Dark Art from the Dark North

Mikko "Inksanity" Kiviranta

Hello everyone,
My name is Mikko Inksanity. My last name is Kiviranta—but don’t bother memorizing it, it’s way too difficult—just keep reading and you will find out how and why I started to use Inksanity.

I come from “the dark north” and “the land of thousand lakes:” Finland.
So in order to truly explain what my art is about and what type of designs trigger me, I first must tell you a bit about the environment that I live in. In Finland, the winter is long, harsh and pretty damn cold. During the dark time of year at the end of December, the southernmost parts of Finland only have around 5-6 hours of daylight. But in the northernmost parts, the sun won’t even rise for 51 days.

On the other hand, our summer is short and intense. In June, during midsummer, the sun won’t set at all. Even in spring, when winter ends and nature comes to life—that moment is its swan song; everything that had just bloomed will start to die almost immediately. Sounds pretty melancholic, right?

Living in Finland, you can’t avoid being influenced by the seasons, which is why most of the time you’ll see darker themes that are all based on realism throughout my work and art. My very first memories are of drawing, and although I can’t really remember what I’m drawing, I’ll certainly never forget how happy it made me feel. It seems that chasing that feeling has been the thing that has carried and always will carry me on.

I have always loved art, especially baroque era art. It made a huge impact on me as a little kid, from the dramatic compositions to the dynamic lights; Caravaggio and Rembrandt soon became godlike creatures in my eyes. When I looked at their works, I knew that my future would involve art.
And so my tattooing career began in 2007, but my first contact through tattooing was made when I was just a teenage hardcore punk rocker. I was in high school when a friend of mine learned how to make a tattoo machine from a Walkman motor. We did some shitty and crazy stuff with machines like that, but it took over 10 years before my actual journey would begin in this particular world of arts.

In 2007 I was lucky enough to reconnect with that friend, who had since pursued his tattoo career right after school. Today, he is a well respected here in Finland for his oriental stuff.
He helped me get started tattooing, and if it weren’t for him and I meeting back then, my life now would probably be totally different. I kind of like to think that it was fate, and it was meant to happen.

The beginning, as with everything, is hard learning and difficult overcoming; but now that 7 years has passed I am able to see from a wider perspective and realize just how much hard work I’ve put in. Yet everyday, I realize how much “in the beginning” I still am.

After having tattooed for 2 years, I decided that I was going to give it everything I had and play my cards to the end, seeing how far I could get. I started attending travelling conventions, doing guest spots, meeting other artists, and seeing firsthand all the different types of art you could actually do with a living canvas.

Although I am self-taught, I realize that I`ve been able to evolve by working with other artists.
I noticed the different ways everyone was approaching subjects very quickly; some had more artistic visions and some more technical aspects. Some were playing with contrast while others were relying on tonal strength. And yet all of them had their advantages for creating awesome tattoos. It was then when I finally understood it’s not just about doing a tattoo in a way that somebody says it’s supposed be done (the real blocks are inside your mind,) its about finding where your natural strength flows, understanding it, and figuring out which direction you wish to go with it. And from having worked with many different artists, I’ve been able to break the boundaries that I once build into my mind.

After 4 years I decided to give it all up. I closed Inksanity, my own little shop, not for financial reasons, but because I felt it wasn’t the right time for me to have a shop; it was holding me back. I also knew it wouldn’t be good for business to constantly have a closed shop while I was traveling to conventions and guest spots, and when I was in the shop, it was lonely working alone. There was no one around for me to share my enthusiasm and excitement with towards this new world of art that had opened up for me. But even though my shop was closed, I still kept the business on paper.
And when I went to conventions, the artist roster would read my name as follows:

Artist: Mikko, Shop: Inksanity

People started to refer to the tattooist, “Mikko Inksanity.” At first, I tried correcting everyone to use my last name, Kiviranta, but it seemed to only create more confusion. My customers would promote me as Mikko Inksanity, and many old customers were able to find me really quickly by the name. They had all memorized it. I count this as a blessing, because I can’t imagine it would have been easy for a customer to receive a tattoo from Mikko Kiviranta at some convention, remember my name, and then remember the shop name I worked at (which would have probably changed at least four times since). I’ve just recently connected with an old customer whom I had met at a convention in Frankfurt. He told me he just Googled my name and my Facebook profile appeared. By now, I’ve really grown into the name, and I’ve even begun to like it…a lot.

After a year of travelling and working in different shops, I noticed that I still needed to learn a lot of techniques. I started working regularly in my friend  (an awesome old school artist) Hexa’s shop, Precious Tattoo, located in the city of Tampere, Finland. Little did I know that Precious Tattoo would become my home, and eventually I would become a Co-owner. It was the most important step of my career so far, when my own style would start to flourish and my real learning experience in arts would begin.

And here I am. I’ve finally found my own path and I know the direction where I’m heading. This is the point when I feel my actual career as an artist starts. And in my own shop, it’s the Seven Deadly Shades that I prefer to work with. Here’s how I use the Killer Silver ultimate Gray Wash Set :

At the moment, I am very focused in midtone contrast, and because the tones of the Seven Deadly Shades are strong, I don’t need to spend time mixing them myself.

This is what my Killer Silver Ink set up looks like:

  • All my ink cups are lined up strait as follows from left to right: First ink cup: KS (Killer Silver) 100% black; 2nd ink cup: water; 3rd ink cup: KS 60%; 4th ink cup: water; 5th ink cup: KS 40%; 6th ink cup: water; 7th ink cup: KS 25%.
  • I don’t use lighter tones that much in my work at the moment, but I do finish everything off with the white shade. However, I usually wait on setting up the white until the time comes to use it.
  • What is the purpose of the water cup between the inks? When doing freehand work, I start by building from the midsection of tones; KS 60% and KS 40% with the cups of water in between are the key factors. I start as if I was sketching, moving from the bottom upwards, like a printer, building textures.
  • I start with KS 40%, dip it in the water quickly, and I work with a smaller needle configuration as if I were sketching. When I’m satisfied where it’s heading, I come back with pure KS 40% to define the shapes and make the structure solid. By doing this, I’m basically blocking in the midtones.
  • After I’m done with the structure, I take a slightly bigger needle configuration and start building the bigger shadow areas on top of the structure so that it will get more shape and depth. I usually do that with KS 60%, using the same technique of the water-diluted mixture first, then the pure KS 60% after.
  • The cups in between help me work as I would with charcoal or pencils: lighter touch = dip ink through water; stronger touch = pure ink. The cups of water in between help me to keep the tones secured as long as possible so that their tone stays the same throughout.
  • Once I’ve done half of the design, I go back to beginning and start making it more accurate with solid black and lighter tones, like KS 25%. I use a lot of old school techniques too, like the basic rule of whip shading; instead of “coloring” lighter tones in, I use more of a “stabbing” motion so that the lighter structure is actually stronger tone that builds up from little dots.

I love strong shadows, details and texture, and many times will enhance these particular elements.
Lately, I have moved more and more towards freehand tattooing because it gives me more freedom to express myself and I strongly believe I can get more out of the picture, especially since imagination is the only limitation.