Today we’d like to introduce you to Mike Metaxa.
Hi Mike, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I was at a bookshop going through the art section in search of some new albums when I found a photo book dedicated to tattoo art. I don’t know how much time I spent standing there leafing through it, but by the time I left with this book in my shopping bag, I was hooked. I knew that this was what I ought to try my hand at. I started learning by doing thorough research, observing others doing whatever I was trying to learn, and practicing all the time so that I could get better at it. With tattooing, I’ve spent countless hours watching my friends, tattoo artists at work, asking questions, and just taking it all in.
I’ve read as many books on tattooing as I could get my hands on. When it was time to start practicing, I’ve bought my first tattoo machine and, without thinking about it twice, gave myself the first tattoo. I needed to know whether I had the potential to become good at tattooing, and I wanted to feel what my future customers would feel being tattooed by me. I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I have an easy hand — I did not really feel much pain while I was working on my tattoo — and that with constant practice, I can get as comfortable with tattooing as I was with painting and drawing.
At this point, I have been tattooing for over 20 years, first in Israel, then Greece, and now the US. Here in the States, I started working at one of the Long Island, NY tattoo shops, owned by a guy whose name was well-known in the tattoo industry, and I ended up spending over 13 years there. However, I’ve always planned to have my own tattoo studio. So, when we as a family decided to move from NY to Austin, TX, in 2014, my wife and I already knew that we would be exploring that opportunity. We spent an awful lot of time searching for the ideal location for our studio, but we knew that we were going to find it! And when one day we drove by what is currently our studio and saw that this place was for rent, we knew that this was IT, the ONE we have been searching for! We rented it right away, spent a few months fully renovating it, opened our doors in April 2015, and the rest is history.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It definitely wasn’t a smooth ride altogether. Every step of the way presented its own challenges that had to be overcome. When I first started tattooing, it was at that time when tattoo art was just starting to get popular in Israel. I caught it at the very beginning and had to learn and evolve together with the whole tattoo industry. When I look back at my first couple of years of tattooing, I can’t say that I was extremely proud of my work or that I liked the designs my clients were choosing. But back then, none of us knew any better, it was what everybody saw around them and wanted to have tattooed on them as well. But when I started introducing my clients to my own designs that I draw, they immediately saw value in it, as it was something totally different from what everyone else was sporting, and they started coming to me for my custom work. Working in Greece presented even bigger challenges because, although I am partially Greek, I don’t speak the language, and back then not many Greeks were speaking English, so my communication with clients was very limited and consisted of mostly speaking with our hands! I probably looked very funny talking like that, but sometimes, it was really frustrating! Then, while working in NY was great, it still wasn’t my own business, so I had to abide by someone else’s rules that I wasn’t always personally agree with. Now, having our own business is a totally different story.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about ArtHouse Tattoo?
What ArtHouse Tattoo really is, does not have an accurate category in business directories like Google or Yelp. While we might be listed under ‘tattoo shops’, we are so much more than that! We describe ourselves as a custom tattoo studio for a multitude of reasons, such as these: we only specialize in large custom tattoo projects, and when someone steps inside ArtHouse, the last thing that comes to mind is a busy, crowded and loud place that is always associated with a tattoo shop by default. We occupy what had previously been a family residential home and that 80+ years old house has its own rich history that comes with it. We chose it for our business location because we found ourselves strongly drawn to the overall look, feel, and history of this place, and while doing renovations to it, we definitely tried to save and showcase many of this place’s original features. It also explains the name we chose for our business — ArtHOUSE Tattoo. So our studio ambiance is very calm, almost zen-like, and the sessions are always one-on-one. With the help of soothing music and incenses, we are able to create an environment that helps to put our clients at ease, and some of them actually end up napping during their session!
Each project we take up is highly personalized and designed based on collaboration between the artist and the client with the client’s wishes and the artist’s vision and expertise in mind. ArtHouse Tattoo specializes in traditional Japanese, Celtic / Norse, classic Americana, and its neo-traditional version, as well as fantasy tattoos, black and gray graphic styles, and old tattoo and scar cover-ups. We also often create a fusion of different styles that elevates and showcases them really well. ArtHouse Tattoo brand’s mission is to educate potential clients and to promote quality, because unfortunately, in most cases it isn’t being done enough in the tattoo industry specifically. As a result, people end up getting poorly done tattoos they are now stuck with because there was no one to educate, explain, and show them the difference between a great work and a bad one. We see this happening all the time, and so we try to make a difference through education. Another part of our mission as an artistic business is to find a way to help our community through creativity and set an example for other businesses to do the same. That is how the idea of our Cause for Paws Tattoopalooza events benefitting Austin Pets Alive! was born.
Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
Being a business owner is challenging and isn’t particularly easy, but it is also extremely rewarding and inspiring. You have to establish your own brand just the way you like it and then stay true to it. If potential clients feel drawn to your brand and your vision, they will come to you, you don’t have to compromise your values to get clients in the door. It is also extremely important to understand that not everyone is going to become your client. It’s impossible and very unlikely to appeal to everybody, and that’s totally cool. You, as a brand, are trying to build a family, a community of people whose interests and values are similar to your own. These people are going to become your most loyal clients, some of them for life, and they are the ones you consider family. For people with different values or those who are not interested in what you offer, there will be plenty of other businesses in your industry that might be a better fit. You just have to let go of that kind of stress and concentrate on further developing and popularizing your own brand!
Mike Metaxa discovered his passion for tattooing from a bookshop visit. With over 20 years in the industry, he’s worked in Israel, Greece, and the US, mastering various styles. Mike emphasizes the importance of quality and trust in the tattooing process, cautioning against shortcuts. He advises clients to prioritize vision over cost.