The Darkheads are the tattoo signature with whom I discovered the talented Agatha Schnips a few years ago. I remember it had the feeling that those white eyes where looking right at me, trying to hypnotizing me. For me, that was a strong feeling, a real punch in the face, even an artistic revelation. I had to know the artist behind this.
This is, at that moment, that I found all the other creations of Agatha; all her other Darkheads. She definitely has a strong personality and you can tell that by looking at her work. Agatha has a unique style that is recognizable between all others. As she explained to me in this interview, she found her inspiration to create her creatures mainly from video games (Dark Souls and Bloodborne to name a few) and also many other influences.
This French tattoo artist is now well-known for her Darkheads, and people are coming from all over the world to meet her and get their own Agatha Schnips piece. You can find her at the Pechschwarz Studio in Berlin.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what drove you to choose art as a career?
Hi! My name is Agathe, I was born in a small town in France 29 years ago and I have always been very interested in art and particularly in drawing. If I hadn’t taken the step of becoming a tattoo artist, I would have become a graphic designer. But 6 years ago, I decided a little bit on a whim, to move to Berlin to learn how to tattoo.
How would you describe yourself as an artist? What is your philosophy about art?
I am a tattoo artist with her own style of tattoo. I feel like creativity is an important aspect in doing anything.
My philosophy about art is “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Have you always been a tattoo artist? How does someone become one?
I was pretty settled on the idea to become a tattoo artist as soon as I left school. I took all my stuff and proceeded to move out of my hometown and I started to introduce myself with my small and wacky portfolio in different parlors as soon as I arrived in Berlin. My first steps were in a very strange little studio, from which I quickly left after realizing the boss was stealing money from me. After quitting I had to start all over at a new place. This time my mentor took my apprenticeship seriously and taught me the solid basics of tattooing. My whole apprenticeship was very hard, it takes a great amount of work for very few counterparts.
To all of you out there dreaming about becoming a tattoo artist, buckle up and grind your teeth because it’s a hell of a ride. Only now I realize that it is only a small price to pay to be allowed to become a tattoo artist.
We can feel different kinds of inspirations in your work, from video games to myths and folklore. Can you explain to us what drove you into this mix and tell us more about your inspirations?
People who know me, know that I really enjoy video games. All these visuals and stories are very inspiring. I particularly like games that have a very strong identity such as the Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Senua’s Sacrifice, or Horizon Zero Dawn . These games are pushed to a maximum potential of what video games can be, that I can’t help but be inspired by them.
Being interested in other cultures is my way of relaxing and getting away from my daily routine. I am curious by nature and I love to discover new things. Especially traditional or wedding outfits from different countries are always an inexhaustible inspiration.
Do you have any tattoo artists that you admire or find inspirational?
Yes, I have 2 in particular that I have been following for a very long time; Vitaly Morozov inspired me a lot. His work had a clear impact on my love for portraits. Piotr Bemben too, for his crazy technical abilities, his striking contrasts, and the incredible talent he has for telling stories through his designs. I proudly wear one tattoo of each artist on my thighs.
You clearly have your signature tattoo: the Darkheads. I love how you are able to decline this concept to any topic or subject. Can you tell us how did you come up with this idea?
The first time I drew a Darkhead was 4 years ago (cf.IMG_1). At that time, I had no idea it was going to become my signature. It’s very first silhouette was inspired by the creature of the wendigo depicted in the video game “Until Dawn”: Very thin, a little out of proportion with abnormally long arms for more creepiness. I added a black face with small round eyes to accentuate the mysterious side.
It evolved and slowly took a more pivotal place inside my work. The way I decline them would either be to express an idea or a feeling. I’ve learned to achieve this through body language and objects association. Later I understood that this face could become this creature’s force; It is quite hard to identify, but yet so easy! Their age, gender, or their skin color is a mystery, but if you see one you might recognize it as a Darkhead from Agatha Schnips.
There are some hidden symbols and meanings in your pieces; I would love it if you would elaborate on these patterns and symbols and why they are important to you?
Most often they are quite easy to interpret; although everyone might see some things a bit different. But yes, I do give my drawing deeper meanings.
Take the symbol of horns for example; although they’re primarily made for defense, to me they also represent a burden. You could see a good example of what I mean in this in the piece I’ve created for my client Chris (cf.IMG_2) See how it’s holding its head? It illustrates an uncontrollable racing mind of hateful thoughts, creating the deep loneliness you’re chaining yourself to.
This huge pair of horns is like a part of you that’s built for pushing others away, becoming unbearable. This Darkhead is supposed to represent depression, and having it tattooed was a way to accept it as a part of himself.
Now, concerning the meanings, the most 3 recurrent themes in my designs would be 1st, the destruction of a higher power, 2nd, the protection of the weak, 3rd Strong female figures. It’s directly linked to what I feel to the core; I’ve had a rocky start in life. I used to be constantly threatened and all I wanted was to feel safe and protected. Now, confidence slowly made its way up to me and drawing portraits of powerful female figures became my way to express that change.
What is the kind of piece that you love to tattoo and why?
The most important thing for me is when creepy and beauty meet and coexist together in a design. Doesn’t matter if it’s a portrait or not. Duality and ambiguity are my two favorite things. Also, make it big because the bigger the tattoo, the bigger the statement and the commitment.
What is your process for creating a tattoo for a client? For me, there is always a good part of the collaboration between the artist and the client. How do you maintain your style with a commission and how often do you have great freedom for a creation?
I have always been convinced that my work was a team effort and collaboration and above all a matter of trust. Sometimes I meet people who have a very, very clear idea of what they want. When compromises do not seem possible, these projects do not succeed. But fortunately, most of the time, when a client comes to share his idea with me, he/she is already ready to hear my point of view and to trust me since his/her goal is to get my vision of his idea. I often negotiate with my clients, and when both parties are able to compromise, it works every time.
If it happens that I feel too limited in my work, I draw wanna do’s, it helps to maintain a good balance. Today, I have the chance to meet more and more people who trust me 100% and who give me a lot of artistic freedom. It’s incredibly satisfying.
What do you love about being a tattooist and what do you find most challenging?
Every single aspect is slowly becoming for me something that I enjoy.
From getting to know my client, challenging myself into new ways to draw different things, making sure it’s right and legible, the rigor of the hygiene that must be applied during the sessions, the use, and knowledge of my tools. But above all, the satisfaction when all this hard work has paid off and resulted in a very happy client.
I’ve only been tattooing for 6 years. I have no intention of stopping from tattooing or stopping from progressing. I am learning with every tattoo and I’m hoping to become better every year that passes.
For you, why do you think people are getting a tattoo? Is there a spiritual dimension that you put into your tattoos and your art?
I think people are getting tattooed because it’s a way to express yourself and show you have faith in who you are, what you like, and what you stand for. We get tattooed because we trust ourselves. Especially when you have to go through a lot of pain to obtain what you want… and if one day you don’t want it anymore, Darkheads are great for cover-ups.
Nothing says « hell yes » more than a permanent choice.
Agatha, finally, can you tell us your plans or artistic projects for the future?
There are 2 things I’m hoping in the future for my career: To be able to travel. Recent events made it difficult to get to other countries safely but I’d love to do more guest spots and meet people from around the world. And finally, to guide someone else through this crazy adventure it is to become a tattoo artist. I think it is a little too soon for now but I wish I could have an apprentice one day.