Meet Mike Armstrong, aka Big Mike, hailing out of the small town of Pietermaritzburg. His awesome black and grey realism work has earned him the spot of Tattoo Artist of the Week. We interview Mike about his newly opened Artura Tattoo studio, a uniquely awesome shop with a county club vibe, his tattoo career and more. See what he had to say while checking out some photos of his studio and tattoos.
Full Name: Mike Armstrong
Nickname: Big Mike
Shop: Artura Tattoo Studio
Years Tattooing: 9 years
Tattoo Style: All round, focusing on Black and Grey realism
Hourly Rate: R800
Tell us about your journey into the tattoo industry and how you got started?
I always had an interest in tattooing and art in general. I tried various industries but found myself drawn back to the tattoo industry. While getting a tattoo 9 years ago, the artist and myself got chatting and he offered to teach me. I then went on to do a year’s apprenticeship through him.
What attracted you to the industry and how rewarding has your career been this far?
The fascination of ink to skin is what drew me to the industry. I love the fact that I am always challenged. My career over the years has been very rewarding as it has given me the opportunity to travel abroad. I have gotten to experience the industry in both Canada and the USA.
You have recently opened a shop on Pietermaritzburg. Give us some insight into the shop and its differences to conventional shops?
I have decided to move away from the expected retail aspect of a tattoo shop and opened up in a Country Club Estate with no foot traffic or street exposure. I pride myself on repeat clientele through word of mouth and reputation. You will not see any flash featured in my studio, as most would expect from conventional shops. I keep more to customised design for my clients and my studio provides a more exclusive one on one time for the best results.
How did you come up with the name for the shop?
When I was very young my mother took me to meet a Red Indian Charmin, who had the ability to see your spiritual guides. The man drew a beautiful image of a light being with the name “Artura”. I figured it was a name not often heard, it started with the word “Art” and it couldn’t hurt having one of my spiritual guides look over my studio.
How many artists do you have working at the shop and what is the daily vibe like?
I am the only artist in my studio. Over the years I have found that I work best alone and pride myself in knowing that the success of my studio is the sole reflection of my reputation and hard work. The daily vibe is very relaxed and being surrounded by beautiful country side helps me focus on the art.
What is it like owning a tattoo shop in one of the smaller South African towns? What are the pro’s and con’s of this?
The one positive to having a studio in Pietermaritzburg is that it is very central and I have many clients coming to me from the North Coast all the way through to JHB. One of the negatives is that with it being a small town there are many inexperienced and untrained people tattooing in the area. This means we spend a lot of our time repairing/ covering existing work instead of giving clients a brand new tattoo.
“…wear your big boy pants cause it’s going to hurt”
In your opinion, what type of tattoo style do you excel at and enjoy doing the most?
My passion lies with Black and Grey Realism.
What do you do to keep progressing in your artwork and tattoo work?
I follow a lot of artists and their styles and constantly try different approaches to how I do pieces.
What do think has been the biggest factor in the progression of tattooing over the past 5 years?
The fact that there are more greats artists that are coming out of South Africa, and there is no need to travel abroad to get a world class tattoo anymore. This has led to people in South Africa seeing what can be done on skin and not just thinking they can get everything out of a flash book.
What are some of the weirdest requests you have ever received?
I once had clients in Canada that wanted to get a “Lock and Key” tattoo. The woman got the lock tattooed on her pelvic area, while the guy got the key on his finger, tongue and man business.
What advice would you give to a client getting their first tattoo?
Research the artist you are interested in and don’t just go on what your friends say. Go to an artist that specialises in the style you are looking for. Make sure that the placement matches the design you are looking for and that your design is timeless and not just what the latest craze is.
What advice would you give to a client about to get a big piece tattooed?
Make sure you eat before, bring food/ drink along to keep sugar levels up and wear your big boy pants cause it’s going to hurt!
What goals do you have for the new shop and your career?
Firstly to constantly improve my skills and deliver top class work to my clients. Also to have people realise that there is a good artist in PMB and they don’t always have to travel to a major city.
If you could guest star at any tattoo shop in the world with any artists, where would it be and with who?
Mr Cartoon in Los Angeles. He is the master of all black and grey chichano in my opinion.
For anyone wanting to book a session with you, what’s the next step?
Pop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will most likely set up a consult to discuss what the client wants in detail.
Artura Tattoo Studio Details:
Some of Mike Armstrong’s Work:
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