Closer to the Edge - Emil Edge

Published: 04 April, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 197, April, 2011

The first thing Emil says to me when I sit down to interview him, is that he has never been able to sit still for very long. A bit of a scary thought, considering the guy is a tattooist and sitting still is a major job requirement…

Thankfully, before I begin to worry that I have made a mistake, he quickly explains himself. “I always wanted to do something artistic so I started studying to become an architect. The problem was, I soon found myself skipping classes and ended up dropping out. It really wasn’t what I hoped for since it was way too theoretical for me. In that respect, I have never been able to sit still for very long so school just wasn’t my thing.”

With that sorted out - it’s the theory behind it all that makes him restless, not the actual sitting in one spot for a few hours – it appears that Emil’s world seems full of these strange juxtapositions. You question him on a point thinking you will get a standard answer, only to find his reply is very far from standard. Like when I ask him if he has always been this good at drawing and illustration: “I wouldn’t say my art skills were any good at all! I definitely drew a lot but it never really was any good.” Here we go again…

“The thing is, I was brought up with the attitude that nothing comes for free. Both my parents are super hardworking people and have been my whole life, so when I started drawing with a sense of purpose I never felt like I could, or can stop. I have to evolve all the time. I also feel, that if I ever come to a point where it’s no fun or I lose my game - I’m not working hard enough or I’m not doing it right. I always drew because it made me happy. Once I had a purpose for it all, I just got more focused and started to become better at it!”

Emil has been tattooing for exactly seven years now, getting his first tattoo wrapped up in January 2004. It was a change of secondary school that initially got him interested in the craft. “I got more into tattooing when I got to know a tattooist at another school I tried out. It really opened my eyes to the fact that it was a profession and not just a hobby. I started to look up more and more talented artists and got way into it. Eventually, I got my hands on some equipment and got started. 

At first I was practicing on friends and their friends, charging just enough so I could buy more equipment. Then I had an apprenticeship for three months, which helped me out a whole bunch, no matter how short an amount of time it lasted. I definitely learned what I needed to take it to the next level. From then on, I just started to watch tattooists whenever possible, visiting shops and trying to guest spot as much as possible. I believe that a tattooist, or any artist, really has to love what they do especially tattooists since their artwork is going on some one’s body forever.”

These days, Emil is based at Fisheye Ink in Karlstad, Sweden. The studio is run by his good friend, Jimmy Lajnen. “Me and Jimmy just started talking at a convention and since we were into the same kind of stuff we connected through that. We collaborated on some drawings which was a lot of fun and just started pushing this style as hard as we could, discussing new ideas and different points of view. We got some friendly competition going, always keeping us on our toes. I have been there for about one and a half years now. 

“We have some regular guest artists and Mikka who’s been working production in the shop for a while but is now moving on to another shop. I’m based where I want to be at the moment. If I felt like I could progress more in a different environment, I would move, but as of now, this gives me the chance to focus entirely on evolving my work. In the future, I would love to have a private studio where I can concentrate on painting and tattooing and whatever I’m currently into but as of now, this is definitely the best environment for me.”

And if Emil carries on creating the sketches and tattoos he currently is in this environment, long may it reign! I love Emil’s sketches; crazy, surreal images that seem to come from the mind of a mad man. Most of these images end up on some one’s skin but I am interested to know if Emil would think of turning them into paintings in the future. “I actually didn’t get into acrylic painting up until a couple of months ago. Before then I did all my pieces with pro markers and colour pencils but it ended up just taking to long so I found I never got it finished. I’ve been terrible at finishing artwork forever but now I’ve started to cut down on the tattooing to try and get more time to draw and paint. I’m trying to get some other art related projects started, so hopefully I’ll paint more in the future.”

Speaking of which, Emil has a project running at the moment called the Road Kill series and the illustrations so far are stunning. I ask him how this all came about. “The Road Kill series just kind of happened. Me and my girlfriend were hanging out in California and I was drawing, while she was reading and getting some sun, and I drew the bunny. I laughed for a bit, showed it to her and she thought it was crazy too. I did some more and now it’s just something I find myself doodling every once in a while. I’ll find someway to publish it sometime, but for now it’s just a bunch of projects that will be finished when the right time comes.”

I have similar ‘revelation’ moments when I am writing, something comes along that I hadn’t been thinking about and just ’works out’. Is this just luck or the subconscious mind doing all the hard work?

“It’s not really something I had been working on but it kind of makes sense that it ends up that way when you’re drawing this much. You should always have fun and try to find your own way of looking at things and how to do things. I definitely think I’ve come to a point where it kind of feels like all my artwork belongs in the same universe… but it’s still taking all these different directions. Some of it is really tweaked out where others are a bit more ‘true‘ or realistically drawn. My style is still evolving even now. I usually work super hard on something for a while, to learn something new and then top it off with a visit to someone that inspires me, then just try to have fun with it until I get bugged by something in my technique and I start over again. But in the end it feels like it’s all been processed through my head.”

And that’s Emil, continuously evolving. Always trying something new or, like his strange obsession with chainsaws, always trying to figure out how things work and how they could be improved.

“In my spare time I try to work on my cars or chainsaws to relax. There’s something about old engines that are just so pure and logical. I find it a really fulfilling feeling when you’ve taken something that is not working and make it work, when you’re the only reason that this particular thing is working. It makes you feel like the king of the world. 

I love spending a day in the garage, working on my car for hours and hours. There doesn’t even have to be anything major, just trying different things and fixing small problems. I’m not in anyway a mechanic but I’m not afraid to try and I’m not afraid to fail. I haven’t been working on engines and cars for very long but it soothes me and it’s definitely something I wish I had more time for too - but tattooing still comes first. So the chainsaws, they are really not even for trees, just for me to keep my mind right.”

As long as the chainsaws are not for non-paying customers or last minute cancellations, I think we’re safe…for now. Looking back on Emil’s career so far, besides travelling a fair bit to America, he has kept his feet firmly in his homeland and I ask him if he prefers the tattoo scene in Sweden or is it just the case that he just hasn’t concentrated on Europe yet. 

“Yeah, I’ve done quite a lot of travelling to the States and around Sweden but I kind of missed out on the whole European scene. I definitely think I am going to focus more on that in the upcoming years. With the Europe thing, I think that this is a result of the fact, that it’s getting way more common for people to travel far for tattoos, especially since you can get such cheap flights and stuff these days. It’s great that people are supporting their favourite artists, that’s what pushes this business forward. I’ve never worked in the UK before, so I can’t really compare the differences but if I compare it to the United States, it just really shows that Sweden has a smaller scene.”

It may be smaller but there is some great talent coming from those Scandinavian shores. You only have to look at Emil or Jimmy’s work to see proof of this. So can we hope to see Emil on our shores sometime soon? “I will be working Tattoo Jam which I’m really looking forward to. I am hoping to meet up with some good friends over there and hopefully it will be a good time. It looks like it’s a whole lot of fun!” 

But as Emil explains, it is all about the craic rather than the competition. “I feel like competitions are a great way to show off your artwork but sometimes it feels kind of ‘off’ to me. You got people that are sitting down doing sleeves for free, putting in 2 or 3 times the hours on the piece than they would usually on a paying customer and then competing! Is that really a fair thing to judge? Some tattooists are becoming obsessed with winning awards! Like that’s what matters! So I don’t really enter that many competitions.”

Emil pauses and I can see that he wants to say more about how he sees the tattoo industry changing, how certain aspects are becoming more important than the actual craft of putting ink into a client’s skin. “This industry is capable of doing so much more than it is. It seems, at this point, that people are almost more interested in being a tattooist than getting tattooed. I feel like all these TV shows are fuelling an image about tattooists being rock stars. I know quite a lot of tattooists and the good ones, the ones I call my friends and the artists I admire, they are basically nerds! Art nerds! Really down to earth people, most of whom, couldn’t do anything else in the world because this is where they fit in and this is where they can get creative and get all that stuff floating around in their heads out. 

I really hope to see more tattooists get involved in their art, learning new things and helping to push this business forward. We have got some great artists in this business but we can’t count on them doing everything.”

Tattooist, art nerd, ink geek… whatever you want to call Emil, at 26 he is on top of his game and getting stronger and better by the day. So what does this surrealist drawing, ink injecting, chainsaw loving guy see for the future of his art?

“I hope to see this industry evolve into a recognized art form. Right now it feels like way too few people take this art seriously, instead seeing it as a way to make fast cash. I know what some of the people in this business are capable of and I hope those people are brought to light instead of the hundreds of unfocused tattooists who won’t put the extra effort in to make their artwork evolve and progress. I would rather read ten articles about the same high quality artist than ten different articles about low quality ones. I hope I still feel the way I do now, that I‘m still pushing myself and that I’m still having fun. I still want to be the best there is. I’m a competitive person and hope I won’t slow down too much. I would like to get involved in more projects outside of tattooing as I think that this will help to evolve my tattooing. But most of all, I hope I’ll never loose the drive to be better.”


Emil’s Favourite Art Books

Another passion of Emil’s is art. So what better way to see what is influencing and inspiring the man than a list of what art books are being thumbed in his spare time.

-Dynamic Wrinkles & Drapery by Burne Hogarth. This is definitely a book that needs to be in any artists collection. To be honest all Hogarth’s books are brilliant but this one is my favorite at the moment.

-The Daily Zoo by Chris Ayers. Chris is a super talented guy whose books I only recently picked up. He creates incredibly funny animals using a lot of different techniques.

-Proving that even technical drawings can be art, Scott Robertson’s Start Your Engines, is a complete book of cars in all different kinds of shapes and forms. Everything from quick thumbnails to finished products. Great stuff!

-The Art of Paul Bonner. Paul is one of my favorite artists ever. He produces great scenery and character designs that just blow my mind. It is always great to flip through his work when you need to get inspired.

-And finally, Monstruo: The Art of Carlos Huante. This man’s work has had a great impact on my way of drawing lately. He is doing some crazy stuff with his monsters and it is awesome to look through his work. Huante is definitely one of my greatest inspirations.


Emil’s Favourite Tattoo Artists

In an attempt to get a better idea of what makes Emil’s creative side tick, I asked him to name his top five tattoo artists, currently working their magic around the world. So, in no particular order…

"Tim Biedron is an awesome artist both on and beyond the skin. Drilling out of Pioneer Studios in Chicago, Tim is high on my wish list for a new tattoo. Jesse Smith of Kaotic Enzymes in Virginia - Jesse is a great guy and another awesome artist, always pushing hard and one of the most focused guys I have ever met. Jesse has got more ammunition in his gun than most people and will probably evolve his art forever.

Another guy who I count as one of the masters of the trade is Steve Moore who works out of Nanaimo, Canada. He produces layouts of character based work, beyond most others you see in this business today.

Over to Berlin and Markus Lenhard. This guy has a fresh mind and is so smart, always dishing out crazy pieces with awesome texture and flow.

And last but no means least, James Tex from Calgary in Canada. James is another artist who is a great inspiration for laying out large pieces. He has got a way of planning out a sleeve that puts most artists to shame."



Fisheye Ink
Herrardsgatan 13
Karlstad, 65224

Phone: 0046 0730716779


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Emil Edge