From drawing oldies but goldies heavy metal covers to becoming one of the most respected tattoo artists in the Big Apple. This is the very passionate Levgen story.
Hi Levgen and welcome to TattooLife.com. Yours is a very special story because, before becoming a professional tattoo artist, you were even a dental surgeon. Would you like to tell us about it? What was it like going from the drill to the needle machine?
Yes, you are right! I studied at the medical University in Kharkiv, Ukraine. At that time I really wanted to be a doctor, I still love and respect this profession.
Do you want to tell us your story?
Well, my story is pretty long, but I’ll try to make it as short as possible… (smiles) During the first year of study I met a very friendly guy, with an unusual hairstyle, ear plugs and color tattoos on arms and legs. I was born and grew up in a small town, and I never saw something like that! (laughs).
At one of the seminars I saw him drawing and it impressed me. I’ve been drawing since childhood, coping heavy metal bands artworks. You know, skulls, fire, blood and even graffiti designs with different crazy letters.
When I asked my friend what he drew, he said a tattoo design. He wanted to tattoo that on his friend. I asked him, maybe I could come and see the process and he said yes.
That was the first time I saw the entire process of tattooing.
What happened later?
Since that time I always tried to seat next to him at seminars to get to know more about tattoos and draw together. Tattoo equipment was pretty expensive for me as a student and I became a piercing master.
You know, it’s pretty close to medical practice, it was easy for me and I wanted to learn more about the tattoo culture. No one taught me how to tattoo people, I just saw the process, but no one explained to me how to do that.
Do you remember your first work at all?
I did my first tattoo in early 2007 on a friend of mine, at my parents’ home. It was a cover up of a cover up of a cover up of a cover up! (laughs) During the next 6 years I’d been working as a doctor in the morning and as a tattoo artist in the evening. I had patients who came to me to the clinic and next day came to me as a tattoo artist.
That was a busy period, right?
Yeah, in one moment I understood that I couldn’t be the best in both. I should quit one and spend the whole time to be the best in the other. At that time I was 6 months ahead busy as a tattoo artist, already visited few tattoo shows, got few of my first awards and met a lot of new people.
I made my choice, and you know what.
14 years as a tattoo artist. Were you always in New York or have you traveled along the United States?
Yes, I have traveled around. Of course for my first visit to the US I chose New York. It was 2016 and I came especially for the “Empire State Tattoo Expo” and visited my friends from one of the shop in Brooklyn.
After the trip I was pretty upset and didn’t understand why people disliked NYC and I wanted to move here. I came for 3 weeks but I was ready to leave in a week. After a few months being back in Europe I thought: If a lot of people like the United States and want to move here, I will go there a few times more to understand that country and culture.
Where have you been?
From 2017 until 2020 I visited “DC Tattoo Expo” in Washington DC, “Motor City Tattoo Expo” in Detroit, Jessy Smith’s tattoo shop in Richmond, “FK Irons Factory” in Miami, “Empire State Tattoo Expo” in New York, “Hell City Tattoo Show” in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, “Bishop Rotary” in Lake Forest, “GuruTattoo” in San Diego, “Golden State Tattoo Expo” in Pasadena and some of tattoo shows I visited few time.
In 2019 I understood that I really liked the United States and most of all I liked New York. When I came here I felt like I had come back home. Yes, this country is not perfect, but I feel very good here.
Yours is a clearly Realistic style inspired by often fictional characters. But where does the love for the color orange and for all those flames that decorate your tattoos come from?
Very nice question! When I was about 11-15 years old I listened a lot to heavy metal, trash metal and death music. The covers of them were full of skulls, blood and fire.
I really liked to copy the covers of different bands, I drew all those dark subjects and – believe me – to show the fire by using a regular red ball pen was very difficult…
I tried and tried and tried to draw that fire like a real one!
Later I came to graffiti culture, drew a lot of letters, words and forget about fire. When for the first time I did those flames in a tattoo, I got a flashback. I remembered that I really liked to do it, and in tattoos I can show the fire much better, solid and brighter than on paper. By the way in my designs I used a lot of candles, burning matches and open fire.
The study of color is really dominant in your tattoos. Do you take a lot of time to figure out the right color and shade, or do you often let yourself be guided by pure instinct?
Difficult to say. Actually no. Because of two reasons. The first one – the selection of colors from the palette is one step of the whole preparation process that I do before starting to tattoo my client. And all the steps before help me to take a fast and right decision on what colors are good for the design.
The second reason – I drew and painted in color a lot of before, also read a lot of about color theory. It helped me to understand how colors work. How mixing them, keeping the contrast and making colors so solid.
What kind of studio is “Love Machine Tattoo” in NYC?
From my point of view, “Love Machine Tattoo” is an open space tattoo shop, full of freedom to create art on skin. A place where tattoo artists can do what they really love to do, where you can learn a lot, share and discuss new ideas and be inspired by very cool and talented artists. When you take a first step in the shop you can feel and see it immediately.
Last question: do you have any projects you’re particularly looking forward to in the coming months? Will you be coming to Europe at some point for guest appearances or tattoo conventions?
About Europe, yes, I will. I’m not gonna forget about my clients, friends from Europe and of course high level tattoo conventions that you can find there. I miss Europe a little bit and this is one more reason why my wife and I want and will come there from time to time. About projects, I’m still working on one. I do all by myself and it takes long, but it’s still a small secret. I promise, you gonna be the first to know about it and share it with your followers. (smiles)