Artists: Charles Huurman
What year did you start tattooing?
I began trying to do tattoos in 2009. But I would say it wasn’t until 2011 that I was able to do tattoos for a living.
What was your first shop experience like?
I would consider my third shop the first real shop, Tattoo Morvedre Museum. It’s in Valencia, Spain and it’s been open for around 30 years. I was desperate to learn. I had a list of all the shops I considered good in my city and I would go every two to three months to all of them looking for any opportunity to get in and learn properly. In that shop the manager was tired of me coming and asking, so they offered me a job as a receptionist. I was so happy to get into a good studio, even if I wasn’t as a tattoo artist. I would finally have the opportunity to be with artists that I could learn from and answer my questions. But I wasn’t a receptionist there even for a second. On my first day two tattoo artists didn’t turn up. So they looked at me and gave me the chance. By the end of the week they decided to keep me as a replacement for the two artists. At that time I was really slow and the agenda was super full. So every day I would tattoo past midnight for six, sometimes seven, days a week to keep up.
What led you to open Utopian Tattoo Tribe?
My girlfriend, Caro Blackswan, and I were tattooing in Cork in Ireland and we realized that there were more traveling clients contacting us by email or Facebook than locals. We realized we could create our small Utopia. So we went into a nice small town surrounded by nature in the middle of Ireland: Kilkenny. The funny thing is that we feel a bit isolated sometimes, so we are about to open a second Utopian Tattoo Tribe in the center of Dublin.
What is the tattoo scene like in Ireland?
I really like it. It’s a small country, so after a few conventions you feel like you are friends with everyone. Also, Irish clients are the best. They really trust the artist. I say “really” because a lot of people say they trust you and then try to tell you how to do your job. In Ireland most clients really motivate me and trust me.
What led you to work primarily in color realism?
I like realism, and as real life is in color I think that something looks more real if it is in color. I also feel that there is energy in color. I want an energetic feeling in my pieces, which is what I look for. I find this is better obtained with color.
Do you ever find yourself working in black and grey?
Yes, and I really enjoy it, too. I don’t publish much of my black and grey stuff but I do it a lot and I like it. Sometimes, depending on the skin tone or part of the body, I’m the one that recommends black and grey.
You do a bunch of portraits. Do you take your own photo references?
If I can I prefer to take the photo myself. But sadly, for many reasons, this is not possible most of the time. But I’ll admit getting the client to understand what photos are good for portraits and what photos are not is not easy. Many times they bring photos I could tattoo but are not really good quality, but I push them to look for even better photos. It’s not about doing the portrait; it’s about doing the best possible portrait. Some people think a good portrait is all about the tattooist, but it actually starts with a good photo reference.
How do you approach doing a portrait versus doing a fantasy-inspired piece?
For me they are the same. In all my portraits I try adding an abstract background that gives an energetic feeling. But when it comes to the face, it’s always a portrait for me. It’s all about copying the reference and choosing what personality features or facial shapes I want to enhance or discard.
What inspires you as an artist?
Other artists mainly. I see painters, photographers, digital artists, and tattoo artists and I feel like “Wow! Wouldn’t it be amazing to do that on skin?”
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
Nikko Hurtado was an inspiration for me from the start. I especially learned a lot from his videos. Buena Vista Tattoo Club got my brain thinking that anything was possible in tattooing. And many artists like Csaba Müllner and the great Dmitriy Samohin have inspired me a lot in what I want to do myself when it comes to combining the real with the abstract.