Gerhard Wiesbeck, Blut & Eisen
An impressive survey of 300 of the best international tattoo artists working today, this stunning book has been a labour of love for everyone involved. We caught up with LKP Senior Editor Andrew Roff to find out all about the making of TTT: Tattoo.
There are plenty of books on tattoos, what makes this one so special?
First of all, it’s about contemporary tattooing, so forget Harley-Davidsons, barbed wire, biker chicks and think about tattooing as a fine art. That’s what you’ll see here. The book is authored by TTTism: it’s an ism, similar to, and as worthy as, any other – Surrealism, Impressionism. Secondly, this book is like no other for its sheer scope. It has over 1,500 tattoos and it features such an amazing selection of artists from all over the world. It’s its ambition that really sets it apart from the competition. Also the authors really made this one special – Nick was able to interview some true tattooing legends and get some really fantastic material. See how the Leu family came into being – tattooing is truly in their blood.
Did you know much about the subject matter before you started working on the book?
Not at all really – my brother has loads of tattoos but that was really the extent of my exposure before TTT.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about the tattoo world? Did the book change any of your preconceptions?
I don’t think I’d ever thought before about the process of tattooing someone – the needle, the ink and the sitting (sometimes for days). Tattooers have a real respect for this, and sometimes they see a tattoo and think about the pain and the process before they think about the imagery. They have respect for people who subject themselves to this pain – the Leu family had a sign in their shop that said: ‘for those about to bleed, we salute you’.
Also, the hygiene of the studios surprised me. You can see this in all the photos of the studios in the book. In some ways, I was expecting dirty studios banging out Guns ‘n’ Roses but the contemporary tattoo world is so removed from that.
What were the main challenges faced with creating such a comprehensive survey of contemporary tattooing?
The fact that it’s an ever-changing scene and that artists are constantly moving between studios. For an editor, this is a nightmare because content is out of date as soon as you finalize it. You just have to accept the fact that printed publishing will only ever capture what’s happening in the scene at that very moment.
Was it always planned to make a book with that extent, or did it grow over time?
It definitely grew. And grew and grew. Again, this reflects the ever-changing tattooing landscape: new talent was emerging all the time and we felt we had to include all the newest material, while keeping it focused and undiluted.
Was it tricky to create an exciting layout given the similar feel to the subject matter?
The subject matter is so beautiful and delicate in most cases. You can pack in lots of fancy design and editorial devices to layouts, but this content didn’t need that. It just needed a slick design so the tattoos have the most impact.
Were there any particular production challenges involved in creating such a large and image-heavy book?
To be honest the main production challenges were the reproductions. Very few tattooers had high-quality photos of their work so we had to do a lot of painstaking retouching. Also the photographs were usually taken straight after tattooing so, in lots of instances, the skin was red and bruised. Again, this was hard to correct but the repro house did a great job.
Do you have any favourite artists or studios?
I was surprised by the work I was drawn to. I loved the big blackwork pieces by Duncan X and the artists at AKA Berlin. I also think blastover looks really cool (when you get a dodgy tattoo and, years later, tattoo over the top – it often creates a really happy marriage of two designs.) I also love all the geometric work by DotstoLines, Tomas Tomas (read his interview to see his very unique insight into tattooing) and Lewisink; the colourful refined lines by David Côte, Paolo Bosson (Sang Bleu Zurich), Luca Font; and the detailed work by Kane Trubenbacher.
I also love all the whales – they’re a repeated theme in the book and they always look great.
Did anything you saw make you wince?
The penis dragon tattoo on page 379 – enough said.
Now that it’s become relatively mainstream, do you think that tattooing still has the power to shock? Is there still scope for innovation?
The other day I saw that someone had tattooed the roof of the inside of their mouth, so yes! And there’s definitely room for innovation – live-action tattooing, stick and poke. Art always changes, whether you like it or not.
Lastly, did working on the book inspire you to get any (or get any more) tattoos?
I’ve always sort of fancied the idea of getting a tattoo, but it would have to be something really visible and not apologetic in any way. I’d always quite fancied the idea of getting a symmetrical tattoo of a spider across my neck but I’m not sure I can handle the pain! I quite fancy a whale now.