On the road
FRESHLY INKED: What year did you start tattooing?
MARK HALBSTARK: Five years ago. I’d already tried to start tattooing but it was hard to find a studio to train me. In that time there was no tattoo hype with TV shows and stuff. Years later I got the opportunity to start tattooing. In those times I was studying arts in Germany. I’ve been tattooing since then for three and a half years now.
How did you get into tattooing?
It was pretty hard. I had lots of luck and support from my best friend. He gave me the money for equipment and I started to practice on him and other friends. I learned more and more and worked hard on myself.
Where did you apprentice?
I had no apprenticeship. I taught the most to myself or learned stuff at guest spots. In the beginning I was in a studio every Friday for six months where I enhanced my work while having the opportunity to still ink my friends. After this I visited more studios and worked for shit earnings.
Do you have any special training?
Not really. I began several apprenticeships, like carpenter and lacquerer, but I quit them all. I started studying graphic design, where they kicked me out ’cause of missing school education. First those fucks accepted me on the university because of my talent and already drawing my whole life—but it’s all good. Now I have the best job on earth.
What conventions have you worked at? Have you won any awards? What are some of your best convention memories?
Oh, in Europe, a lot. Brighton, Doncaster, London, Bregenz, Vienna, Brussels, Hamburg, Dortmund, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Berlin, Balingen, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Las Vegas—but Vegas was bullshit, ha ha. I’m working 10 to 18 conventions a year.
How do you describe your style?
Ha ha. For sure it’s dirty, graphically, and a little realistic. When someone asks about my style I mostly answer that it’s just nonsense, that I don’t want to draw straight lines and suck in fillings. My tattoos shall be fun. There are no deeper meanings behind them.
What inspires you as an artist?
A lot. Especially nature, a big impulse and influence. I’m getting the most inspiration through my sketchbook, which I always have with me. Every day I’m sketching, lots of non-tattoo stuff, just everything that gets in my mind. This way I stay open for new ideas because of mostly drawing stuff that is easy. This way I am creating something like a library of ideas and documenting my work on paper.
What sets you apart from other artists?
The difference is that I don’t ride Harley Davidson, ha ha ha. Just kidding. I mostly work in my private studio, where I just work to cover my costs. The rest of my time I spend with things that make me happy. Pure luxury for me is things like spending time with my family and friends, drawing, or sports. I’m always open- minded for new techniques and tools, and I try not to rust or be stuck in my art. Who says that I have to ink like everyone else or I have to tattoo what customers want me to?
What other mediums do you work in?
I use my sketchbook a lot. Also, I draw a lot on screen and canvas and collect old pieces of furniture that I paint on. In Germany we have an abundance of everything. I often take old books that I use for paper or forage for something at flea markets to find items to redesign them. I want to be inspired by those items and buy new stuff as little as possible.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
Hard to say. There are too many good ones. I like the art of Jakub Settgast and Chris Dettmer, also my colleagues Jessica March and Peter Aurisch. Marc, a.k.a. Little Swastika, also helped me a lot.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
These days I'm doing lots of palm tattoos. I love it ’cause I have to draw very graphic and simple designs ’cause that spot is hard to ink. That’s also the reason why I love spots like the neck or fingers. It's like a statement to the artist and your surroundings.
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you give them?
Don’t get it from me! Ha ha ha! No, he should take his time and think about it, blah blah. My formula is: “What you give is what you get,” simple as that.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
Yes, for sure. Big projects, from the neck over to the chest and more—everything non-symmetric with lots of gimmicks.