Andy Engel - Self Made World Class Artist

Published: 05 October, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 172, May, 2009

Andy Engel is one of the best known and most respected German tattoo artists, not only because he has been around for more than 15 years now, but because he is famous for his great portraits and for his very own way caring about people, especially his customers.

Germany’s number one Portrait Artist did it all by himself...


I arrived at Andy’s Tattoo in Kitzingen after taking a few wrong turns in the beautiful old town. Kitzingen is a very romantic little town that looks more like a small village with very nice old buildings; historic and very clean. You can tell that if you are tattooed here, where everybody knows you and your family, you could easily become the odd one out - not to mention if you are a tattoo artist - but Andy and his wife feel very comfortable here and they don’t want to move, and so their studio is right where it always has been since 1995.
Andy was still at work and as I took a little peek, I recognised a huge portrait of Robert De Niro from the legendary movie “Taxi Driver”, a bright smile on Andy’s face and a not so happy face on his customer as Andy was just working on his ribs.

Andy’s wife, Heike, welcomes me and she is very nice and outgoing, immediately gets us into a conversation whilst Andy is still working. If you really want to get to know things about a tattoo artist, you should talk to his wife. I am more than one hour early so I have plenty of time for that - and I am happy about it! I don’t think that Andy would have told me that he is a total workaholic and has not found time to celebrate his own wedding anniversary for the last nine years. That might be due to the fact that Andy has worked about 15 to 18 conventions per year, or just because he is booked all through 2009 and Heike, as she does all the appointments and organisation in the studio, refuses to give 2010 appointments just yet. Instead she collects all requests and puts together a waiting list for 2010. Which, believe me, is already long.

I thought my daytime job was stressful, but what Heike is handling while we talk is very impressive; customer phone calls, flight bookings for conventions and the entry for next year’s Ink ‘n’ Iron show in Los Angeles. Taking special care of customers is a main point in Andy and Heike’s work, not only once the customer shows up in the studio but also every moment until that. “Now that we have customers coming to our shop from Austria and Switzerland and all kinds of other places, I help them arrange hotel bookings and travel”, says Heike and you can tell how proud and happy she is about that kind of recognition.

Andy is done with his customer and his customer is done as well, so without any further hesitation I get Andy’s full attention. After we ordered some Chinese food we start talking about how Andy got into tattooing and how things started for him. By the time Andy got involved 15 years back, there was no information and nowhere to learn anything about tattoos or being a tattoo artist - the nearest tattoo shops are around 35 miles away. Up until that time, Andy used to celebrate another rock ‘n’ roll kind of lifestyle, playing drums in a quite successful band. His best friend did so as well and he was the one that told Andy, “Hey, I am going to be a tattoo artist, I will have a one week seminar soon and once I finish, you have to come by and I will show you”. That kind of seminar was worth absolutely nothing, as you maybe just learned how to hold a tattoo machine and what that loud buzzing thing is you are holding in your hands, and that little information cost thousands of Deutsche Mark. However, it was the basic knowledge that Andy started to work from and like almost everybody else; Andy started trying out things on some friends to make progress. He gathered any information together that he could, reading every magazine he could get his hands on and after trying things for a year, he went to his first convention in Munich.

That’s where Andy met somebody for the first time that actually gave him support and showed him a few things. That was John Sargeson from Mickey Sharpz Supplies. “He was pretty much the only guy around that showed me something and helped me at that time” Andy says. “It was really hard because everybody thought that you are the enemy, stealing their ideas or taking anything away, so nobody was supportive.”

Three years later Andy joined the D.O.T. - Germany’s organization of tattoo artists. That was the first time he met German tattoo artists that actually shared their knowledge with him. Mike Frey from “Wilde 13” Tattoo Studio was one of Andy’s main teachers during those days. Mike looked at recent pictures of Andy’s work and told him how to improve and what to do for a better result, and it was also about the time that Andy started to get interested into portraits. “Portraits go back very far in my career. It’s not that people have just discovered portraits for the first time when they showed them on Miami Ink. I started to tattoo portraits of Indians, Vikings and such things ten years ago. That was a perfect ground to learn how to really make a portrait stand out.”

Later in the interview, Andy told me that by the time he started, he was really bad at drawing - hard to believe when you know his work today. He has also gained the typical artist behaviour, as he does not lay his pen aside and draws constantly on the magazines I brought while we are talking. “Uwe Gueldner was one of my heroes, as he was one of a kind to that date and that was a big influence for me. I went to work at a tattoo convention for the first time in 1999 and from there on I met many nice people and learned from all of them.”
I ask Andy what he thinks is the main difference between the days he started and today. “Well, I think there is still some competition in the heads of some people, but that only occurs when people do not have enough work. The first real boom we had was the infamous tribal on the lower back. That was the time when things changed, as everybody had lots of work and did not have to be jealous on other artists. After that boom was killed by the media it got back into old behaviour again, but since stuff like “Miami Ink” and similar has been on air there is plenty of work for everybody again. I think if you have certain status and a certain reputation, there is no reason for any competition in people’s heads.”

In Germany, “DMAX” airs all the Discovery Channel tattoo shows and they also produce some of them themselves, with Andy featuring in one of those shows. “Some other artists really have been jealous, which I really don’t understand. This hype on TV that the tattoo scene enjoys at the moment is good for every tattoo artist, no matter who you see on television, as long as they are a good artist. If I am featured there and someone sees that, that lives on the other end of Germany, they will not drive the all the way to my shop. They will see a local tattoo artist and this way everybody gets a piece of the cake. Besides, every good artist could have such a feature.”

One thing that’s sad about the scene in Germany is that there is no seminar culture like, for example, there is in the USA. People like Nikko Hurtado, Bob Tyrell, and Benjamin Moss (just to name a few) are giving seminars at conventions or in their shop and that’s something Andy really appreciates. “It would be another nice flavour and it would add a lot to the tattoo culture. But here you always get to hear ‘What shall I learn from that guy?’ or ‘Oh, ok, he has to give seminars now’.”

Andy is a big supporter of that and is trying to catch every seminar he can. “You can learn from everybody cause every artist has his own way to do things and even if it is not the way you like to do it, you can still find inspiration and ideas in that.”

That brings me to the point that Bob Tyrell, at last year’s London Convention, tattooed Andy. I wondered how it was when a portrait god is tattooed by another portrait superhero? Andy and Bob know each other from a previous London show and they really respect each other a lot, and after not being able to sort an appointment out that year, Andy was very happy that it worked out last year: “It was very interesting, as our style and the way we work is very similar, but now I not only had the chance to watch him work, but also feel it. It was surprisingly gentle. It would have felt a lot worse if I would have done that, just the fact that I sat there for two straight days and got tattooed says a lot.”

The friendship and the respect of other well known tattoo artists add to Andy’s self-esteem, which Andy admits wasn’t always that good. “I always doubted what I was doing. As I had to teach myself everything that I am able to do, I never knew if I was doing things right. At my first few conventions I was afraid of people watching me work, as I did not know what they were thinking. D.O.T. was a great help there, as well as they have been with support in their honest and constructive criticisms.” Getting positive feedback from people whose opinions are worth something helped Andy getting more self-confident and now that he was voted onto the board of directors of D.O.T, it made him finally believe that what he is doing is good.

Andy is a guy that likes to be supportive and give young and upcoming tattoo artists the support and help he never got. “If you watch new tattoo artists today, they learn so fast and are so good after just a few years. They learn from the best artists around, with the best equipment, and many of them are already very talented. Now that the tattoo scene is more recognised and more respected as a form of art, young artist join our trade that a few years ago would not have wanted to be tattoo artists. This way, new talents and new styles are adding to the already very colourful tattoo scene, and that’s great. In the past, you became a tattoo artist because the kind of odd lifestyle was your passion. Today, many new people get involved that are doing it to express themselves as an artist. They are already great painters and that is, of course, a great base to start from.”

Andy had to learn everything himself and even if he was not a good painter or hasn’t had the greatest drawing abilities, he gained a huge status and became one of Germany’s leading tattoo artists and famous for his realistic portraits. He reached that goal just because he wanted it and kept working hard oat it. This is how a very inspiring and nice evening at Andy’s Tattoo came to an end. I will see Andy again for sure and you should make sure that you do too!


Text and Photographs: Mathias Wienand (


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Skin Deep 172 1 May 2009 172