Andrei Ylita is a Ukraine-born tattooist who was based at a private studio in Saint Petersburg before becoming a full time traveling artist. In Ylita’s tattoos, a heavy usage of black and a strategic deployment of negative space borrow from his concurrent practice as a graphic designer.
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
My name is Andrei. I was born in Crimea, in the small town of Krasnoperekopsk in 1995.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I grew up in my birthplace. The town is small and one of its center points remains the skatepark. I spent most of my time on the streets or in classes. My mother works as a teacher in my old school. She was my class teacher. There are no secrets between us: she always supports and mentors me. I dedicated my first tattoo to my mom.
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I’ve been working as a tattoo artist since I was 18. I had my own tattoo shop in Saint Petersburg but now I travel a lot and remotely work as graphic designer. I already made my first tattoo some time ago, but I have no intention of stopping.
What inspired you to learn tattooing, and what did you initially learn how to tattoo?
I was inspired by musicians in alternative bands, how they looked. I dreamt about tattooing while I was still in a school.
Were you trained through a formal apprenticeship? Describe the circumstances of learning.
Since my first days I’ve had a teacher. Before I made my first tattoos I spent a lot of time in the tattoo shop as an apprentice. I used to prepare tattoo stations, clean all the equipment (such as grips), and watch how the process went from beginning to end.
Have you previously studied art in an institutional setting? If so, what level of training did you reach and in what disciplines?
I attended an art school since I was a child. After that, I studied graphic design in university. I wasn’t a perfect student, but I still really like painting and composition. Not so long ago I rediscovered my old watercolor paintings!
Did that training help as you learned the mechanics of tattooing?
Absolutely! By the way, human body is not the same as a canvas. While much of your artistic knowledge you can apply in a similar way, the rest of the process depends on practice and persistence.
"There are few evolutionary steps that I think all tattooists follow: 1. Simple but bad tattoos. 2. Difficult but still bad tattoos. 3. Difficult and good tattoos. 4. Simple and good tattoos."
How did you develop your style? How would you describe it? What are your influences?
There are few evolutionary steps that I think all tattooists follow:
1. Simple but bad tattoos.
2. Difficult but still bad tattoos.
3. Difficult and good tattoos.
4. Simple and good tattoos.
I’m trying to do my best. I keep them simple, and very dark of course.
Have you had or do you have plans to take on apprentices?
I have had two apprentices in the past. One was a girl I used to see and the other was a guy who ended up owing me a lot of money. Needless to say I have no plans for more.
Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
Skateboarding. I do it so much that someday I’ll completely forget how travel by foot.
What inspires you generally?
My family and my girlfriend. I love my younger sister so much. I wish her happiness and I’d do anything for her.
Are any other forms of media, traditional or digital, important to your work?
I publish my favorite pieces on my Instagram page. My work process actively incorporates Instagram. Lately, I’ve decided to stop posting flash because I’ve seen my work vanish into the depths of the internet and reappear as someone else’s tattoo! Stolen work is so uncool. Now I save all of my flash in a folder. You can only see it if you get an appointment.
What is the main challenge of tattooing today?
Tattooing is a collaboration between the tattoo artist and customer. It’s not just about an aesthetic. For everybody involved, it’s an important part of life—a protest or a reminder of something special.
Ideally, how would you like to see tattooing evolve? How do you think it will evolve realistically?
I would like to see tattooing become an important area of art. For most of people, it’s just a business. I wish artists would show more responsibility towards what they do. Ideally, they need to stop working like they are individual factories. But for real, I think in the future it will be easier to find a tattooist than doctor.