The Creative Spotlight series has featured tattoo artists and tattoo artwork before, adding to the artistry is another interview in this series featuring one of the best tattoo artists in Chicago.
With a preference for black and gray, the tattoos done by Mike Sledz are a personal stand out. They strike the difficult balance that is both soft and bold. Even for those who prefer color tattoos the quality of Sledz’s primarily black and gray portfolio is impossible to deny. Recently, I had the pleasure of asking him some questions. Enjoy the conversation.
Genevieve Rose: Tell us about your background, where did you grow up?
Mike Sledz: I grew up in Tempe AZ.
I really liked the AZ landscape, when it rains in the desert it is stunning. I wanted to be a professional skateboarder or a graphic designer for a skateboard company.
Genevieve Rose: Were you always interested in the creative side of life or was that something that sparked later on?
Mike Sledz: I’ve always been drawn to the creative side of life. As a child, I would constantly be drawing and building things. I don’t think it was a huge surprise that I went into the art field.
A Tattoo-less Tattoo Artist? Not exactly but let’s clear this up.
Genevieve Rose: You’ve previously addressed the fact you are one of the few tattoo artists who don’t have visible tattoos. Is that intentional and do you think that will change?
Mike Sledz: It has definitely been a conscious choice. Truthfully, being covered in tattoos hasn’t been something that resonates with me and my personality. I over-analyze everything and change my mind frequently. If I had gotten any of the ideas I’ve had in the past tattooed on me now I would definitely regret them. My tastes are constantly evolving and I save space for that both figuratively and literally on my body. Also when I first started out in the industry I was always told that I needed to look a certain way to be accepted as a real tattoo artist and that never sat well with me. You should never get tattooed because someone else tells you to.
GR: Being that you are someone without visible tattoos what is your personal opinion on those who do have visible tattoos?
MS: I think it’s amazing when people are able to express who they are through getting tattooed and I love being able to help facilitate that endeavor.
GR: How long have you been tattooing?
MS: I have been tattooing for about 8 and a half years.
GR: Did you start with a traditional apprenticeship?
MS: I apprenticed for a while at a shop In the middle of nowhere (in Arizona) that a friend had referred me to. I cleaned the shop every day for a year until eventually, the shop closed down.
Apparently, the owner decided to start a weed farming operation and wanted out of the tattoo game. I ended up following one of the artists who had become a good friend down the street to a new shop and started my apprenticeship over again. This time I cleaned for 6 months before I was given the “okay” to start tattooing. I quit my job as a dishwasher the next month and was ready to tattoo full time!
Turns out, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing and on one of the first tattoos I made, the owner had to step in and finish it because it was going so badly.
GR: How did you end up at Deluxe Tattoo in Chicago?
MS: My best friend’s sister was the receptionist at Deluxe and she referred me for a black and gray position. I flew out to interview/guest spot and after a week I was offered a full-time position.
GR: Would you like to tattoo anywhere outside of Chicago?
MS: I would like to do a traditional stick and poke tattoo somewhere special, like the side of a mountain or by a waterfall.
GR: What do you like the most about tattooing and what do you like the least?
MS: I like the satisfaction of seeing a project come together, from a basic idea to a finished piece of art.
I dislike the pressure of knowing any mistake I make will be one that someone will have to wear forever.
GR: Do you have a degree in the arts or are you self-taught?
I have an associate’s degree in arts but almost everything I have learned style-wise has been through my own exploration. I have always loved art so exposing myself to many different artists really informed and curated my artistic sensibilities.
GR: How would you describe your style?
MS: I’ve always loved the classic essence of black and grey tattooing and I think that comes from the way I first started drawing which was with regular graphite pencils. As I got older I began to embrace the fact that I have a very detail-oriented mind which led me to gravitate towards realistic and more technical styles of art and tattooing. Being able to hyper-focus on the tiniest of details for hours on end is an ability well suited for the very realistic and precise style of my tattooing.
GR: What’s your thought process on the projects you choose to do or not do?
MS: Nowadays, I am extremely picky about the projects I take on. I only accept projects that resonate with me and I only choose work that I think I will be able to do a great job on. In the past, I would take on anything, but that always led to me feeling stressed out and under-qualified. I was essentially a “jack of all trades master of none”. As I’ve become more honest with myself I’ve realized what my areas of interest are and I stick to them. Learning how to stay in my lane has been one of the most rewarding lessons for my mental health.
GR: How has your talent progressed throughout the years?
MS: In the beginning, progress was painfully slow and information about tattooing was hard to come by. During the first 4 years, I felt like quitting tattooing so many times. I didn’t understand so much of what I was trying to do and I also had no one around me that knew enough to teach me. My teacher has always been trial and error. After almost 5 years of slow progress and grinding in Arizona, I took an opportunity to work in Chicago at a busy shop (Deluxe Tattoo.) Exposing myself to these new artists was a major breakthrough for me.
Saving the best and worst for last…
GR: What is your worst client experience and why? Names and places will be kept anonymous.
MS: Too many to count haha….Well, One time I had a client come in who had an old burn scar on his arm that he thought resembled some sort of image. He said he wanted the scar “refined” because it was essentially already the design he wanted. He pulled up his sleeve to show me the massive burn marks and tried to make me guess what it looked like. There was no way in hell I was going to pass his crazy Rorschach Test, but he kept yelling “What it look like?!”. After every half-hearted wrong guess, I made he would yell again “What it look like?!”. It got extremely uncomfortable and since I was still really new in the industry, I didn’t yet know how to tell this dude to F**k off.
GR: That’s a trip. Wha’s your best client experience?
MS: My best client experience was meeting my fiancé! As she was leaving after one of our appointments she did a hair flip and said “we should get a drink sometime” and left the shop before I could even react. I hit her up later that night asking “is tonight too soon for that drink?”. We have been together almost three years now and I’m still not sure how I got so lucky!
GR: Congratulations on your engagement! Hope the love lasts longer than the tattoos. Would you like to talk about your recent ‘Momento Mori’ work?
MS: @ms_adeline_luisa has the whole story on her Instagram page! Follow her!
GR: Is there any message you would like to leave for others to read?
MS: Be yourself, don’t let other people influence you in ways that go against your character.
A refreshing bit of inspiration during this time that could be a creative drought for many. Creativity breeds creativity. Artists need artists. Inspiration fuels inspiration.
Follow Mike Sledz on Instagram @mikesledz or visit Deluxe Tattoo in Chicago.