The greatest virtue a tattoo artist can have? Humility. The only way to produce a flawless tattoo? Study history and practice plenty. And that’s all you need to get a picture of Stizzo: a talented, expert tattooist who has come a long way and still has a long way to go. Everyone should read this interview carefully, especially anyone working in the field or who plans to make it their life’s work. Enough said….
Hi Stizzo, to introduce yourself to our readers (as if there were any need)? Could you run over the major steps in your career from your first encounter with ink to the present day? Who is Stefano Boetti and how did he become Stizzo?
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a real tattoo. It was the older brother of a guy the same age as me, and I was little more than a boy at the time, at the start of the ’90s. I still have a vivid memory of how astonished I was at the sight of that simple Tribal. From there on I was increasingly into tattoo and I discovered Tattoo Revue, a fantastic magazine which I always got to read at a friend’s house (it was his brothers, of course)… During my school years I drew a lot, even though I was studying electronics, and naturally I scribbled all over my friends with markers. After I got my first tattoo, and I after I finished high school, I started my “old school” apprenticeship in a shop in Peschiera Borromeo. The next move was to Quetzal in Milan, in the early years of the new millennium, then ’Officina Tattoo and finally, in 2009 I opened my own place in Milan.
Let’s talk for a minute about your unmistakeable Traditional: it looks like it’s evolved in recent years, from a style that was closer to classic American to a more personal and, let’ say, more European style. Would you say that’s true?
Certainly, I would definitely say so. After I’d studied all the history of American tattoo, I really fell in love with the old European style (Charlie Malta, Joseph Hartley etc.), trying to give a new twist to the classic subjects with a more realistic touch without ever going too far from the style of tattoo. You can only do all this if you do an in-depth study of every tattoo artist ever and what it is they’ve left us.
What really characterises your most recent work, in particular, is an incredibly fine line which defines the details in a unique way. How would you describe the tattoos you are doing these days and what direction would you say your most recent research and experimentation is going in? What is it you’re trying to achieve?
Right now I’ve been realising that I was straying a bit from classic tattoo. It”s all very well to always be experimenting, but you mustn’t forget the origins. Often, the inspiration and radical changes come from books which have absolutely nothing to do with tattoo and for me. everything to do with art is a possible turning point. What really matters is that you make your process something unique and give it your own personal touch.
It’s important to distinguish yourself and get satisfaction from the work you do. Always!
Is there any technical aspect you would say is essential for getting such impeccable results?
That’s a really important question. Because I would say it’s essential to learn how to use coil machines. That’s the only way to reach a full understanding of the skin. Knowledge and technical skill require study and above all, years of experience. Obviously, rotary machines are really useful and easy to use, but without proper experience and a thorough understanding of coil machines, you can’t develop any further in terms of technique. And it shows.
In your opinion, is there any difference between design and execution, and between small-scale and really large-scale tattoos? And do you have a personal preference?
Sure, absolutely. For a really large piece I do nearly all the work freehand and I do it over a number of different sessions. For small tattoos, I use stencils if I need to… but there’s nothing like working freehand!
What do you think is the greatest mistake a tattoo artist can commit? And what is the most important virtue for someone in your line of work?
The greatest virtue is humility! You’ve got to work hard and be committed. Then your work speaks for itself. And the gravest mistake definitely has to be wanting it all and wanting it now. That’s why rotary machines are deceptive. I mean, I use them myself, but after years and years of experience I’m able to get them to do what I want them to do, and, especially for the blacks (a true awareness of black is a rare thing these days), you can’t see any difference from a coil machine.
Do you design your tattoos along with your clients? Is there anything you’ve ever refused to, or would ever refuse to tattoo?
Sure, planning the tattoo with clients is the best part of all. I wait for them there every day in the shop, I talk things over with them, and bit by bit we work on the design together. I never refuse to do a piece, not unless what they are looking for is truly awful.
And who has done your tattoos for you? Is there anyone you would really entrust your skin to right now or in the future?
I’ve only ever got tattooed by people I really respected. That’s something that’s incredibly important for me. The tattoos I have that mean the most to me were done by Gianmaurizio Fercioni: a mentor for all of us. Right now I’m so caught up in studying this trade that I never seem to be able to find the time or inclination to get tattooed. Which is a pity, because when I do get around to it, it’s as exciting as it was the first time.
What are your priorities in your professional and personal life?
Commitment, education, constancy and perseverance. It’s far too easy to dive right in and then run out of steam, too easy to give in at the first difficulty that comes along. And this is particularly true for people who are new to the trade, just learning the ropes, who haven’t realised how lucky they are to have all this information from internet and the social media.
What do you get up to in your free time and what is your greatest love (apart from tattoo and Alfa Romeo)?
Well, I’m a dad! I’ve three gorgeous kids and a wonderful wife: I try to spend my free time with them between work and conventions. But I still have one other great love that I keep for myself: vintage Alfa Romeos and everthing to do with them, clubs, ralleys, reenactments and restorations. And then I also have a hardcore band! Unfortunately, I haven’t got the time I once had for concerts and touring, but I can’t do without this either.
What are the next trips you have planned and which conventions are you going to be at?
After the summer, we’ll be starting with London in September. Then there will be Florence, in November, and Cesenatico in December. For 2018 I want to change completely and travel to places and do conventions I’ve never done before.
Just to wind up: is there anything you’d like to add, anything I didn’t ask you and/or that you’ve never told anybody in an interview?
If you like a tattoo artist and you have respect for their work, then go and meet them in person. If you want to learn something from them, then go and get yourself tattooed. Don’t just limit yourself to clicking like on the social media, and don’t go taking their work just because it’s easy to do it. Try to understand where what they do really comes from and try to do it yourself. It’s a long hard road but if you keep at it, some day you will get some real satisfaction.. At the end of the day, it’s a good life, tattooing on skin and paper and you can do it! What you see on the social media is nothing compared with the real pleasure of it… And when it comes down to it, maybe it’s the same thing with music. I mean, is there anything like a live performance?