly selfish and to stay a good artist and lose your selfishness and not become this aloof-like meditationy character that tells everybody that they’ve found a fucking, I don’t know, that they’ve found some kind of god or something.
It’s really hard to not go over the top with any of that kind of stuff, it’s really really hard, I don’t know, I don’t have a good answer, it’s probably just a part of getting older and getting better at everything that you do with time, but being an artist is really not that hard.
So you didn’t have a big challenge
Like I said, my biggest challenge is still to be a good dad and to be anything but an artist while you’re…. Being a good artist, the hardest thing about is to not stop being a good artist to get better at other stuff, that’s the hardest part about being an artist.
And you know, you’re not really connected to society, nobody really understands what you’re doing, nobody really gets it, so you don’t have a lot of friends, I don’t have a lot of friends, because there’s just not a lot of friction surface with other people and I don’t want there to be, and being friends with other artists is not a very close friendship because everybody’s selfish like I said, so there’s not a lot of close human relationship. Maybe that’s a good one.
And is there any major challenge as an artist that you are facing now?
It’s the same, just staying relevant while you’re busy with other stuff and recently, hum, I’m going trough divorce right now, I don’t see my kid a lot, I don’t see my dogs almost at all anymore, everything changed and staying consistent in my art while I’m going through all these personal changes…yeah, that’s definitely challenging, to not show that in my art.
But honestly at the moment I feel pretty safe because I have a lot of stuff already established in my art, so I know what I’m doing, so I can coast a little bit on the things that I’ve already achieved. I can autopilot a little bit, I don’t have to re-invent myself artistically right now, I have to reinvent myself personally at the moment.
So I’m busy with that.
So you already know how to overcome that.
Yes because I’ve already been at that place a couple of times, not as with this intensity ever, this is super intense for me and it changes me as a person profoundly, but it’s definitely not boring, so that’s good.
That’s the next question, about getting bored. Do you ever get bored? Well, you already answered this question before… Do you ever get bored always doing biomech? Do you do something else that maybe we don’t see in your portfolio?
No, not really. If I would do anything else I would show that instantly and I would probably repost it all the time, because I do want to do other stuff, because I think I’m starting to forget how to draw, because if you only do abstract things at some point you will lose your ability to draw real things.
I totally want to do real things like dragons. I love tattooing flowers, I love tattooing nature, wildlife, scenery, all that kind of stuff, I love to tattoo and draw things that have faces and that are real. I do draw them in the way that I draw them, so everything that I do, all my biomech always informs everything that I draw and I think that’s a good thing, that’s just my handwriting, but I do miss drawing real things sometimes for sure.
Biomech has so few rules that I have a hard time for that becoming boring for me because when biomech becomes boring, man just turn it into something else. I just turn it into whatever I want it to be, It’s just something new is going to come along and I re-write the rules all the time, it’s like, you know, making spaghetti sauce, if you find your own spaghetti sauce boring just add something, change it, just change it, you can change whatever it is, you know exactly what you like and if doesn’t taste good then you have to change something else, but you know exactly what you like, so you can change your own sauce and you’ll probably always like it, it doesn’t have to become boring.
So that’s an easy one, but learning how to make, I don’t know, dessert, or how to bake a cake, that’s a completely different thing and I don’t want to forget how to bake a cake too, so every now and then I’m really happy to be able to bake a cake.
That’s cool, I would like to taste one of your cakes one day
That sounds really dirty Jerry.
AHAHAHAHAH Ok I’ll cut that
AHAHAHAH No leave it there, it will be funny
What do you hate and what do you love the most about the tattoo industry.
What you love the most and what you hate.
Oh, what I hate. Oh my god I don’t like to hate too many things, I have anger threat problems.
Well something that you don’t like that you would like to change
Yeah, but all of these things are going to make me sound like an old fart.
I just don’t want to be that guy you know. So whenever I don’t like something I always train myself out of not liking that thing and just ignore it, because I don’t want to be angry. I don’t want to pose myself with…
Ok just what do you love the most…
Well I can tell you what I don’t like. I don’t like that tattooing is becoming so popular that there’s too many rules now, I don’t like that, even tattooers amongst tattooers, there’s certain expectations now, it’s like you have to look a certain way, I don’t look like a tattoo artist at all and neither do you, we don’t necessarily look like tattoo artists, we don’t clothe like tattoo artists do, we don’t behave like tattoo artists.
What I really don’t like… There’s a thing now that you have to look and behave a certain way when you’re a tattoo artist and I think that’s fucking bullshit.
I didn’t get into tattooing because there are so many rules, I did get into tattoos because there are none. So that’s what I liked about it because I don’t like rules, I hate authority and I don’t like for anybody to tell me how to live my life. So, that’s definitely something that I don’t like, but I can see that that is inevitable, whenever something becomes this big regulation is just something that is inevitable.
Look at guns, right now this whole gun crisis. You can’t have everybody owning a gun without regulations, you can’t have everybody driving a car without everybody having to make a driving license, you can’t have that. If there’s only one guy with a car that’s no problem, but he’s going to drive around, he’s in the biggest danger not everybody else.
This has to do with ethics
Ethics, but you have to teach people ethics and ethics are part of our regulation. Our ethics come from our law system, from our regulation system, from our religion, but what is religion anything if not regulation. So I think regulation is important, I think I should just get over it.
You know it was just different when I started, I just don’t want to sound like that, I’d rather teach, I’d just rather be part of the change and have at least a tiny little bit of control of where it’s going, That’s why I want to teach, that’s why I want to keep myself relevant, instead of becoming this grumpy old guy that is just angry, nobody listens to an angry person. So I just don’t want to do that.
What’s the coolest? What’s the best? What do I love about tattooing? Well, fuck, my freedom you know, and the money.
The freedom definitely, I love the freedom, I love that I have my fate in my own hands, that I can decide how much I want to travel, I can decide how much money I need, I can decide how much money I make, I can decide everything about my life and I meet a lot of interesting people, I meet people that I find interesting, because they like my art, they find me interesting, so there’s a really good chance of me finding them interesting. That’s great where do you ever have that? Most people are always confronted with people that they don’t like through their work. I don’t have that at all, so I just have to keep appreciating that I guess.
Yeah, there’s lots to love about tattooing, it’s one of the best jobs in the world, that’s why everybody wants to do it right now.
It’s a fucking endless list isn’t it?
There are enough things to hate but, you know, with something that I love, If you love something you don’t want to dwell on the things that you hate, if I love my wife, if I love my girlfriend, if I love my daughter, I don’t really want to have a magnifying glass on the things that I hate about that person. Because it’s easy for hate to become the stronger emotion.
All of that sounds really sanctimonious, because I don’t say that I’m good at that, because I have bad days, but I know that that should be definitely one of my mantras, because I come from anger, I’m a very angry person, I go to anger easily and I believe that people should work on themselves to make themselves better, to not go into your grave with anger and regret.
So I think that anger is one of the things that I have to keep in control over in my life. So that’s definitely something that I always work on. I don’t want to hate anything.
That’s cool, inspirational and profound
Well, you’re considered probably one of the most successful tattoo artists in the world, I think…
Yeah I think so. You started a new way of doing biomechs, you’re inspirational to many people, people travel a lot to get your pieces, so I’m pretty sure you’re in the top list of tattoo artists.
Well at least in the tattoo industry everybody knows who you are, I think.
I don’t know if I should hear that?!
I don’t know if that’s good, I don’t know…
Ok! If that’s true I don’t know what is going to do to my character just knowing that. I just…
Yeah but my question is: do you have some let’s call it success secret, something like “Ok, if you want to reach this point you should do or you could do something like this or that or…”
Just don’t be arrogant, to me the secret to success is don’t be arrogant, do stuff that you don’t like to do, you learn more when you do stuff that you don’t like to do than when you do stuff that you like to do.
You don’t learn anything new from doing stuff that you already like to do, you already know everything about that.
So do something that is hard, do something that is dangerous, do something that makes you uncomfortable. I think that if you’re vulnerable you’re also open and you learn more.
That’s definitely one of the things, keep yourself vulnerable, don’t go into problems too much obviously but you know, definitely go to these places that are a little bit uncomfortable and keep yourself uncomfortable, don’t get too comfortable.
If you’re already successful it’s really easy to get comfortable and that’s always the beginning of the end, always, I think.
If you want to grow you need to stay uncomfortable. That’s probably the most important thing that I can tell to anybody, just stay uncomfortable.
How do you connect with your network. They come to you, you go to them?
I don’t really do that
I mean you’re teaching seminars
I do seminars but not like super successful…
You ask for that, they ask for that?
Yeah I was asked, because I like to hear myself talk, so I talk a lot, I’m not very social but when I’m social I talk and then we have these talks like we’re having now, somebody asks me a question and I never stop talking.
So at some point people asked me: “I think you should do seminars, I think you would be really good at it”. I was super afraid of doing that because I have very very hight expectations of myself.
Then at some point I pulled my head out of my ass and just started doing it, because Jeff Gogue pushed me into it a little bit, he was like: “So you’re coming for a guest spot, you should do a seminar here. I’m doing a seminar, we should do a seminar together” And I was like “Holy shit, that’s huge” because he’s so good at it, he’s intimidatingly good at it, he’s very successful at it too, especially at that point he was and I was like “Oh fuck, if I give a seminar with Jeff Gogue, that might be a door into a completely different part of what I can do, that’s not tattooing, that would open a door” so I was like “Oh there’s a huge opportunity there, I would be stupid not to take it”.
So I did it and I had a lot of fun, it was amazing, I had so much fun doing it.
I think I’m pretty good at it. I have nothing but positive feedback so far. I really enjoy it, I’ve being doing this for 5 years now and it’s been really, really, really rewarding but I’m not super successful at it, my classes are small, I don’t really do the kind of seminars that everybody jumps on, because everybody looks for the holy grail, everybody asks: “What kind of inks are you using? What machines are you using? What needles are you using?” Because everybody looks for the easy… They just want to have that taking care of. It’s like “Ok, I need to make this as easy on me as possible, so I have to have the best tools”.
Totally understandable, but this is not the kind of stuff that I do. I don’t give technical seminars, I’m doing the kind of stuff that we are doing right now, I just want to give people a different perspective, I want to shine a different light on things, Lux Altera.
So I want to give people a different perspective so they can see the whole picture better, so they have an easier time learning something. I think If you don’t see the whole picture, if you’re too focused on one thing, you kind of miss the point sometimes, you’re misunderstanding it and then you’re only reproducing something while you could be creating something.
I think you can only create something if you understand it completely.
So my seminars are very philosophical, it’s more like a talk, an inspirational talk that I get paid for and I like doing that.
I think that to me makes way more sense than to teach somebody exactly how I do something, because I don’t think that’s very helpful, that only helps them to copy exactly what I do, and I don’t want that.
If they get there by themselves then that tells me “Ok maybe I’m doing something right” But if they just copy me because I told them exactly how to do it, that doesn’t give me anything and at the end of the day I want to give myself something, because I’m a selfish artist.
I think every artist is a bit selfish.
Apart from doing amazing art, do you think there is or, well, do you have a key element to get customers, apart from…
You just have to be really good at what you’re doing but not only that, you also have to be really good at selling yourself, being really successful is never just one skill. Being really successful at anything is always a mix, a set of skills, that’s why not a lot of people are very successful, it just doesn’t work that way.
Like Picasso, he was amazing at marketing himself
Yeah, you have to be good at marketing yourself, that takes a certain level of arrogance, it takes a certain level of knowing yourself really well, it takes a certain level of also being humble, this is a fine line you know.
You have to be good at talking about yourself and I’m always trying to be good at that, I want to be able to talk about myself but I want to be able to talk about myself in a way that doesn’t come off as aloof or arrogant. That’s a fine line because I know my abilities really really well, and people who know their abilities really really well are always perceived as somebody who’s arrogant.
I’m a really confident guy and if you’re confident you can be successful, if you’re confident it’s really easy to be successful because people always follow confidence.
So that’s it, but if you’re overconfident, if you’re more confident than your abilities allow then people will laugh at you.
It’s hard not to fall on your face with that kind of advice, this is really bad advice to give to people.
Confidence is something that should come to you organically by being good at something, you don’t get good at something by being confident, that never happens.
It’s like, I’m pretty sure it happened also to you. To me it happens regularly, you talk with some artist, you listen to them and you think “Wow this must be an amazing artist” then you go on the internet and look at his pictures and you say: “What the fuck is that?!”
It doesn’t happen so often but it happens every now and then. It’s like what I said earlier about staying uncomfortable because then you learn more. I think if you get too confident you start forgetting things, the quality of your work will go down because you will start looking at what you can get away with, that’s arrogance.
If you start looking at what you can get away with to get more money with less work or something, that’s natural, everybody does that, but you have to be really careful with that.
There’s a very fine line between confidence and arrogance. I think a good way to stay on the line, on that edge and not fall off is to stay uncomfortable.
Don’t like your own stuff too much, don’t be too comfortable where you are, there’s no such thing as you staying where you are, you always move in one direction, you either move forward or you move backwards, like a pendulum, you never stay still, when you stay still you’re dead.
We could say your mantra is something like “Learn to be comfortable in your discomfort”
It’s like a boxer, when you stand still you know exactly what happens, you always have to stay in motion, so you stay fluid. If you’re not fluid you get punched, it’s really easy to punch a still target.
It’s like what Bruce Lee used to say “Be like water”
Be water, yeah, but you know, I’m not Bruce Lee, but it’s definitely like I have reached the point in my life where I feel like whenever I get comfortable I get arrogant and when I get arrogant the quality of my work is going down, and whenever the quality of my work is going down there is a chance for somebody else to replace me, and I’m not ready for that.
How do you manage difficult clients?
I let them know that they’re difficult, I make them uncomfortable.
Or I let them make themselves uncomfortable. I really don’t have difficult clients though, because I think I make all my rules very very clear before I even meet them for the first time.
So maybe you can understand way ahead when a person could be difficult…
Yeah, And then I can prepare for it too.
Normally you can already pick that up from an e-mail. And that’s why I like doing e-mail.
This is a good one by the way.
If there’s any advice that I’m giving you that you should take on or anybody should take on is this: Don’t talk to your clients that you have never met through Messenger or anything that’s instant, like in person, that’s the worst.
That’s why I don’t like to work in an open street shop, you just don’t get interesting work that way and you don’t meet people that you really want to meet that way, that’s only by chance, that’s only by accident that you meet them.
If you have a closed studio then people have to ask you something, they have to write you a letter, an e-mail.
There’s been a study that showed that people that use Messenger lie a lot more than people in an e-mail because an e-mail seems official, like a letter, that’s like an official thing that you take time to answer, that you take time to read and then you consider your answer because you’re not expected to say something back right away. You’re formulating a proper response, so people are less likely to lie in an e-mail, people are way more likely to be very very honest, to be nice, to be considerate and when you write them back they are also reading what you’re writing back a lot more considerately than in an instant message.
So my best advice to find people that you want to work with is to do all your interaction through e-mail.
All your first encounters all by e-mail, that’s why I work in a closed environment.
It’s really hard to say no to somebody’s face, to me, for anybody, you have to be quite an asshole to be able to just to say: “No, I don’t like you” to somebody’s face, but it’s really easy to tell somebody through an e-mail, you can formulate an e-mail so that’s really hard to misunderstand it, people read that stuff differently.
You write them a letter telling them that you don’t think you are a good match, that you have to filter your clientele because you want to help people that are a good match and that’s better for that person to find a better matching artist. Who could argue with that? But to tell somebody that kind of stuff to their face you always get a reaction that is negative, always.
I learned to manage that
I mean, I can do that too face to face but it’s always super uncomfortable, that always keeps me busy, when I have an encounter with somebody like that, that keeps me busy for weeks man, it keeps me awake at night because I always feel like: “Oh, did I hurt that person feelings?” or: “Do they not like me? Are they going to talk shit about me now?” All that kind of stuff.
If you do that through an e-mail is respectful. So always, always, everything through e-mail, everything. And then I can give people all the information, I can copy and paste a whole text that I wrote to somebody else or the information, I can send them a PDF about how I work, how I charge money and everything.
E-mail is great, and it’s professional, it’s just professional and that way you also don’t get bothered on your days off or when you’re on vacation, you can just have a disclaimer like: “I only answer my e-mail once a week” and then people can be ready for that.
When you let your clientele approach you on Messenger they expect an immediate answer too because that’s how Messenger works, so they already have more expectations than you are expecting of yourself and then you already don’t like that person, even before you’ve met them, so I hate Messenger for professional interaction. I don’t do that at all.
Same with SMS and phone, nobody gets my phone number, that’s for people that I’ve already met in person, my clients who have already paid a down payment, they get my phone number, they get my address. People don’t get my address.
That’s really important. If every tattoo artist would work like that, fuck me man, then people not appreciating their tattoo would not even be an issue, because that’s when you put the client into a position where they have to do work for you in order to get to you, and that puts them in a position where you can have expectations on them. You can expect them to be considerate, to be nice, to be patient, all these things and it just turns into a better interaction.
It’s probably the best advice I can give to anybody.
This leads us to the last question.
What would you suggest to someone who wants to get tattooed but doesn’t know anything about tattoos? Someone who is a newbie, someone who wants a tattoo but he or she doesn’t know anything.
What would you suggest to them?
Be patient. Don’t get tattooed yet.
Just be patient, don’t get tattooed at this point. Do your research, doing research is easy nowadays there’s the internet, you don’t have to even leave your house, but if you want to be respectful, if you really want to get a tattoo but you don’t know anything about tattoos make sure you’re not getting tattooed by your neighbour, make sure you put a little bit of energy into your tattoo.
Do your research and find out what you like.
If you don’t know what you like, if you don’t know what you should get tattooed you’re not ready for that, it’s super easy.
But if you know what you want to get tattooed and who you wanna get tattooed by, just do it, just go ahead, get tattooed, spend that money, get that tattoo, get it in the place that you want it and trust your artist, If you did your research well.
That’s the best advice that I can give because you learn the most by putting yourself in this uncomfortable position.
Be uncomfortable and if you get a shitty tattoo and all of that, well that’s bad luck.
But normally a pretty sure thing to say to somebody is cheap tattoos are not good and good tattoos are not cheap, that just is something that just keeps being true, but it’s not all the truth out there, but definitely find an artist who makes you wait, find an artist who’s not available right away, write them an e-mail and go to an artist that you would really want something from, travel if you have to, travel, spend all the money, take all the time, be patient, mull it over.
I the end of the day trust your artist, trust your artist to make the good decisions for you, because you apparently have never made that decision before, so you can’t be good at it. Tattoo artists make these kind of decisions every day, so trust your artists.
Shut up and just get in that chair and get tattooed.
Well, thank you very much, thank you Markus for your time, for your inspirational and profound message.
Thank you man.
And see you next time.
Yeah totally, let’s get tattooed.
Yeah, Let’s do it.
You Can find Markus Lenhard at: http://www.lenhard.bio
Jerry Magni is an Italian tattoo artist, illustrator, painter. In his spare time he’s also a contributing blogger for Tattoo.com
He can be found at JerryMagni.com and look for him on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube.