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Chaim Machlev, also known as DotsToLines, didn’t grow up with dreams of becoming a tattoo artist. While he had an appreciation for art, he ended up working in IT into his thirties. Then upon receiving his first tattoo he had an awakening, left his computer job in the dust, and worked to become one of the most innovative tattoo artists around. Machlev’s designs are minimalist and instantly recognizable as his own. We spoke with Machlev about his groundbreaking work, how he found his style and the joy of collaboration.

When did you first become interested in art?

I’ve been interested in art since I was young, mostly through music. It wasn’t until I got my first tattoo at 30 that I realized my own creativity was what was missing in my life. It was a life-changing event that opened my eyes and awakened a side of me I did not know [existed]. That’s the moment I started to create and slowly transformed from an IT guy without any artistic background to an artist who dedicates his life to art.

What were some of the first mediums you worked in?

In the beginning I tried a lot of different drawing techniques, mostly Japanese-style drawings with pencil and color. It felt very foreign to me. That led me to explore digital creations and styles on my computer. I was an IT technician, I had never touched a paint brush or drawn in my life, so working on designs on my computer was my entrance into the creative spectrum.

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Do you remember when you became interested in tattooing?

I was never really into tattoos when I was young, a tattoo wasn’t something I ever saw myself getting until I came back from traveling. I had a sudden spark in me to go and get one, so I went to an artist in Israel called Avi Vanunu. After he finished my tattoo I remember everything just suddenly changed for me. 

How did you learn? Did you have an apprenticeship? 

After getting my first tattoo I knew tattooing was what I wanted to do and I needed to find out how I was going to do it. I drove out to the desert and just sat there, thinking of how to make it happen. After a few days there I decided to quit my job and move to a new city to pursue it, which turned out to be Berlin. I moved to Berlin with a backpack. My bag and a big dream full of motivation. I asked almost every tattoo shop in the city if they would teach me in exchange for work. It was very hard at the beginning and I was mostly cleaning floors until I met a kind tattoo artist who let me practice in her studio.

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How would you describe your style? How has it evolved over the years?

I like to keep my work fluid and not bound to one style. However, I take most of my inspiration from nature, particularly how creativity and even geometry can be found in natural elements. Working with a natural formation such as the human anatomy and applying a geometric structure has its own beautiful outcome. I love doing minimalist work, but at the same time I enjoy creating intricate mandala and geometric designs. The most important thing is that it will flow nicely with the body and looks like it should always have been there.

Can you walk us through your design process?

I usually start by asking for any ideas and placements the individual has in mind. Most of the designing is done in the appointment itself as placement is just as important as the design. I have some really amazing customers who come with an open mind and trust me to make something for them. A lot of the time someone will walk in the door without ever having a tattoo and leave at the end super happy with a really large piece they never imagined or envisioned but trusted the whole process. I really love doing these sorts of things.

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We’ve all seen friendship tattoos, but not in the way you do them. Can you tell us about those striking tattoos you do on multiple people?

I love doing pieces that look like they complete a whole picture when people are together but look great on their own as well. I find it such a strong bond that keeps the individual [part of] a whole. Even in my single pieces, I try to create designs that won’t reveal the whole image from each angle, raising curiosity in a modest way.

What is it about large-scale minimalism that intrigues you so much?

I love the ability to show movement in a relatively simple way, not taking attention from the body structure, shape and curves, just emphasizing it. With big pieces the key is the aesthetic and the composition.

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In some of your pieces you have intentional glitches, for lack of a better term, where you have a nearly perfect circle, but then it’s off. It takes an unbelievable amount of precision to pull that off without it looking bad. Tell us a little about the risk involved in pieces like this and how the idea came to you.

I think my work is extremely risky in every aspect. Even the pieces that are 100 percent accurate without any glitch should be as accurate as possible, which is extremely hard when the medium is a living, breathing person, and for that fact it can never be perfect. The concept of embracing imperfection is the inspiration here. It’s something we all have to do in order to be balanced.

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How have you branched out from tattooing with your art? What are some of the collaborations you have worked on?

I love doing collaborations, whether it’s with other tattoo artists or with brands. I think it helps me to develop more and more as an artist and as a person. I love seeing other artists work and learn new perspectives. I designed a car for Mercedes-Benz a few years ago and that was an eye-opening experience. First, to see such a big, relatively conservative organization working with a tattoo artist, and second, the whole experience of the design was amazing. I’ve also collaborated with a few artists, which led to amazing envelope-pushing results, such as Joao Bosco and Filip Leu.

I love working with Corey, our styles are so different yet so similar. We actually did a few collaborations, which I enjoyed a lot. They’re like an art installation on the body. 

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