Creator of VADERS.DYE – boasting studios in Hamburg, Berlin, and L.A. – Melina Wendlandt is the queen of fine lines and minimalism. We should know, we’ve seen her home tour on Architectural Digest. So what inspires this Missoma fan, and how have she and her team changed the tattoo world as we know it?
Missoma: How did you get into tattooing?
Melina Wendlandt: Before I studied communication design at university, I went to au pair in Canada. That was where I watched a TV show called L.A. Ink for the first time. I was so fascinated by Kat Von D – 12 years ago, it was super new to me to see a girl tattooing. She really inspired me, I was such a huge fan of hers – especially with her pink studio with skateboards on the wall. When I came back I started studying in Germany, but I couldn’t shake tattooing from my mind.
By then, I was 18 and already tattooed. I was drawing all the time too, so I decided to learn tattooing on the side. I was going to the studio every day after finishing studying – when I finished at university I decided I needed to go full-time with tattooing. After practicing at home and building my portfolio, I started working in a tattoo shop in Hamburg.
M: Describe your creative process. Who inspires your work?
MW: At the beginning I was really inspired by other artists. I especially loved the photos they shared after a first session, showing just the outline. I thought they were so beautiful. But, when I developed that idea and started to do my own fine line work, my colleagues said that they weren’t real tattoos and looked unfinished. Now fine line tattooing has become really popular.
My clients also gave me a lot of inspiration coming to me with their ideas. My signature lion design, for instance, was from one client who said that she’d seen my line work and that she really wanted a tattoo of the animal in my style – because lions were always so realistic, dark, and not feminine. I said okay let’s give it a try. Six years ago, I think my lion went so viral because it was one of the first that looks totally different to what everyone else was doing.
My other inspirations would be architecture and interior design – I like minimalism and light. When we opened our VADERS.DYE studios, I really wanted to create something brand new. When I was leaving behind my old job, I couldn’t find any nice shops. So, I decided to open my own in Hamburg city centre, which is not where most people would have a tattoo shop because it’s a main shopping area. It was great because all the girls I tattooed there – young women and mummies – felt super comfortable in my new space because of where it was in the city. I always try to do my own thing, something different.
M: Why do you think creativity is so important?
MW: I think everybody has some kind of creativity in them. It’s important to uncover it, as it’s part of your personality. I like to be creative by drawing tattoos, or even by rearranging my apartment. But creativity can also mean cooking, or listening to my boyfriend as he tells me his new business ideas.
M: How do you create a culture of creativity around you? Do you collaborate with other artists or disciplines? Tell us about how this works at VADERS.DYE.
MW: Whenever new artists come into my team, I make sure they fit in. I choose character before talent – to me, character is the most important part because it helps to create a nice environment.
I love what we have in Hamburg at the moment. We have only girls in the shop right now – it was an accident but it feels so inspiring because everyone lights each other up. Everybody grows so fast here too because it’s such a nice environment.
When we opened the Berlin shop, we had one guy who was tattooing at home for three years without anyone else – I saw his potential and I knew if he was in the right environment he’d be able to improve so quickly. After a year with us he’s getting so good… He’s become so popular and his work is so crisp. It’s all about the people around you. You can ask other artists: what do you do? How do you get thinner lines? It’s incredible to see how people can grow in a good environment.
Another thing is for a lot of young women, they feel really safe because there are only girls here. I actually tattooed Hailey Bieber recently – she got a really intimate tattoo, placement and meaning – and she was so happy that there was finally a woman who could tattoo her in Los Angeles.
M: As someone with studios in Hamburg, Berlin and LA, how do these different cities and cultures impact your work?
MW: Berlin was our second studio after Hamburg – we opened it to see if we could handle having different locations – but we always intended to go to the U.S. At first we were thinking about opening in New York, but we decided L.A. was more of our happy place – especially when working in America over winter! Luckily, it all came together and worked out perfectly, super fast.
In L.A. I also had to basically start over. Usually in Germany when I show my designs to clients, 90% of them will be like ‘I love it.’ This is exactly what I want, because they really respect my art. But in L.A. it’s different because they don’t know me well. Sometimes they come with ideas that I don’t do, like asking for shading or colour.
I think you can always tell our studios are VADERS.DYE style – we tried to bring the vibe and the standards from our shops in Germany to L.A.
It’s funny because, in the world of tattooing, New York feels up to date but in L.A. the scene is super old school. There are only a handful of more modern artists, but they tend to work in their private studios. There weren’t really any modern shops that focused on fine-line tattoos or hosting guest artists from around the world. So, VADERS.DYE was really new to L.A. and a lot of people really appreciated having such a new concept there. It’s fun to bring a little German vibe in.
M: Do you listen to music while you work? What’s your current song or artist of the moment?
MW: Usually when you have a studio with different artists, everyone wants to listen to different things! In our shops we listen a lot to house, electronic, and chill out music because that’s what everyone likes to hear while tattooing.
Personally, I love listening to Travis Scott and Drake – I love to have fun at work and to listen to loud music because it gives me energy which I need. My longest session is three hours sitting in a row – I can’t do longer, but my colleagues will sometimes sit down for a full day…
M: Both tattoos and jewellery are meaningful totems that we wear on our bodies day in and day out. Does this come up a lot when people come to you with designs?
MW: I’ve always said that my designs are like jewellery for your skin. I’ve had a lot of clients who bring their meaningful jewellery to their appointment and ask for abstract versions of them as tattoos.
That’s really lovely, like when it’s something that their grandma has given them.
My first tattoos had a lot of meaning which I think is good when you start out. I have a tattoo for my dog who passed away, and one that my boyfriend did – who is definitely not a tattoo artist – for my birthday, which was the word ‘liebe’ (love in German).
After a while, I started to see my tattoos like jewellery – I’d see something inspiring or pretty and think wow, I want something like that. Funnily enough, there was this artist in New York whose work I really liked. He said he’d do a tattoo for me but I didn’t know what to get – I had on this hand cuff with an alligator on that was really cool, so he tattooed that!
M: So, Berlin, Hamburg, LA…the world? What’s happening next for VADERS.DYE?
MW: Not another studio! We might do pop up tattoo shops in other countries but I’m also focusing on my own skin care brand and other projects besides tattooing. I always said that I wanted to do a jewellery collaboration…
M: What would you say to someone looking to explore their creative side, who might not know where to start?
MW: A lot of people ask me how they can start tattooing or drawing – and I always say just go for it. Just do it. After a few years of working for my shop as a manager, my sister asked if I could show her how to tattoo.
Last year I handed her my boyfriend’s iPad Pro and I said let’s see if you can draw! I gave her some tips, and because she’d been working in a tattoo shop for so long, she just knew what to do. She drew more and more, and got better and better – now she’s becoming a tattoo artist. Just go for it! Try and get inspired by other people.