I saw Buslay pieces when I was at the Moscow Tattoo Convention a couple of years ago, I was impressed again by how Japanese tattooing has travelled around the world and involved artists from all over the planet. It’s a global reference despite the ban in its very own country… So let’s get down to his interview!

When and how did you get started in tattooing?
The first time I was introduced to tattooing was when I was studying at Military University. It was in the year 2000. My comrade had something like a tribal bracelet on his shoulder so I was anxious to get something done too. We found a tattooer and brought him behind the back into our military barracks and there in a room of drying soldiers’ socks and boots and other stuff I got my first tattoo. Once that tattoo was healed it totally disappeared. That scratcher didn’t give me my money back though.

Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia
Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia

Then over the next 5 years tattooing was some kind of obsession or fixed idea but I still chose other jobs like a career in the Military or a Manager or even a security guard later on. It’s a long story. In 2006 I visited a tattoo shop at Rostov-on–Don (a city in the south of Russia) and that was my moment. Tattooing had finally taken over and I decided to to quit everything and only work at that. My acquaintance with the artists of that shop had a very strong influence on me. Especially as it was Denis Tdan who became my mentor. I was pretty good at every popular styles of that period and tried everything: Realism, American Traditional, Ornamental , Biomechanical and Japanese. I did whatever a client wanted to earn some money for some supplies and to leave. So I think that it was 2006 that marked the beginning of my career.

Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia
Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia

How long did it take to get the first proper results?
As I remember now I was a good student of tattooing and after a couple of years I was doing fairly good portraits, or maybe it was only I who thought so. I attended private lessons of academic art because I felt my lack of knowledge and education. Those lessons were very productive for me but soon it was too boring painting sculptures and drapery fabric. Sadly, the teacher at art school cannot give you the skill of drawing Old School or Polynesian Tattoo. I tried to practice by myself. In 2010 I clearly realized that working alone at home was my blind alley and decided to change my life by moving to Moscow. There, working with talented and experienced artists and having a lot of work, I progressed very quickly. I was lucky I had a lot of good advisers and critics.

Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia
Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia

Do you consider painting a part of your learning process? (Speak about your drawing and painting routine…)
For me, drawing is a very important part of the work process. I draw everyday all the time. Beside preparing tattoo designs I try to practice drawing for my self-improvement and education. In the tattoo designs of the average customer there are mostly well-rehearsed motives such as hanya, dragon, koi etc. But that doesn’t mean that every dragon is easy for me. That’s why for my practice I choose rear images. Samurais or the Buddhist pantheon are rarely chosen for tattoo in my country which is why I have to practice at them. The books I buy all the time during my trips and at conventions make a major contribution to the process of my self-improvement. Every day I come to the shop I spend an hour on sketching and looking through my books. It is how I warm up before tattooing.

My session lasts three hours as a rule, then I take a short break and draw again.

If I don’t have a second customer for the evening I stay at the shop till night anyway because I draw and think that is my job too and I cannot allow myself to leave the shop before closing time. Even if I have I whole week fully booked with two customers a day I have to find some spot for this self-guided work. I don’t have any particular artistic talent and God didn’t bless me with being who I am, and that’s why I have to work very hard to get any results. Only suffering and tears.

Before you started tattooing were you involved in any subculture?(punk , dark, metal, rock and roll, rap…)
No I was neither a rocker nor a punk and wasn’t into graffiti etc. Before I started tattooing worked in many places. After school I got into University and graduated from it. By that time, all subcultures had passed me by. But a military career wasn’t something that could really inspire me. When I left military service I worked as procurement manager but it wasn’t my place either. I gave web design a try and even trained watchdogs at a firework company warehouse. That is why I started tattooing quite late at the age of 25.

Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia
Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia

If you had to pick 3 tattoo artists that inspire your work who would you mention?
In 2006 I bought my first tattoo magazine called Tattooartist Magazine and there was a big interview with Filip Leu. My wife translated it into Russian for me and it blew my mind. It was my first time seeing large tattoos perfectly fitted to the body. Maybe that was the moment I decided I was anxious to get into Japanese Traditional tattoo. So the first man is certainly Fillip. He inspired me then and he’s still doing it now. It took 11 years from that moment before I got acquainted with him personally. Later, my family presented me with a book for my birthday. It was Gifu Horihide and that was the first book in my collection. Every design in this book has a description. And it was like a wake up call for me and I had no more hesitation that Japanese Tradition was my choice. Starting with the wonderful works of Gifu I went on seeing the Japanese style only through books because I wasn’tt visiting any foreign conventions and didn’t know any foreign artists. When I gaze at Ivan Szazi’s pieces I feel that this is the soul of tattoo.

It is like you see a flat image but at the same time you can look into a cloud or wave, see something between them.

You know it is awesome depth. He is the God of Japanese background. For me at least. Me and Ksenia went to Brazil and I got acquainted with him. He is cool man. In Brazil there are so many outstanding tattooers! I know and remember everyone I met there (too many names). I am very thankful to them. I was there three times and can’t wait to go there again.

Since you started, how has the business evolved?
I think I have not been into tattooing for so long and that’s why I cannot answer this question fully. What is more, I am not a businessman but a craftsman. When I started there was internet and some shops where I could walk in. But now it is way more easy to improve at tattooing. As I see it, tattoo has become something more commercial. Now you can choose a trendy style, buy one machine, do 1-2 tattoos for free, and you are in business. Now there are a lot of this kind of tattooers. They set minimal prices and people who do not understand choose them because of the low price but not because their work is good quality. This is bad. Good tattooers suffer, losing customers, and customers suffer with bad tattoos. Years ago we posted our work on the internet to get some criticism and feedback from colleagues but now what counts more is a fancy photo but not the tattoo in it. And pictures with boobs and asses get the most attention. No one needs critics. But there are some good things nowadays. Now it is easier to travel. There are more conventions. Equipment has become more progressive and safe.

Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia
Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia

Machines (rotary or coil),Tebori (hand tools) or both? What’s your choice?
I have tested a lot of tattoo machines at work. I have tried to build my own ones. I have tried tebori, of course . Now I prefer doing lines with induction machines because they help me do it quickly and precisely. I don’t lose rhythm during my work, there is no slowdown on difficult places. But as for shading, I choose classic rotory. This machine adheres better and doesn’t bounce on the skin. It is works steadily, 3-5-7 hours, it doesn’t matter. In both variants I use plane needles. When I tried tebori It seemed to me to be very difficult and long. I did cherry blossom in one and a half hours, but I could have done the same in 10 minutes by machine. I don’t practice this kind of art, I don’t have enough knowledge.

I feel that my work place isn’t suited to this work and of course, I would need a teacher.

Can you list a Top five of your favorite visual Artists of all eras? What, in your opinion, is attractive about their work?
I couldn’t possibly list only five. But in general, I would say that the main idea of Art is to become a legacy for future generations, to blow minds and never die. When a creator does something not for the sake of trends but in order to make their soul richer and purer then they are definitely on this list.

Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia
Sergey Buslay, Buslay Tattoo, Russia

How do you feel about the “ban” on tattooing in Japan?
I think that the government in Japan, instead of banning it, should safeguard it as a traditional cultural legacy. Many times throughout Japanese history tattooing has been prohibited and then allowed. I think that prohibitions are the main reason that tattooing has criminal associations and stereotypes. But it is one of things Japanese people must be proud of. Even the Russian Tzar Nikolay II got a Japanese dragon done on his arm in Nagasaki during his visit to Japan. It seems as if European people in 19th century valued Japanese tattoo more than Japanese people did. In my opinion, they should treat tattooing as an ancient craft on the same level as block printing.

What’s the most challenging subject for you and why?
I am really motivated by visiting conventions where the best artists gather in one place. I see how people work better than me, improving year by year creating their art or tools. It seems at first sight that it happens to them so easily but for I know it’s really all the hard work behind it. It is really stimulating to talk with people like this. It gives me the strength and motivation to move on when I come back home. But anyway, I can easily get inspiration by any good movie, visiting a museum, listening to music or reading.

If you like Sergey Busaly‘s style, don’t miss the chance to take a look here at his eBook: “Red Lines”. Plate after plate, discover the characters and themes dearest to Oriental tradition: animals, samurai and warriors, willowy female characters, masks and dragons, flowers and much more.
Follow on Instagram: @buslaytattoo