Tattoo artist interview with Marco Leoni

31 July 2012


butterfly tattoo Leoni at work 150x150 Tattoo artist interview with Marco Leoni

How did you get into tattooing?
I’ve always travelled a lot, in the 1970s I went to Amsterdam and I met a tattoo artist, the famous Peter (*). I was really impressed with his work and so I started doing it too.
[ * AKA Tattoo Peter, he has been tattooing in Amsterdam since 1955 – ed.]

Marco Leoni, article and photo gallery in Tattoo.1 Tribal #68
Look at Leoni’s tattoos, visit the tattoo gallery

What is the link between travelling and tattooing?
Travelling and tattooing are connected because by travelling you get to know and tattoo lots of people all over the world… that’s how it’s been for me, I’ve worked all over the place.
That is another thing which makes working as a tattoo artist so great. I could never be a tattoo artist who stays in one place forever, holed up in his own studio.

When did you realise you were well known and your work admired?
I realised it when I cam back to Italy from Brazil.
I spent 15 years in Brazil and I opened my first studio in Sao Paolo.
I came back to Italy in 1992 and I decided to open a studio here in Bologna.

In ‘93 I organized the tattoo convention in Bologna and it was there that I realised… “they know who I am!”.
But I was totally laid back, we all knew each other anyway, we hung around together… these days there are so many tattoo artists that I might know half of them if I’m lucky. Tattooing has turned into a huge business.

How has the job of a tattoo artist changed?
It’s much easier to be a tattoo artist now. When I started out there were no machines, no colours, nothing… you had to search for them, you had to go all round the world.

Nowadays you can buy kits for 30 euros on the internet. The machines are different, loads of young guys use really lightweight rotary machines now but in my day they didn’t even exist. I still use the traditional machines, I’ve tried rotary ones but they’re too light for me.

You can get some amazing colours now, they used to be awful.
The needles… I used to weld them myself, I spent day after day welding needles. I still remember when I worked at Hanky Panky in Amsterdam and I would weld everyone’s needles!
Now you can buy them ready made, I don’t know any tattoo artist who welds his own needles now, there might be one in ten thousand who does it.

Do tattoo artists ever retire?
I don’t think so, no. Luckily I haven’t got tired yet. I’m still tattooing the same subjects I was doing thirty years ago but I’m also experimenting with more modern lines. And I’m still travelling; working as a tattoo artist has always allowed me to be a free agent.

Which is your most characteristic style?
I learned to tattoo back when you had to do anything and everything. When I started out we weren’t artists but craftsmen who did their job well. It’s not like now when people specialise in one style and refuse to do other types of work. So let’s just say that I’m not an artist as such but a craftsman.

These days there are a lot of tattooists, especially younger ones, who are really radical. They say: “no, I’m not doing that because I only do old school, or only Japanese style”.
As far as I’m concerned a genuine tattooist has to know how to do anything. You’re a tattooist and you have to tattoo!

What about the tattoos you’ve got on your own body, what’s the story behind them?
A lot of my tattoos are the result of encounters.
I got them in various countries, at different times in my life, when I came back to Italy, then when I went to Madagascar and other places around the world… a trip to Japan, where Horiyoshi did a little one for me. I got some in America… they’re souvenirs.
Just recently I’ve had a few done in Thailand, by Buddhist monks in a temple near Bangkok. They’re a form of protection and prayer.
The monks there still do tattoos with a kind of steel rod, they never use machines. It’s a bit more painful and the design is less well defined, it’s not perfect like a machine tattoo.
The rods are nearly 50 centimetres long and tattooing from further away is really difficult. The monks make geometric designs, lines they use to make letters. If you don’t understand Thai it’s really tricky.
I’ve done some Thai subjects too but with a machine.

Marco Leoni
tattoo artist @ Body Markings
Bologna (Italy)
Official website: