DH: Was becoming a tattoo artist your goal?
KZ: Always. For so long it seemed out of reach and more of a dream job than something than a reality. I still have to pinch myself sometimes.
DH: Did you have a backup plan in case being a tattoo artist didn’t work out?
KZ: I had other job offerings like union and town jobs but I knew doing that wouldn’t be as fulfilling as if I went into tattooing. So I said no to everything and went full force into tattooing. That way, I knew I had nothing to fall back on and I would have to give it my all.
DH: What age were you when that happened?
KZ: I was 25 when I started my apprenticeship.
DH: Who did you apprentice with and how hard was it to obtain that apprenticeship?
KZ: I apprenticed under Rob Patrella at SkinDeep. For me, it was easier than I thought it was going to be. I was getting tattooed by Rob for years before the thought of asking him to teach me was even there. Once I built the courage to ask we had a good relationship and he said yes right away.
DH: That’s awesome. Many old-school stories follow a completely different route. After you finished your apprenticeship, did you work at his shop?
KZ: Yeah. Once I had finished I stayed for about two years.
DH: Was Empire Tattoos the next step?
KZ: Yes, it was. It was a great shop surrounded by even better people but unfortunately, they shut down.
DH: What led you to your current shop (full disclosure, that would be my shop The Abyss)?
KZ: I heard about the fire at the old location and how you guys were doing an art show to have a sort of soft opening to introduce the new place. I immediately wanted to be a part of it and that’s where I met Paul Touchluk (my business partner). He was down to earth and just seemed like a blast to be around. I remember seeing the new shop for the first time and being like “damn…I would love to work there!” Once I learned Empire Tattoo was closing I immediately thought of you guys.
DH: Haha, good to have you. Looking to the future, is there something specific you’re trying to accomplish?
KZ: Honestly, nothing really specific at this time. Of course one day I’d love to open my own shop but for right now I just wanna focus on giving people the best tattoos that I can. If I had to say anything, it would be to do more horror-related work!
DH: Is horror your preferred subject matter? And what style would you like best? Realism, neotraditional, color, black and grey?
KZ: It’s definitely my favorite. It’s what I draw in my spare time and what I really always wanted to eventually spend my career tattooing. I do a lot of black and grey realism that I very much enjoy but I’m still so new into this industry (just celebrated 4 years) that I’m still trying to tattoo anything and everything. I just keep pushing myself and trying to improve.
DH: But if it was your preference, at least from your current perspective, would it be black and grey realistic horror?
KZ: Yeah, definitely.
DH: Since I specialize in horror, I’m a bit familiar with many of the subgenres. Do you prefer characters, like movie icons? Anything with a dark theme?
KZ: Definitely movie icons. Nine times outta ten if I’m watching something it’s gonna be a horror film. If I could I’d be tattooing characters all day long. Give me all the ’70s-’90s slashers please! Hell, I even got a Michael Myers statue next to me as we speak!
DH: Going in that vein then, who are some of your favorite characters? And who would you really like to tattoo?
KZ: Oh man, that’s tough… there are so many great ones. Ghostface, Pinhead, Chucky, Leatherface (but with the prettywoman mask), and most certainly a Pennywise and a Michael Myers! I would also love to do a Killer-Klowns from Outer space sleeve! That’s a classic!
DH: Do you prefer sleeves or back pieces over single images?
KZ: I love doing leg and arm sleeves. The challenging of laying out a cohesive and flowing image is always so much fun.
DH: Do you like telling a story with your larger pieces? That’s something I always personally strive for.
KZ: I do. I like to try to capture as much emotion in it as I can! Whether it be sadness, anger, or just an aura of coldness. I want the viewer to feel something. Like in a portrait, the first thing I always look would be the eyes. They always tell a story.
DH: Awesome. I feel a tattoo piece that flows well with the body and makes a solid transgression in stages has the most impact. And they should always tell a story. Are you a fan of horror books or movies as well?
KZ: Movies very much so. Unfortunately, I don’t quite have the attention span for reading! I love everything from Nosferatu and the original Universal Monsters films up to 80s slasher movies. I’m not the biggest fan of some of the more recent films that have come out but hey… I’ll take what I can get.
DH: If you had one single favorite horror film, what would it be?
KZ: Easy. Halloween (The 1978 version).
DH: So, moving on from horror, and I know, it’s hard, do you have any other projects going on?
KZ: Honestly, I don’t want to be that guy but… everything. Like I said before I’m still so new to this that I get into everything I’m doing. No matter how big or small I try to treat it all like it’s my last project!
DH: Ok, not to take away from tattooing, but I’m sure you have some other hobby that’s a big deal to you right now!
KZ: Not too much really! I’ve been snowboarding for about 12 years now and that is something I definitely enjoy doing. I’ve always been a car enthusiast. That’s about it! I know, boring!
DH: Whatever makes you happy and feeds your putting out good work sounds like a winning formula in my book. So, how can people get ahold of you?
KZ: Trying my best! So, the easiest way to reach me is going to be through my Instagram. I have a link in my Bio that will take you to my scheduling and booking info!
DH: You can also see his work on our shop site, abyssartstudio.com.
Dan Henk has been working in and as a part of the tattoo community for 20 years. He writes novels, illustrates magazines and books, and owns The Abyss Fine Art & Tattoo Gallery in Long Beach, NY, and competes in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jujitsu. Check out all his adventures on danhenk.com!