Some time ago I was with Swen, the tattoo artist I trust and JECKYBENG Ambassador, to have another tattoo done there and used the time to learn more about Swen.
SL: I am Swen, 40 years old and have been tattooing for 15 years. I was a soldier for 10 years. That was 2009. Meanwhile, I started tattooing.
Since 2014 I have had my own shop GOOD OLD TIMES on Torstrasse in Berlin Mitte. I mostly tattoo traditionally and Japanese, now especially Japanese tattoos.
JB: And where were you during your time as a soldier?
SL: Afghanistan and Africa.
JB: And was it a formative time?
SL: Certainly. The good thing was that I was traveling abroad, so I was able to move around a lot. I worked with local people, doing a lot of things that you wouldn't have seen as a normal soldier. That, of course, had a lasting impact on me. You look outside the box and see how other people are or can be.
JB: You studied graphic design....
SL: ....Yes, in Munich.
JB: What does a normal day look like in your life?
SL: There is no normal day. A good normal day is when it's not a normal day. The nice thing about tattooing is that every day is different. You prepare yourself and you know that each tattoo will be different anyway because either the customer wants a little change because what has been sketched on the piece of paper still has to be adapted to the body. On the body you have another idea that you want to implement, the customer does not come or another customer comes in with an interesting tattoo wish that you deal with and which in turn tells a super interesting story from their lives.
"So a good day is one that is not normal."
JB: And on a day off - what are you doing?
SL: There is actually no day off, but when I don't have a tattoo I do sports. I run, do a little martial arts and actually try to spend every free minute outdoors in nature.
Nature in Berlin does not mean in the concrete desert but simply 50km out to the edge in the forest. So a good week is actually a mixture of tattooing, painting, drawing, exercising and pushing yourself to the limit.
JB: To go to your limits, you do that with long runs.
SL: Exactly. I do long runs. Of course it also has a fitness aspect, but for me long running is more of a meditation where I am alone. I sometimes run with different people, but mostly I do it alone so that I can consciously enjoy the time that is becoming less and less, especially in this fast-moving time. So really go out consciously and then roam the area completely on your own.
JB: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
SL: I would almost say not in Germany. I always liked the idea of being something like a mind coach - for others, and then saying "ey, look, your life is not that shitty. You can actually do it yourself." With a certain conscious choice of life you can have a really cool time. Be it e.g. solving problems creatively through sport that are actually easy to tackle. I want to be an inspiration for people who for some reason cannot change their habits. I would like to show you that you can achieve a lot even with a simple, reduced life. This is also reflected in my tattoos - I try to reduce them to the essentials so that they work for a long time.
JB: Do you have role models yourself?
SL: I take part in adventure races and there I met a lot of entrepreneurs and managers. It was interesting for me that these are really simple and reduced people. Not necessarily "role models" since I am my own role model. I don't like to live the life that others lead me because I don't know what situation they are in. You were born with completely different conditions. These people are good as inspiration, but not as role models in the sense "hey, that's how I want to be", I don't think that's good. I find it very good to take over other people's thoughts.
The pain in these races. Being on the road, everyone is dirty, hungry, but happy and content. Then we would be back to "remembering the essentials."
JB: How do you get inspiration?
SL: I'm not trying to do it on Instagram. I have recently bought a lot of books from the 60s and 70s as far as tattooing is concerned. I try to be less inspired from the present. Rather from past times. Not because I think that everything was better in the past, but because nowadays the same content is shared through social media, chewed again and again and everyone actually only has the same knowledge. Good knowledge at a good level but little happens on the right and left.
"So my sources of inspiration would be literature but also people I go running with and tattoo artists I am friends with."
SL: I used to listen to a lot of Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains - California Skate Punk. I like a lot of post punk right now: KLM, Weird America. Ariel Pink belongs to this band. Rather like marginalized music. But is also mood. In winter I tend to hear something more depressed, something heavier. Some jazz in spring. In the summer then electronically ... at least I can already hear what is not played on the radio.
SL: There can never be enough. I try to have it every day. I like, kick me too. I am very dissatisfied when I had a run that did not challenge me. Adventure is like an addiction. Once you've had a snack and gone to your limits, you can't get away from it. Adventure plays a very big role in my life.
"I cannot imagine having a life without adventure."
JB: What would you have become if you hadn't become a tattoo artist?
SL: A guide, a mind coach. Taking people by the hand and traveling with them around the world and confronting them with problems to overcome their fears. Adventure guide!
JB: Swen, a nice closing word / wish. We keep our fingers crossed and wish you all the best.