When an old school tattooer (you know the type: big grisly beard, biker jacket, permanent scowl and a collection of blurry traditional tattoos) says that a tattoo looks like a sticker, you know it’s quality work. It takes artists decades of practice to make their work crisp, clean and near perfect enough to earn the word sticker—even so, only a fraction of the most talented ever make it to that level. Sergey Shanko took the idea of a sticker tattoo and kicked it into high gear, creating pieces that look like they could peel right off the skin. However, unlike that super-tough Grim Reaper sticker you spent your tooth fairy money on at the grocery store, these babies are in it for the long haul.
How did you get started tattooing?
It all started in 2010, when I found out my friend had gotten a tattoo machine. A few days later, I asked him to give it to me for a couple of days. After so many years of drawing, I was interested in trying to tattoo and I practiced on my own skin. At the time, I wanted to get a tattoo on my entire leg, no matter what it was. I just wanted to be super tatted up, just like cool BMX riders. Now I understand that was stupid, but this is how my journey began.
When did you start experimenting with your signature style?
It all started after I saw the quality of my work improve. I saw no point in doing strictly realism. This led me to want to create something entirely new.
How has your style changed over time?
Everything has changed. Over the past few years, I have almost completely eliminated the ideas and themes found in my past work. I began to notice that skulls, angels, roses and other classic tattoos bored me, even though I tried to add something fresh to them between 2004-2007. If your art ceases to evoke genuine emotions, you need to come up with something new and fresh.
What goes into designing one of your tattoos?
I have no boundaries, I create intuitively. If I like it, the client should like it. Typically, the design takes 15 to 30 minutes based on the client's idea. The first thoughts that come to my mind usually work best.
What role does color theory play in your work?
This question made me smile. I don't know the rules of color or the color wheel. I’m ashamed of this, but I create intuitively. Everything happens for a reason in my process, which means I can’t rely on the rules of colors and styles. But as an artist if you create art your own way, others will catch on.
Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I've been thinking about this a lot over the last year. I’m inspired by an unexpected turn of the composition and the attempt to grasp meaning with two to three sources. Banksy influenced me this way—in his works everything is simple but also meaningful. In the tattoo industry, the quality of work never ceases to amaze me. This is because you can find a new master every day on Instagram who does incredibly high quality realism. As for style inspiration, mine is just beginning to emerge and it's too soon to discover someone. Time will tell, but I believe that everything will change after two to three years.
When did you start doing sticker tattoos?
At some point, tattoos with a background began to annoy me. Many tattoo artists thought out elements in the background and tried to add as much originality as possible. But up close, it all looked like a mess and was not a readable object. I thought about how to start doing everything without a background like the old school guys do. I went back to my hometown to visit my parents and my friends started asking me for tattoos. I made a portrait of Harley Quinn without a background, but then I decided to make a white outline around it, as if it were a sticker. Of course, nobody liked this idea, but I insisted because I did the tattoo for free. We decided that if it didn’t work out, then I could cover it up with a regular background in a couple of weeks. But the final tattoo was perfect and it looked like a real sticker. On Instagram, the tattoo gained popularity instantly and after that, I experimented with tattoo stickers for a long time. I couldn’t have predicted this experiment would lead to so much demand.
What do you wish you knew about tattooing before you started?
Think about your style, because it’s the most important thing.
When is a tattoo artist ready to branch out with their own style?
To me, this happens when they are completely satisfied with the basics of their work—such as the linework and color saturation. Then, they will start thinking about it. There should be a source of inspiration, something that will give you energy not just for a month or a year, but the time required to create your own style. Some of the artists whose distinct styles have inspired me include Carlos Torres, Nikko Hurtado, Paul Booth, Mister Cartoon and Timmy B.