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Enjoying the Journey: Interview with Tattoo Artist Nikko Barber

Enjoying the Journey: Interview with Tattoo Artist Nikko Barber
Tattoo Artists4 min Read

In this interview with tattoo artist Nikko Barber, he talks about his love for Traditional tattooing and his advice for young artists.

Clean, colorful, and bold, the tattoos of Nikko Barber, also known as Nikko Tattooer, are epitomes of the eye catching iconography of American Traditional. Lush roses, lovely lady heads, and depictions of fantastic animals are all part of Nikko's incredible body of work which proves that there is nothing old about Old School tattooing; classic style will always stand the test of time.

How did you get into tattooing?

I have a background in illustration, that’s what I studied at university and prior to tattooing I was working as a freelance illustrator.

My first proper exposure to tattooing was in 2005-2006 when I was living in a squat in Barcelona. There was lots of “home tattooing” going on, with and without machines. I did a little hand poked tattoo on my own foot, but that was to remain my only tattoo for several years to come.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I decided to look for a tattoo apprenticeship. I was living in Greece and I was frustrated at my not so successful attempts to break into the world of children’s publishing. A recent trip to Mexico had rekindled my interest in tattooing and I had spent some time building up a tattoo orientated portfolio of artwork which I could take round the shops. Thankfully I managed to secure an apprenticeship at a studio in central Athens where a friend of a friend was working.

Can you talk about how your style has evolved over the years, and Traditional iconography that you particularly feel drawn to?

My teacher, Manny, was a traditional tattooer so naturally that was the first style of tattooing that I was exposed too. Manny encouraged me in a more neo-traditional direction, probably because he saw that I could draw “well” and because he thought that a new-trad tattooer would be a good addition to the studio. After my apprenticeship I spent the next few years learning the craft, floating between various styles but always with the emphasis on bold line work and strong contrasts. It took awhile but about a year ago I realized that traditional was the style I loved the most and so I now focus on that. 

Who are your personal tattoo artist heroes?

Matthew Houston, Xam the Spaniard, Samuele Briganti, Paul Dobleman, James McKenna

You’ve traveled extensively. Can you talk about your favorite spots around the globe, and why you think travel is important for artistic growth?

Actually by today’s standards I am no big traveler, but I have been lucky enough to live in several different European countries. One of the best summers of my life was spent on a Greek island - I would paint flash all morning, go to the beach all afternoon, and then tattoo the locals in our kitchen in the evening. It was perfect!

Outside of Europe I have been to Mexico twice - the imagery there is so varied and powerful. The folk art traditions in places like Oaxaca are particularly mind blowing as are the incredible murals by Diego Rivera ....and, of course, then there is Frida Kahlo.

Tattooing offers us the potential to travel and work which we shouldn’t take for granted. I’m sure everywhere has something to offer us in the way of inspiration and motivation. It sounds obvious but I think it’s important to leave your comfort zone once in a while and expose yourself to new places/cultures/working environments.

Being a working artist can be really stressful and demanding, but you’re also a husband and dad! Can you talk about how becoming a parent has changed your career or lifestyle, and how you continue to keep up with the demands of creating beautiful tattoos for your clients?

My daughter was born one year ago and yeah, of course it changes your life completely. Before fatherhood I was working very hard but also enjoying a typically active Berlin social life. Since she was born I have tried not to cut back on tattooing too much (apart from the first 3 months). The price for that has been the sacrifice of my social life, haha! Getting the custom designs done on time is tough sometimes but you just have to adapt and evolve - I used to think that I could never draw in the evenings, but now that’s the only time I have so I just get on with it and I actually quite like it! I think a lot of tattooers choose to remain childless because they don’t want to compromise their commitment to tattooing but I always wanted to be a dad and I have no regrets.

What advice do you have for younger artists out there trying to become tattooists or trying to find their style?

Try to talk to someone who is a tattooer to see if that is actually something you would like to do. Research and familiarize yourself with the different styles of tattooing. Visit a tattoo convention. Create an outstanding portfolio of tattoo orientated artwork. Research the different studios in your area, start with the best one and visit in person to show them your (outstanding!) portfolio. I cannot emphasize the importance of the portfolio enough - I have received many messages from people who say they want to learn to tattoo but have absolutely no artwork to show me.

In terms of finding your style, spend as long as you need trying out new things, don’t be stressed about it. It will happen naturally, I don’t think it can be forced. Enjoy the journey!

You’re trapped on a desert island. You can only have one book, one film, and one record to enjoy for your lengthy stay. What would you choose?

"The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4", The Life of Brian and some best of the 80's compilation.

Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator for Tattoodo I am here to support you 🌻 IG: @lathe.of.heaven

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