How much do you know about the tattoo industry in Rotterdam? Being curious myself, I spoke to two tattoo artists and two regular clients, to find out about their tattoo journeys, favourite styles and tattooing in Rotterdam.
I even got to hear some crazy stories from their practice, learned about homemade tattoos, bad tattoo experiences and more. At the end of the article you can find recommendations for getting a tattoo in Rotterdam yourself.
Continue reading to discover my interview with two tattoo artists and two clients, accompanied by exclusive analog photos captured by yours truly.
Be sure to also check out these amazing tattoo shops in Rotterdam.
From art to tattoos
Perhaps even to a person who knows nothing about tattooing, it would be obvious that this profession is inherently artistic. From sketching the design to essentially drawing on people’s skin, there is a lot of room for creative expression. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that both of the tattoo artists I spoke to started their journeys in the art sphere.
“I was going to an art school back then, but I was looking for something else to do,” says Melissa, a tattoo artist and the co-owner of Black and Gold Tattoo on Weena. She has been tattooing for nine years now, moving studios a few times before founding Black and Gold tattoo with three other artists. Similarly Pablo, a tattooer of five years, mentions being into drawing since he was a little kid.
Yet, while the former started her journey as an apprentice at a tattoo shop where she got noticed by the owner early on, for Pablo the beginning was a bit different. A girl in his class did her own stick and poke tattoos on her hands, and his mind was blown by the realization that he could just do it on himself.
Afterwards, Pablo headed home, grabbed the sewing needle and some ink, and that marked the beginning of it all. Later on, he received his first tattoo machine as a gift from an ex-girlfriend, ordered from AliExpress, of all places.
The Hidden World of Homemade Tattoos
If you find this to be shocking, you might be in for a surprise to find out how popular homemade tattoos actually are. I spoke with Lussy, a tattoo enthusiast with multiple tattoos herself. Their recent one is from Vean Tattoo and Piercing. During our conversation, Lussy admitted she was actually somewhat of an occasional tattoo artist herself.
When she was 17 or 18, Lussy tattooed two of their friends at a sleepover where somebody brought a hand poke kit. One of the friends returned her favour, resulting in a small tattoo of a cartoonish fine line ghost on Lussy’s ankle, which she showed me when we met for drinks in the centre of Rotterdam.
“If you have done the research and you know how to do it, why not?” she says while taking a sip of her beer, “it’s just about the story. I support home tattoos and also small tattoo artists. They have to start somewhere.”
Matching Duvel beer tattoo
Even Melissa, who had her start after a few months of training with an already established tattoo artist, has her fair share of homemade tattoos. One particular tattoo she shows me is a Duvel beer design that she got as a matching tattoo with her brother.
“I always drink it with him and my brother doesn’t tattoo.” As they were having Duvels one day the siblings decided that it would be a great idea to tattoo them on each other. “So we went back to the shop and like I said, he isn’t even a tattooer. But he did it on me. So this is supposed to be flames, but it looks like knives. Like kitchen knives,” Melissa laughs pointing at what to me resembles big leaves coming from a Duvel cup on her ankle.
Bad tattoo experiences in Rotterdam
Ironically, the story that probably had the most traumatizing ending didn’t start with a home made tattoo. Asli, who moved to the Netherlands a few years back, gets all of her tattoos in Rotterdam. Even though she no longer lives in the city, there is a level of trust and familiarity she has for tattoo artists here, especially at her favourite studio Cleopatra Ink.
However, not all of Asli’s experiences in Rotterdam were positive. She tells me the story of how a custom design she brought to an artist got changed midway through the session. “There was something wrong with the printing and the ink came to a certain area and it wasn’t supposed to be there,” Asli tells me on our Zoom call.
Because of this mix up, the artist, who barely spoke any English, started colouring Asli’s tattoo, when it was supposed to be a fine line.
“It’s on the backside of my leg and at some point it started hurting a lot and I was like OK, there’s something wrong because it shouldn’t hurt this much.” But eventually it was Asli’s friend, who was at the appointment with her, who noticed that the artist had made a mistake. “I’m so glad that she was there.”
Luckily, she ended up getting used to the tattoo, despite it not looking as she originally intended.
Overcoming Language Barriers in the Tattoo Studio
This story is a rare occurrence, showcasing that sometimes unexpected events can unfold within a tattoo studio.
In Lussy’s case, a situation similar to Asli’s happened, with a less unfortunate finale. When the former showed up for her appointment, she found out that her artist also didn’t speak English that well. However, armed with Google Translate and a positive attitude, they managed to find a shared understanding.
The artist and her colleague were making sure that Lussy was doing alright, making small talk and asking if she was comfortable. “Rotterdam is a big international city. So I get it that people sometimes are from very different countries.”
Clear communication is key
As the above experience of Asli shows, friends can definitely offer both moral support and a third person opinion. However, Melissa asks to remember that in the end, you should always check in with your tattoo artist before bringing other people to your appointment. “It’s very important to just listen to your tattooer, as oftentimes clients’ guests would give tattoo suggestions that might not turn out as good as they assume.”
Despite the contrast in their views, both Asli and Mellisa highlight the importance of the clear communication between the client and the artist. Melissa puts it well, saying: “I want to give you a good tattoo. I want to listen to your wishes. But you also have to let me do my job. I know what I’m doing. So I give that advice for a reason.”
About custom tattoos
When it comes to design, talking it through with the artist is just as important as choosing the tattooer who works in the style you prefer. For instance, Melissa works in American Traditional, while Pablo draws inspiration from nature and has a very specific, somewhat trippy style, with strong lines. Despite that, both of them remark that sometimes custom tattoos are incredibly interesting to do as well.
“If it’s a very weird idea, like normally I wouldn’t do it, but because it’s such a weird idea, I would be down for it,” says Pablo. Melissa agrees, telling me that: “It’s also cool if you can do a custom design, because sometimes they [people] come up with ideas, which are actually pretty cool. I didn’t think about it myself, you know.”
Lussy and Asli, representing the client side here, also seem to agree. Both of them see tattoos as stories, something reflecting a period of their lives, which is why they mostly opt for custom designs. However, they also acknowledge the beauty behind flash tattoos. Lussy says: “I feel like every tattoo artist should be appreciated. (…) [sometimes] you can see a piece of their art and you’re like, damn, I want that on my body.”
Weird tattoo stories
Then, getting tattooed in Rotterdam specifically has its peculiarities. “I love this shop and I love Rotterdam,” Melissa says regarding the tattoo studio she shares with her colleagues. “You know, I was born and raised here. I like that people from Rotterdam are direct, because then it’s clear what I need to do.”
Pablo was born here as well, and while he didn’t have an opportunity to get an out of town tattooing experience yet, he assures me that Rotterdam itself has provided enough intriguing stories. When asked about the most memorable experience here, Pablo takes a moment to think, but ultimately delivers a rather startling story.
One late evening he got a call from an acquaintance, asking if she could come over for a tattoo. After Pablo agreed, the friend showed up with another person. “A man with a full face of tattoos and a broken nose and swollen fists.”
For the next few hours that Pablo was tattooing his hands, he got to hear all kinds of stories, including the man telling him that he just got out of jail. “I’m not your therapist. See someone else,” Pablo comments on the guy’s oversharing, chuckling.
Tattoo artists recommendations
At the end of these interviews I asked the artists if they believed there was a tattooing community in Rotterdam. While both Melissa and Pablo were a bit reluctant to make such a strong statement, talking to them I could hear the love and respect they have for their colleagues and friends who do tattooing.
Asli and Lussy then also speak very positively about the tattooers they had appointments with. So as a final note on this topic, I give you a full list of recommendations from each of the interviewees, so that you yourself can get some inspiration and find an artist that suits you!
List of recommendations
Know another great tattooer from Rotterdam and surrounding areas who wasn’t mentioned here? Share their Instagram account in the comments! Be sure to also follow us on Instagram for more stories from Rotterdam: @weekendsinrotterdam.