Photos by Cassie Zhang and Double Kill Media
We sat down with Mikhail Andersson, the owner of First Class Tattoo, to talk about Moscow, “drunk” tattoos and what it takes to succeed in New York City.
What did you do before you starting tattooing professionally? I studied graphic design and advertising at college and then worked for government agencies and large private companies like Bayer, GM and Formula 1, designing billboards, business cards and websites. It was a good job, but very stressful.
When did you start tattooing? I started tattooing in 2008, but was still doing graphic design. I was new to the game and wasn’t very skilled yet, so my client base was small.
How did you wind up here in NYC? I started out tattooing in Moscow. Then I came to the US and lived in Miami, where I tattooed full time. And then moved here to New York, where I worked in a few shops, but I wasn’t happy with the environment – too much drama. That’s when I decided to do my own thing and learn from the mistakes I’d seen in the other shops. I’m particular on who I have work here. It’s more about the vibe and having good, creative people to work with. If I find someone has an attitude problem, they don’t stay here long.
What is your preferred style of tattooing? I love doing color, flowers, animals, nature, space. I don’t really have a preferred style. I like trying mixing realism and abstract elements.
What do you find is the biggest difference about tattooing here in the states? When I was back home, I just took projects that inspired me since I didn’t have to worry about paying rent or bills. So, tattooing two or three projects a week was fine.
When I started working in Miami, I had to take on everything because it’s expensive to live. I wasn’t really happy doing scripts and lettering all day. It would be one or two interesting projects a week and the rest would be “drunk” or spontaneous tattoos.
When I moved to New York, I returned to concentrating on work that inspired me –
trying to push my own style. However, the clients here are a bit more controlling and sometimes they want work that really isn’t doable or wouldn’t look great in a couple years.
How do you choose the artists to work in your shop? I always look for someone who’s humble, creative and wants to continue to grow as an artist.
How would you describe the tattoo experience at First Class? It’s awesome. People come here and have a great time. I call it ink therapy. They get some new work and talk about life. It’s like going to a psychiatrist.
What’s in the future for you and/or First Class?
I personally want to grow and get better as a tattoo artist and take on less. I also want to get back into art.
For the shop and artists, I want everyone to get better and develop their own style. My goal is for First Class to be one of top five shops in New York. There’s a lot of competition and this city attracts the best people, so it’s hard to keep up, but that’s what I want.
When did you start tattooing? I started tattooing at an early age (2007), right after finishing pastry school. I got a job at a kitchen and worked there for two years, but I was learning to draw and tattoo at the same time.
Do you have an artist that you look up to? I love Mark Rothko. His work doesn’t necessarily “work” within the conventional tattoo industry since it’s more abstract. I also enjoy modern art and traditional oil paintings.
What is your preferred style of tattooing? I love doing neo traditional and believe it to be what I am best at — I feel very comfortable working in that genre. However, last year I got into doing abstract and graphic work, and I also like black and grey. Those tattoos heal well and stay sharp for a long time.
What do you find the biggest difference tattooing here in the states? In the United States, a lot of people are into trends and they mostly get trendy tattoos that they saw on Instagram. In Europe, there are people that trust artists and their individual style. They come with an idea and have the artist do the rest.
What is the most difficult aspect of being a tattoo artist? The lack of stability. Tattoos are more of a “luxury” and during rough financial times, people will think about spending money on other things. You can especially see it now in Russia and the Ukraine. The biggest tattoo artists survive only because of their regular clients, otherwise it’s been very tough. I want to thank all my clients for keeping me busy for all these years.
What’s in the future for you?
Hopefully, I can spend more time doing what I like doing most, bringing my ideas to life. I have some big, tough projects. I would be very happy if it can all come to life.