Name: Joel Madberg
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
What attracted you to tattooing?
Man, tough question. I guess everything about it. It was this weird great thing that was hard to approach somehow. I grew up in the north of Sweden and tattoos weren't really something I saw a lot of as a little kid, the odd black and grey viking, Thor's hammer and stuff. Basically people who got tattooed in my town back then were douches.
I guess I started being drawn to it in my early teens. I remember this guy I knew who was older got a super badly done skull on his arm and I thought it was the tits! Eventually I moved down south so I could do drugs away from my parents and immediately started getting tattooed at the shop where my then best friend was doing his work. It was cheap which was good cause we were on welfare. It ended up a pretty ugly black and grey sleeve based off an early 90s comic about drugs and death. I still love it though.
How did you get into the industry?
Like so many others I started at home and did a couple tattoos on myself and my closest friends. It was so so bad. I mean it's still bad but it was just a slaughterfest in the beginning. I had no info or descent equipment but I was so stoked on it that it didn't matter. I figured out what grommets and rubber bands were for after a while though haha... It's weird how you can get tattooed so many times without ever actually picking up anything. Anyway I quickly realized that tattooing was what I wanted to do and nothing else so I decided to start painting more, stop tattooing and try for a real apprenticeship. I'd promised a friend to do a swallow on her and that was gonna be the last tattoo I did at home. Strangely it became the first tattoo I did in a shop instead cause I got this call the morning before from a shop a bit outside of the city. Turns out a guy there knew I was tattooing a bit at home and his boss was looking for someone to fill a spot in his shop. I explained I didn't know shit about tattooing but he just said that if the boss man decided on me I could learn as I went there.
So I packed up my shitty gear and headed over there with my friend and did this wonky lined, patchy filled super bad swallow below her collar bone in a little corner of the shop and I was sweating like a pig cause it was so hot that day. The boss came up and looked and was like "huh. yuk..." hahaha. So I got out of there and felt embarrassed for about 30 minutes before the guy called me up and asked me if I could start the next day! Man I was so excited. I later found out he only hired me because out of all the dumb fucks they dragged there to try out I was the fastest. Equally shitty, but the fastest. Hahahaha! But it was a street shop that was super busy in the summer. In, get your tattoo, pay up and get out. Boss gets his cut. You didn't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out who would be able to make the most money.
Was it hard to find an apprenticeship?
I never really had one. Every time I'd ask the boss something he'd say "Oh I'll teach you all about that later..." and never did. We had a meeting after a few months where he said things were gonna get hard for me from now on, I was gonna do the grunt work and learn shit right and I was like "THANK YOU!!" but then it never happened, I just cranked out shitty tattoos (and the occasional almost close to half descent one) all day and give him his cut and he was happy haha. We never really got along but he's an amazing tattooer and I owe him everything cause I probably wouldn't have gotten an apprenticeship anyhow haha!
How many years have you been tattooing?
I've only been at it for around 5 years but I don't think I'll ever do anything else as long as I am physically able. I've been fascinated and in love with tattoos for 15 years and the fact that I never tried it earlier was just because I never thought I could do it or how, and my drawing sucked. I don't live a tattoo rock star life or try to surf on what small attention I get. I take care of my family and focus on getting better every day and that's it right now. When the traditional bubble bursts I'll do neo-tribal armbands for the next 40 years and I'll fucking love it!
What inspires you?
Anything! A picture or a painting or a song or a place or a book or a tattooer that is better than I'll ever be. I don't know. I do need to feel at least somewhat good mentally to be able to accomplish something I'm at least halfway happy with. If there's too much turbulence my work sucks.
Who are your favourite tattoo artists?
I don't really have one, I like so many, but anyone who does a nice bold tattoo with great colors has a fan in me for sure. I try to look at different people all the time so I don't get so narrow minded. I've had bad experiences with looking too much at just one guy's work. My friend Pedro is the reason I worked up the nerve to try to tattoo in the first place and looking back at my earliest stuff it's just Pedros style except without soul or quality, so bad. I had the same problem a while later when I got to know Jonas Uggli. Man I was so amazed at how he did things that my tattoos started to look more and more like his until it was just ridiculous and he asked me what was up hahaha... I guess he's still one of my favourite tattooers but I haven't really seen any of his work for a year and a half.
What I do now is hopefully mostly my own. I can steal little details and rework them or try to improve them like everyone else but all the elements that define my tattoos I feel like I've come up with on my own over these past few years. Although there are many who have reached the same conclusions haha. I talked to my friend Iain Mullen who is a great tattooer about this and that was a thing that he'd noticed too, or maybe he noticed first. Anyway... You come up with this great idea for how to do something, a week later you find another tattoo by someone who's done it too. And it can be out of like an 80's Thrasher issue or done yesterday, it doesn't even matter. Point is mostly everything in tattooing has been done already, and I'm way off topic...
How would you describe your tattoo style?
On the verge of being too dark. I use a lot of black in my tattoos even when I intend to make it colorful. Most of what I do has a foot in traditional tattooing with bold lines, heavy shading and limited color palette, but I'm trying to move around a lot style wise and experiment with how I draw and think of shading and coloring more and more.
What have you learned in your years in the industry?
Not enough haha. There is such a long road ahead. I wish I could travel more and have more experiences in this wonderful trade I'm in, but family life doesn't agree with that right now and that's fine. I can still take my wife and the many children we've generated between us and some more poorly chosen people in the past on trips now and again. But you also need to be able to focus on the actual tattooing side of it wholeheartedly sometime too. We'll see what happens in the future.
What advice do you have to people considering careers in tattooing?
I don't know... Eat healthy and exercise?
What are some of the best things you have experienced as a result of your career?
There's one short, simple answer to this question: all the friends I've made. Fuck everything else, the people I've met that have become friends I will most likely have for life is the best part.
Where do you currently tattoo?
Salvation Tattoo in Stockholm, Sweden.
You'll find all the info on www.salvationtattoo.se