The Writing on the Wall - Minka Sicklinger part 2

Published: 02 January, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 220, January, 2013

Last month, Tom Abbott got railroaded by the mind of Minka Sicklinger - in a good way of course. So interesting were her points of view, we didn't want to cut anything and thus, lovingly present for you, the rest of it.

I was hanging out with my boyfriend of the time (a tattoo artist) in Harlem one day, and he told me to put a tattoo on him. So I drew up this really funny big tiger and did it on his leg. He didn’t really show me how to do it. He just set up the machine, put it in my hand, and told me to go for it. It felt so natural, I can’t even describe it. Everything made sense from the moment I started it; everything that I’d worked on up to that point, as if my life suddenly made sense. Then I ended up having to teach myself, which I know is looked down on by a lot of people. I was lucky that I had a lot of friends that were willing to be practiced upon (I was tattooing out of a house I shared with some guys, and that winter we didn’t even have heating, so I was tattooing people with this little heater next to us!). And then about seven months later (I was working three other jobs at the time, and also sold a few drawings of mine and got all these illustration jobs) I was offered a tattooing job. Josh Lord at Graceland saw a tattoo I’d done on a mutual friend, and he offered me a chair in his shop.

“In my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have thought I’d be tattooing the things I’m doing now. And nothing is forced, I’m just doing it. It seems entirely natural. I have a very strong vision and philosophy behind art in general, and I just try and stay true to that. I’m an artist where tattooing is one of my mediums. It’s a very philosophical practice for me. It goes back to a ritual. It goes back to indigenous cultures where it was about marking passages through life, marking memories, milestones; the whole ritual that went with getting tattooed, the whole ceremony. People are always saying to me, ‘I’ve always wanted a tattoo but I can’t think of something that I’d want forever’, and I tell them, ‘you’re never going to like something forever; it has nothing to do with that. That is not the way to look at it.’ It’s the memory. It’s about what you were going through at the time, what happened to you that morning, the artist that did it. That’s what I like about it. It’s a story. It’s your own life narrative that is expressed visually. There’s that whole part of tattooing that is about the intimacy, and for me it is very healing. When I tattoo I need my head to be clear.

“I have tattoos that were done by people who were very aggressive, who didn’t give a fuck about me, who were simply ploughing through my skin to get my money. Energetically the tattoos feel different and they look different. There’s something so magical about tattoos. I don’t really know how to explain it. Lyle Tuttle said that the tattoo artist is the closest thing that the general public will ever get to having a witch-doctor. For me, that says it all. Even if you have a day where you don’t draw, you’re constantly thinking about it.

“My drawings and my tattoos feed into each other. My style has been really obvious since the day I picked up a pen again, but I think it has become a lot more refined. I’ve learnt a lot more about line-work, the graphic nature of an image, and knowing when to stop putting details in; knowing the nuances. I think that my illustration and my tattooing are becoming closer. What I don’t like to do is reference other tattoos. If I reference things it is things like antiques, photographs, or old woodcuts. I feel that my tattoos are getting a little more traditional in terms of line weights. I’m obsessed at the moment with doing super black and grey realistic tattoos mixed with highly graphic icons as well. My tattoos will have elements of realism, mixed with heavy lines and flat graphic black. When I started doing illustrations it was very graphic, but now that I’ve started doing a lot more realism in my tattooing, that’s beginning to come through in my illustrations too. And vice versa.

“I work at East Side Ink now. They’ve been around since the ’90s. A lot of the big tattoo artists in New York now who have since opened their own shops, all seemed to have come through East Side Ink. It closed down for a while but then got bought up again. I like it because it doesn’t have that real male ego that is very predominant in a lot of shops. Everyone is really nice. There isn’t any conflict; no one throwing their dicks around. I like working there as there is a lot of walk-in traffic because it has a really good reputation. So I spend half my day doing custom pieces and half my day doing little fonts off of the computer or something, which is literally just tracing. For me that is brilliant because technically it just keeps me up to speed. I like being able to switch my brain off and just tattoo something that I don’t have to think about except the technical aspect. But I love it; I like dealing with every kind of person, to talk to them about their lives.

“I’m not trying to compete with anyone. I’m not trying to copy anyone. I strive for legitimacy in the tattoo industry; especially as a female, it is still harder. I don’t ever want to be ‘a female tattoo artist’. I want my work to speak for itself. I have been asked to do certain photo shoots that would have involved being half-naked in a bikini, and I won’t do it. I’m not about that. I really don’t ever use that as an advantage. I’ve had many male tattoo artists tell me that I’m a pretty girl, and I could get way more customers than them, but I’m not like that. I don’t believe in that; I want people to simply just like what I do. That’s my main thing. I want to be recognised for my vision and to stay humble. That is why I work so hard.

“I’ve been lucky to have people in both the tattoo industry and the art and fashion world here who have been really great towards me and very supportive. I would like to thank Josh Lord specifically for giving me a chance, for seeing the potential in me, and for giving me an opportunity to work in a really good shop very early in my career. I’m eternally grateful to him for that. I’d also like to thank Beau for letting me do my first tattoo on him, and my incredible clients whose continuous support allows me to keep doing what I love!”

Eastside Ink

97 Ave B (between E6th & E7th St)
New York NY

+1 (212) 477-2060
+1 (646) 510-4378


Text: Tom Abbott; Photography: Minka