Winning three awards including ‘Best of Show’ at a big UK tattoo convention can certainly set a benchmark for your future work. As an artist still experimenting a little with different designs, Monika Koch seems to be picking up a lot of exposure with her new style of colour realism and pop art, combining high contrasting colours and vibrant shades. At 27 years old, Monika is flying high, getting recognised for her work, hitting up more conventions this year and guest spotting across different countries too.
Following on from her very successful appearance at this year’s Skin Deep Tattoo Freeze convention, we had the pleasure of visiting Monika and got the chance to ask her about how she got into tattooing, how she developed her style and what’s the weirdest tattoo she’s ever been asked to do.
Q. Your current tattoo style is certainly catching the eye of new clients and your name being is recognised more often now too. How and where did tattooing begin for you?
I’ve had on and offs with tattooing. My first contact with tattooing was around ten -or- eleven years ago when I had my first tattoo done. I went to a stylised studio in the city and I really liked the environment. I have always been a drawing and creative person so after visiting that sort of studio, I thought that’s something I could do. I didn’t think about as a job or anything, I thought of it as more of a hobby, so I began researching what to do and just bought some cheap machines from eBay to begin with. I started to tattoo fake skin at home, but I didn’t go too far with it, so I had to research some more before getting stuck in.
I’ve been tattooing in studios for about seven years now, which includes my apprenticeship. When I was about eighteen, just after I moved out of my mums, I started to work in a studio and was watching and observing the guys work in the studio. The guys I worked with said that they would teach me, so it was kind of like an apprenticeship. I was there for a year and a half approximately, but then the owner sold the studio and sold us with it, so we were kind of let go. Not long after that I moved to England where I started working at agencies whilst looking to get back into tattooing again. I worked on Saturdays to do little tattoos and the guys could watch me and correct me. When I got a little better I landed a place at a studio in Macclesfield and worked there for a good five years. I had learnt a lot and started pushing more, then after five years I made another move to go and work with Max (Pniewski) which was for a few months. I came back home after that and just started doing guest spots without having a permanent residence, but I’m currently at Panther Crew Tattoo Studio in Wolverhampton.
Q. What’s your preferred style of tattooing?
Well I like to mix styles, I really like vibrant colour work with a lot of contrast in it. I do like animal pieces, so I try to do them more than portraits and stuff, but I do like to mix realism with bits of pop art too. The style I’ve been pushing for the past year is slowly starting to get more people interested in my work. People are more open to crazy ideas because it’s not a common style you see. In the U.K. you don’t get a lot of artists who do a lot of vibrant colourful work like the style I want to push. I feel like there are a few people trying similar designs but it’s hard to push something new like that into the market. If people haven’t seen it on the skin they don’t want it, they must see it on skin to see if it works or not. After working the convention (Tattoo Freeze 2019), I’ve had good reactions from people to the design I’ve done, and it looks like it’s going to be a good year with this style of realism and high contrast colour.
Q. The hyena colour realism tattoo won you ‘Best colour’, ‘Best of Day’ and ‘Best at Convention’ at Skin Deep Tattoo Freeze 2019 which must have been overwhelming! Where did the design come from?
Yeah, I didn’t expect that, but it was great to win! I came to the convention with my friend who I had done a very similar style design on before. His other leg has a colour realism piece and as we met over Christmas we discussed to do the other leg to make it matching pair. The first one is a rabbit in a suit with a white glove and a question mark, so I said it’d be cool to do some sort of other animal maybe not in a suit but something high contrasting to do with laughter, so I suggested a hyena. I applied loads of high contrast colours that were bright and vibrant. I worked freely on the design and went a little crazy with it but that’s what I came up with and it came out great!
Q. How long did the tattoo take to complete?
It was a lot longer than I expected, I must say we were sweating a little bit for the judging. It took about seven and a half hours to complete but originally, I thought I could do it in about six. We didn't have any breaks, we started just after ten o'clock and we went all the way until half six where he had to go on stage to get judged. It’s the longest I’ve ever tattooed at a convention for. It took a little longer because the pieces I had done previously only had a little bit of pop art and stuff, but because this one had a lot of vibrant elements it took a lot of time to saturate properly. With pieces like that you must make sure everything is top-notch, every little bit, every little line, all of it!
Q. It was great to see you using Ghost Cartridges for the winning piece too. A lot of artists stick to using specific configurations for their work. What is your typical cartridge set up?
Well for using Ghost my usual choice is 17 and 27 Bugpin in the Holy Ghost Cartridges and then 3, 5, 7, 9 and 14 liners in the original Ghost Cartridges for my lining work. Those are the sizes I will always use for my tattoos, and then if I need to, depending on the piece, I’ll introduce some different sizes like 5 and 9 round shaders which I use sometimes. I use bigger surface mags for colour saturation and shading. For the detailed work I’ll use the liners. For me I’ve personally found the liners cause less damage than the shaders, and I use the liners for filling in the gaps and ensuring the edges of the design are done properly.
Q. For those big colour pieces, I’m sure you have a big selection of inks to choose from. What’s your preferences for inks and machines?
My favourite ink is World Famous, my whole drawer is full of World Famous bottles. For machines I have a Ghost Red Spectre and a Cheyenne Hawk Thunder. Pen machines in general suit my hand better I think, but I first started using coils and then moved onto rotaries. I bought rotaries and used them a lot but there were moments when I needed to do really nice lines, so I switched back to coils and suddenly I started using coils for everything again and all my rotaries went back into the drawer. At home I’ve still got a box of six coil machines that I had used, I know they will come out again at some point and I won’t sell them. They never seem to go away, I’d work using rotaries then after a year I’d go back to using coils again and would produce better work with coils again. I like to check out the new machines that come out and use them for a while before switching back to something else. Whenever you buy a new machine or a new set of inks it sorts of gives you another little kick to get better.
Q. Your recent colour realism pieces look great and so vibrant! Are there any new styles that you’d like to try or experiment with in the future?
I don’t have an exact idea of how I want to work so I’m still experimenting a little bit. I’ll always pick colour realism as the main subject of it [tattoo designs] then I’ll try with any other styles to mix it up as well. I just want to see how it comes out and what sort of reaction it gets, because at the end of the day, it’s still my job and I still need to find ways which I can get more work in that style as well.
It helps when I guest spot around everywhere. I travel around the UK and now slowly throughout Europe too. I’m starting to deal with not only people from the local customer base, but also new clients from all sorts of environments, which encourages a little bit more option and freedom with designs.
Q. Do you have any favourite guest spots?
I always like to go to Cardiff, I guest spot at Surrealistic Sanctuary quite regularly. Patryk Mazur, he’s a black and grey artist, is a good friend of mine and we always do conventions together. It’s good to guest spot a few days there before we travel and it’s always a good laugh and great experience with them guys!
Q. So, you have a great style of tattooing and you’re experimenting a little bit too. What we’d like to know is what is the strangest tattoo you’ve been asked to do or have done?
A few a years ago this girl came to the studio and she had drawn out this tribal looking design, and it just looked like a vagina… A tribal vagina! The manager brought the design into the back and asked us all, ‘is she for real?’ I didn’t want to upset her and we all thought she knew what it looked like, so I asked her, ‘Why do you want this tattoo?’ The customer said that she drew it and it’s something that she liked and wanted to have on her wrist, so it would be on show! After talking to her a bit and seeing if she would adjust it a little bit or go with a different design she still said no. I asked her ‘what do you like the most about it’ and she replied, ‘I like the way it flows.’ At that point I was like, ‘right okay you can have it.’
Q. So how do you produce new tattoo designs? Do clients come to you with a design in mind that you can put your own style on, or do you have your own pre-drawn designs that they can choose from?
It’s more like people come to me now and I have a lot more to say and I feel like people will listen to me more. There is more public knowledge of my work now and I get a lot of people asking about animal portraits which is great. Sometimes clients have just come to me with three pictures and have asked for my interpretation and design of them and that’s what they will go with.
Q. We know you’re a keen Instagram user for promoting your work but what’s your main source of clientele and how they can reach you?
Instagram, definitely! I have a Facebook page with a similar following, but I feel like Facebook is kind of dying in a way. With Facebook you must pay to promote your posts, to reach out to new people, so you can show them what you do. Whenever I post on Instagram it automatically posts to my Facebook page too, but the reaction is so different. I get way more likes, comments and messages about my work through Instagram so for me it’s the best communication and promotion platform for artists. It’s a visual app which is exactly what you need when looking through portfolios and tattoo pages.
Q. Do you see a big transition happening with how tattoos are being promoted these days, with the influence of social and digital media becoming more and more popular with artists and studios?
Yeah, I think it’s got to do with society and how we are all living. Everybody is on their phones and everyone buys everything on their phone, don’t they? Everything has progressed, not only tattooing but the whole world. My work has been issued in a few magazines, such as Skin Deep, last year and the start of this year too which is great! But I think I get the most recognition through Instagram, it’s weird how it works. People like to make it quick and easy by not reading or researching too much, which is why Instagram is so popular with tattooing.
Q. You had a very successful appearance at Tattoo Freeze back in February and you said you had picked up some new clients too. What kind of response do you usually get from working conventions?
Since I started to do more conventions I’ve had a lot more recognition. I did around four or five shows last year but I have more than doubled that this year. I get a lot of people coming up to my stand that ask for my business card and they do indeed contact me after conventions to get booked in. It’s a great way to show my healed work too, because I will usually have a friend with me who has had a design done by me which has healed, which allows me to show off not only the style I’m working on at the time, but also styles I have previously done and how they have come out overtime.
Q. So, what would you recommend to other artists who may not have a lot of convention experience?
Well you need to advertise yourself a lot. It’s hard to stand out when you have a row of twenty other artists all working hard and showing off their work. You can’t just have two or three designs showing and then expect walk-ups, it does depend though because some conventions are busier than others. I’d say it’s good to research which conventions are best for walk ups and which are best purely to compete in. There will be different audiences at different conventions and of course they will be different prices, depending on how many are expected to show. Always ask artists you work with and check out convention website and social pages to be sure which ones you wish to attend.
Q. Well we hope to see your colour realism getting more recognition at more conventions and online as well. Thank you for letting us come to speak to you, we want to finish on one last question. What does it mean to be a tattoo artist?
Tattooing for me is a way of expressing myself and my personality in a form or permanent art for other people. I feel very lucky to be able to do that and it means a world to me, to be able to pursue my dreams, do what I love and keep getting better at it. The longer I tattoo and showcase my work the crazier I can get with the design and expression. If I had another choice of a career I wouldn't have changed it, I’d stick with tattooing for as long as I can.
Monika will be hitting up more conventions throughout the UK this year and is currently working from Panther Crew Tattoo in Wolverhampton. To get booked in with Monika contact her through Instagram @monny636 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org