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Tags:   Tattoos,   Art,   Career

By Mila Camilleri   -  January 08, 2015

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Photo credit:  Tamsin PD Photography

SWAG caught up with ANDREW GRECH, co-owner of Moko Tattoo Studio in Sliema. He told us about how he got into the business, his life-changing experiences in Thailand, and what it's like to draw on people for a living.


How long have you been tattooing?


I’ve been tattooing five years in total, but full-time for the last two years. I’ve been into tattoos since I was a teenager and collected magazines even back then. Art has always been a part of my life and a lot of what I used to draw as a kid was tattoo-based anyway – things like dragons, skulls and stuff. I learnt to tattoo in Thailand, which is an awesome place for tattooing because it has such a long cultural history of the art. I spent a few months there and learnt the basics, which was enough to get me started, but a lot of what I know in terms of technique I’ve learnt along the way.



Are there any artists or tattooists that have influenced you?


Too many to list but I'll give it a try: Jeff Gogue, Bob Tyrell, Jason Butcher, Shige, Chris Crooks, Silvano Fiato, Horiyoshi III, Filip Leu, Carlos Torres, Jun Cha and many more.



Do you have a style of tattoo that you prefer to do?


I have styles I prefer working with, mainly black and grey realism, traditional work and Japanese style for different reasons, but I try not to specialise in any one style because I find it limiting and I’m easily bored doing the same things over and over.



What was the first tattoo you ever did?


The first tattoo I ever did was a tribal dragon, which was easy to fix in case I screwed it up! It was in Thailand on a local guy and I was super nervous. My hands were shaking, but to be honest it turned out okay, so at least I’m glad I didn’t scar the guy for life! My style has changed in terms of certain design elements that have slowly made their way into my custom work.



What did your family and friends think about you getting into the tattoo business?


Most of my family and friends were extremely supportive but some had more than a few reservations. I think over time however they have accepted that in tattooing I’ve found something that I love, and they’re happy that I can earn a living doing it.



Are you interested in other forms of art?


I draw and paint when I find the time. Most of my time is taken up tattooing or preparing sketches for tattoos, so I’m not left with much time to paint for the fun of it. I keep promising myself I’ll take time off purely to relax and paint but it never happens…



When did you open your studio and what has the experience been like?


Jeremy, my business partner and the other resident tattooist and I opened Moko Tattoos in 2010. Initially I tattooed part-time at night to make sure the shop didn’t have too much pressure on it until we built up a steady clientele. I started working at the studio full-time two years later. It was tough at the beginning because we were working 16-hour days between jobs and I wasn’t always sure it would work out in the long run, but it sure did.



What would you say is your favourite part of the job?


I get paid to draw on people! It’s the best job in the world. I love that I get to do something creative and that I don’t have to sit in an office all day doing a job which drives me insane with boredom. You also meet many awesome people along the way, from all walks of life.



If you weren’t a tattooist, what do you think you’d be doing?


I'd be a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon probably. Seriously though, I guess I’d be working in some other creative job or maybe teaching people diving on some tropical island somewhere.



What would you recommend to someone wishing to get into the tattoo industry?


Work hard! There’s no easy way to learn to be a good tattooist. Whether you learn through a traditional apprenticeship or through a course, you’ll only get better if you put the hours in and always keep aiming to progress. It’s worth it in the end.



Did you take part in the Malta Tattoo Expo 2014?


Yes, Jeremy and I took part in the Expo and it was a very good experience for us. It was very exciting since it was Malta’s first convention so the pressure was on for the organisers and us tattooists to make sure it was as good as it could be. Tattooing in Malta is hugely popular and it was about time we had a convention to call our own. It’s a great way to showcase local talent, and it also helped us to get to know other tattooists. I think the organisers’ hard work paid off because everything ran smoothly and there were more than a few smiling faces at closing.


I did three large tattoos over the weekend – two black and grey realism pieces and one colour Japanese tattoo. I entered the competition category for black and grey at convention and finished in second place, so I was very happy!


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