Tell us a bit about you and your experience as a tattoo artist.
Alright! My name is Cesar De Cesaro, I have an Italo/Brazilian background. I started tattooing in 1998 in Porto Alegre/Brazil. I’ve also lived and tattooed in Holland, Italy and England. At some point in my life I had to make a choice between following a career as a musician or a tattooist, and that was a tough one. Tattooing for several years and being able to see from a personal perspective how the tattoo scene developed in different countries gave me a good knowledge of my profession. I was able to understand better why people get tattooed, from an anthropologic perspective. Yeah, I love to think about the waves of thoughts behind people’s minds and circumstances that influence them to get tattoos.
How do you think the industry has changed over those last 16 years?
Ah there is so much to talk about this topic itself that it could become a book, but I would concentrate on only a few aspects. Well, I don’t know if we should say that the industry changed or evolved. Probably both. When I first moved to the UK in 2009 I noticed that the rotary tattoo machines would be the big revolution in the business, and I was right! Look at the Cheyenne Pen! That’s the most precise and unique model of high quality tattoo machine. You see, it is not even a machine anymore, it’s a pen!
Also, when I started tattooing back in 1998 in the south of Brazil, I would go to this dodgy little tattoo shop in the city centre to buy ink, as there was no other place to buy it. The ink was sold in small 10 ml bottles with no label whatsoever! I guess I’ll never find out where it came from aha! It wasn’t bad, but, the quality of the ink nowadays is superb! I remember people saying, “ah, yellow is a difficult colour to apply to the skin…” There’s no such thing anymore. Eventually you may find a tonality of green or purple that is not perfect, but, it’s not a problem because for each of these greens or purples there are at least other 10 tonalities that you can use and it will be perfect. I love the ink colours! I remember people coming to me and asking for this pastel colours style, you know, like pale watercolour, and it was a little nightmare because you only have a few colours to choose from. Now, you have all the pallet! Never mind the names. They are brilliant! Dragon green! What kind of green is that?!
The needles have evolved too. I remember doing my own needles in my first 9 years in the business. I like to say that I myself first invented the curved mags, as, when you do something for that long it is normal to improve your way of doing things, so I thought “if I retract a little bit the side edges of these mags, it will reduce the marks of the needles and also maybe it will hurt less. Bingo! When I moved to Italy in 2007 there was a company selling pre soldered curved mags and I was thinking, I could be a millionaire! Aha! The truth is, needles are so important in our profession and nowadays you can find anything you need on online tattoo supply websites. All sorts of things!
I started tattooing and working on my own and after 6 months doing crap tattoos at home I opened my first tattoo shop. I never ever heard of something called apprenticeship! There was no such thing. It was still a moment that the tattoo industry was growing so fast but in its first stages so the mentality was still very old school. You would be the most lucky chap if you manage to convince a tattooist to teach you how to tattoo and eventually share his customers with you. How is it now? On a few websites you can find an “apprentices section – everything you need or your journey starting tattooing”! It’s the demand, the greed and the “what am I going to do with my life? I have no idea… or maybe… Yes, I know, I will become a tattoo artist!” Little do they know that being a tattoo artist is not as cool anymore as it used to be. Now, when you go out to have dinner with a few friends, you’ll have half the people sitting there with you that are tattoo artists as well. When you say that you are a tattoo artist, do you think people would say “Cool, what is your job like?” or think to themselves “hmm, another one”? Maybe both. But really cool is to be a rock climber, guys. That is cool!
Do you get the same reoccurring questions from clients, when they are looking for artwork? Do you think most people see tattoo artists as artists?
I will develop the subject a little, but I’ll start already with the answer. People will see tattoo artists as artists, but most of them would have no idea what it means! Let’s start from the beginning. What is art and what exactly does it mean to create tattoo art pieces? Difficult question? Well, we are talking about art here right? So, if you don’t know what art is, how could you possibly know what a tattoo artist is? Look guys, there are people doing tattoos and there are tattoo artists. When you see really good tattoos, well executed, perfect placement, etc, is this art? You may have artistic skills, but that doesn’t mean that every single tattoo you do is a piece of art! How many times have you heard someone referring to someone that does paintings as an artist? What would Leonardo da Vinci say about that? Just because you do a painting or a tattoo, it doesn’t mean that the product of your efforts is a piece of art. You can use tattooing, painting, sculpture, etc to create an art piece, but tattooing itself is not art. Tattooing is a product of craftsmanship. Art is what you might produce using a certain technique.
So, what is art anyway? In my humble opinion, (note that it took me over a decade to develop my concept) Art is something that elevates your conscience in relation to how you see the world, in any aspect. In how you see tattooing. In how you think things could only be. My favourite tattoo artists are the ones that, when I first saw their work, I have to stop and think: “This guy just slapped me in the face”! Because they changed my conception of aspects that I believed to be paramount. My work is nothing like the work of my favourite artists, because what they have taught me is the concept behind any outline or pattern.
Do you think there are still a lot of ignorant people out there when it comes to tattoos?
Yes, yes, yes. Like I mentioned before, but this is not a bad thing! Leave the ignorant people to ignorant tattooists and everyone will be happy! I’ve seen some aberrations! Like a customer that will ask for a cherub riding a great white shark and another cherub riding a stag, and they will make a whole sleeve out of it. But note. Not drawn up, all put together in pieces using Photoshop. Because one doesn’t care as long as he is getting paid and the other one is maybe unaware that this is very unlikely to work. I am lucky to have people that come to me with an open mind and that understand that their idea will pass through my mind and hand before reaching the paper. It’s like a guitar sound going through a distortion pedal. You are using the pedal because you expect the sound to be different. Most of my customers are aware of this “distortion” and they are happy and excited about it. I’m lucky that I have good customers. But bloody hell…
Do you ever get asked to copy artwork?
I don’t get asked very often but throughout the years I’ve been asked several times. It depends. Not long ago I reproduced a very close version of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night. There’s a big difference in doing this or copying a brilliant sketch done by a tattooist for their customer. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean that it has no owner. Tattooists post online to publicise their work and get more customers. I don’t copy this stuff. It is not fair for anyone involved. I don’t mind copying my own artwork, as long as it’s a one-off reproduction.
What is your ‘style’ – how do you feel when you get asked to do things that aren’t in your style?
My style? Difficult question but I’m slowly learning about it. Once in my career I thought I would do tribals only! Then a few years later I thought I would specialise in Chinese/Japanese style. Once I believed I would only like to do everything and anything with black ink only. I tried everything really and I simply cannot stick to any existing style. At the moment I’m being heavily influenced by the traditional American style, with bold lines, solid colours, you know, something that will hold. But with a twist, obviously, as I cannot deny my years of experience and simply be confined in a single style. Well, if someone asks me to do something that is not my style, my first thoughts are on how to explain that to my customer, make him understand it and adapt his mind to the new ideas, and don’t lose him through the entrance door! You know, clever customers will understand it and they are the ones who get the best tattoos! If the customer wants something in a particular style that doesn’t match with any of the characteristics of my work, I would be happy to introduce him to one of the artists in my shop that I believe could do a better job. However, sometimes, I simply need to turn down the customer’s idea, if any of the sides are uncomfortable.
What do you think about flash, and artists that only tattoo off flash sheets, and never do custom work?
Hmm, by custom work I understand designs made upon request, but, if you have one-off pieces pre-hand drawn and the customer identifies himself with it, then it could be called custom, right? I see a lot of flash revival, but in a different way. I see a lot of good tattooists in tattoo conventions with tons of designs available. This caught my attention in Tattoo Freeze 2013, and after that in other shows. It may be the result of an increasing number of tattooists, in general… If you don’t have customers booked for a tattoo convention, it’s great to have loads of small designs ready to go. It makes it more appealing and easier to sell. It is not a problem if the designs are one-off pieces. It is very different than people only tattooing from flash sheets over and over again, because those people probably haven’t even drawn those flash sheets themselves! These people will probably never get anywhere unless they change their principles. These people are happy making money from tattoos and that’s all.
What are some of the biggest challenges with creating a piece of custom work for a client?
Aha! Well, the most difficult thing is to create something for a customer who isn’t sure what they want! I won’t be sure about what to draw and it makes things almost impossible. If I feel that the customer is not sure on what he wants, I don’t mind sending him back home to do his own research before coming back to ask for a tattoo design. But, as long as the customers gives me a certain range to work and a good idea that I think it will work, it can only be difficult, technically speaking, if is something that you don’t usually draw. Example, if you are used to tattooing little animal faces and cute designs, and someone asks you to draw a cathedral. Well, that could be quite a challenge.
What are some of the main aims in your studio? Things and rules, and morals that you all like to stick to? What do you all want to achieve?
That’s a good one. Thanks for asking, Beccy! It’s always good to have a chance to do something again, so you can do it better. Well, with Body Garden Tattoo I had the chance of doing it for the 5th time. When I first opened the shop in 2010, it may have been the first tattoo shop around with no flash on the walls or catalogues to choose designs from, whatsoever! The idea is to do everything custom and unique. It made things a bit difficult as people will walk in and straight out of the shop as they were looking for some flash. The customers that asked about the process of how we work are the ones that started building what BGT is today. In our shop we would like to please everyone, but we know that this is impossible. We have our own style of doing tattoos and we believe it’s better to believe in these principles. At BGT we are all looking to improve, to develop a style, to do better tattoos, to learn with each other. There are no egos here, believe me. We believe in the old fashioned way, in the sense of how tattoos should look, of how tattooists should work. We know it’s a lifetime process of learning and no one here is aiming for a quick formula of success. We aim for the roots. We believe that a strong base of work will take you a long way. We believe in our work. We believe in Tattooing. We love the fact that we will be old and still tattooing.
Anything else at all you want to discuss or tell us about? Topics you think need looking into and investigating?
We live in the golden age of tattooing, you see? Imagine that we are living in a sort of Italian Renaissance of tattooing. The best tattooists of the modern era are alive and putting out amazing pieces everyday. I don’t know exactly how much better it can get and for how long, but we should open our eyes and appreciate that, because this golden era will end one day.