Emilie Maj – Illustrator and tattoo apprentice

Emilie Maj is a young up and coming tattoo apprentice currently living in Copenhagen. Emilie grew up in a small town in Denmark surrounded by nature and has from a very young age found herself continuously drawing. When Emilie decided to drop out from Kolding Design School, she found her true call in life: Tattoos!

Bast magazine caught up with Emilie Maj and asked her a few questions about her passion for ink, illustration and future plans.

Tell me about yourself.

My name is Emilie Maj, I am 23. years old and I live in Copenhagen. I work as an illustrator and tattoo apprentice in Sortblaek which is a tattoo-shop located at Nørrebro.

I grew up most of my childhood in the country side in Jutland near Randers with my parents and sister. We moved away from Ballerup’s concrete walls (a suburb in Copenhagen) to live in a house out in the forest near a small town called Ålum. Back then I was a very active child, I would build thousand caves in the forest and often I imagined myself having magical powers. Sometimes I spent hours drawing my character before going out to play in the woods. I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember.

How did it all start?

In my teenage years I used illustration to express myself instead of having a diary. It was a bit gloomy period of my life.

Visual HF gave me three wonderful years, with cool teachers, cool projects, reflection and illustrative development. I graduated in 2014 but thought to myself “I will never ever get a job where I can only draw.” I was so tired of drawing and felt it would be better to study textile design so I could combine these two crafts. So I made the admission test for the Design School in Kolding. A few months later I moved and started at the school. But I never really got carried away by the whole textile thing and I never felt it gave myself a 100% to the various projects and tasks. After half a year I bought a tattoo machine and started tattooing my friends in my apartment.

Buying a tattoo machine had been one of my wishes for many years, but I never really had the guts to go for it. A few months later I was tagged in a Facebook post, saying that this awesome tattoo-lady Sigrid Benedikte Strøyer AKA: Graphic zoo tattoo wanted to open a new tattoo-place and therefore she needed apprentices. It was very terrifying dropping out from the Design School, but I thought to myself it wouldn’t hurt anyone to send the application and take it from there. Today it’s the best decision I’ve ever taken, I’ve never felt so sure what I’m going do with my life, next many years.

You often use animals in your work, is there a story behind it?

It’s not the first time I have been asked that question and I’m still not sure what my conclusion is. I think it’s some kind of fascination and tribute to the wildlife on earth. Animals are the coolest, most beautiful and strange beings. Their expression, beauty and natural decoration makes them so different from each other, opposite like us humans, who have to get tattoos, piercings and other body modifications to look unique.

Both my parents are biologists and they have been good at showing the nature in its natural forms and shapes. Even if we were visiting a big city they would take us to the national museum, a nature museum or an art museum, which I’m very grateful for today. I don’t think I would have the same interest in nature and art without those experiences. I’m the type of a girl that prefers to watch the Animal planet or a documentary about nature on a Friday evening than go out to the bar. I love learning new things especially when it comes to wildlife on earth, we should all strive to protect the planet and the animal life and plants. It’s hard for me to draw something that doesn’t show some kind of feeling or expression. It’s not something I think about when I’m making the drawing, it’s a more intuitive process, so sometimes it ends up looking like an animal.

Where do you seek inspiration for your work?

Everywhere! I feel inspired every day and everywhere I go. I can’t stop putting everything in a context wherever it’s something to do with tattooing or just drawing. I spend a lot of time on Instagram and Pinterest, both places are great to seek inspiration and keeping you updated with arts and artist. I also go book shopping sometimes in thrift stores and antique bookstores to find weird books or magazines with stuff for inspiration. I take a lot of pictures of random stuff I find on the streets, there is inspiration in everything, it can be anything from a shoelace, a gum, a cat or a crack in the wall. It’s all about putting the right glasses on.

Can you describe your typical working day?

I usually get up around 7-8:00 in the morning, I love getting up early. I drink A LOT of coffee during the day, especially in the morning. I keep my work space at home, I easily get distracted so it’s better for me not to draw at the tattoo-shop. Sometimes I spend the whole day at home, sitting at the desk and draw. I usually have my first appointments around 12:00 almost every day. I like to start tattooing around that time, because then I have had my silent morning and I still have a lot of the day left when I’m done tattooing. We don’t have regular opening hours in the shop and all my appointments are arranged by email. It’s nice to have a flexible job, in the beginning I could get lonely, because everybody else would be working, now I’m just really grateful for what I have and do.

How is it to live and work as a tattoo artist in Copenhagen?

I did not intend at first to move to the city like everybody else wants at some point in their life. I do not really care where I live as long as I can do what I want and that place gives me the freedom to do it. But I´ll have to admit that Copenhagen has grown on me and now I think it’s hard to imagine elsewhere to live and work. One thing I really like about the city is that it’s so easy for foreigners to drop by and go home with a new ink in the luggage. I don’t really like to talk about what I do with strangers, it’s a special title to have and the attention can just get too much. I don’t think the job is “just for fun” to me it’s a very serious craft, not something you just learn over a night, it’s a lifestyle. For many people it can sound like a dream being a tattoo artist, living in Copenhagen and it truly is, but they easily forget how hard the job is. But it doesn’t really bother me, how should they know? The tattoo industry is very mysterious when you have nothing to do with it.

Mention a few good things of being a tattoo artist?

I meet so many cool, sweet and loving people. I like to have maximum 1-2 people dropping by a day, because then there is all the time in the world to get to know them a little and making the tattoo in a relaxed environment. Sometimes, after a session with a customer I can be high on the experience the rest of the day. It’s important to give the customer a good experience, they will associate the tattoo with that exact day they got it and if it’s a good experience they´ll love it even more.

I feel like every new custom work / tattoo order is a new step into developing me and my skills, it’s like a free drawing assignment every time. Some of the orders are super crooked and weird, mostly it’s based on feelings so it can be quite abstract for me to turn it into only one drawing. Basically it’s very important to be open and understanding as a tattoo artist. People have to trust you and feel that they are being seeing and heard. It has given me so much confidence, I feel I have become very good handling different people in different situations, not just on my job but in any situation.

What does the future hold for you?

Right now I’m just trying to focus on getting perfect at tattooing. It’s my dream becoming one of the best tattooist in the world, creating a unique craft. The biggest dream, after becoming one of the best, is to travel the world, maybe fixing up an auto camper with a tattoo room in the back. Ink on wheels!

I really want to make Sortblaek a more known place in Europe, I think many of the tattooist in other countries are great breaking the norms about tattooing, tattoos can do much more than many people think almost everything is possible. Lately I’ve also been thinking about starting some kind of annual tattoo-convention, which will consist of art, gastronomy, comics and much more! Some kind of tattoo-art-mixed festival.

5 quick questions: 

Favorite restaurant in Copenhagen? Everything at the Paper Island that has ‘vegetarian’ on the menu!

Tune on repeat? KAYTRANADA ft. SYD – You’re the one. 

Where do you go when you are in the mood for dancing? I don’t really go out. But I do LOVE dancing. The last two years I spend the Friday night behind my desk or in Sortblaek. I kinda “hide” all my dance-energy for the bigger events like: New Year’s Eve, Roskilde Festival, Distortion, private parties or live concerts.

Secret place we need to know about in Copenhagen? my brain. haha. Everywhere. I love taking long walks, I live out in Nørrebro’s Northwest area, there’s a lot of green and quite areas to disappear for a while if you need to get away from the crowded streets.

Which song would you never sing in karaoke? Dr. Bombay – S.O.S  

Portrait by Matilde Fogh @mtjld