Behind the ink: tattoo artist Tobias Debruyn
Brabo’s Hand is one of the most famous tattoo parlours in Belgium with their signature traditional old school style. Settled in Antwerp, the shop is internationally known and keeps growing every year. For these legends it was the third time attending Us by Night in Antwerp with their very own tattoo booth. The three-day event is a design and creativity festival with speakers from all over the world. We talked to Tobias Debruyn, tattoo artist at Brabo’s Hand and one of the fastest rising stars in the scene.
This is Antwerp: What makes Antwerp such a cultural mecca for you?
Tobias Debruyn: “I believe Antwerp has such a rich cultural history because of our port. The city has in many ways, been a gateway for people of different origins and objects that arrived and left. That might be an explanation of why the tattoo history of Antwerp was influenced by the port of Antwerp. We often get our inspiration from port cities such as Hamburg, Amsterdam and Antwerp. At Brabo’s Hand we mainly focus on classical western tattooing and the American style of the 1800s. We gradually give our own touch to our work.”
TiA: Based in Antwerp, where do you find inspiration for your next project?
Tobias: “I joined the team of Brabo’s Hand in 2014, before I owned a graphic design agency. As a tattoo artist, I find inspiration in everything. New ideas can be found during a vacation in the mountains, a walk in the woods or even an exhibition I visited. Sometimes it even happens that, for a second, maybe ten ideas pop into my mind at the same time. In that case, you can find me in desperate need searching for small papers to write down my ideas before I forget them." (laughs)
“For the longest time, I have been wanting to do a tattoo series of Antwerp. When I stroll around the city I bump into the craziest ideas. For example the statue Schelde Vrij at the South of Antwerp. It looks like an ice god with a long moustache and chains hanging around his body. It is basically a tattoo by itself. Other places in Antwerp that give me inspiration are the St. Paul’s Church and the Saint Charles Borromeo Church, around the corner of our tattoo shop. There are so many interesting spots to find in the city.”
TiA: Bumping into someone who you inked must feel quite special.
Tobias: “I constantly bump into people who got inked at our shop, but nowadays it doesn’t feel that special anymore because we do ink on a daily basis. But I have to say that there are moments when reality does kick in. For example, the other day I was playing in the parc with my children and I saw a group of about ten friends from who I know they all got their tattoo at Brabo’s Hand. It almost feels as if it has an impact on the view of the city. In those moments I often think ‘wow, that’s pretty unique’ because we are all connected in some kind of way. For example, even a few first timers came by this weekend at the Us by Night event to get inked at our booth, which is very exciting.”
“The nice part about tattooing is that it is very one-on-one. It is you and I, you have a story and I go along in that story. It is a very personal and intimate process. It is I often notice our customers are looking for a personal connection in their tattoo ideas. It is important for the client to focus on the meaning that a tattoo should have. By doing so we make the design timeless as well.”
TiA: You have never considered experimenting with another style?
Tobias: “I have a strong drive for new things that I want to try in the near future. It feels like there are a lot more projects that I want to start but can’t because I’m running ahead of myself. That is why for now I would like to stay within my comfort zone. Currently there is a big pile of ideas and sketches waiting for me to finish them. I find it very important that an artist has a strong vision and direction of what he creates. I don’t have the feeling that I run a regular fashion shop. I’m really passionate about my work within my artistic style and I feel comfortable working in it.”
Brabo’s Hand Tattoo Shop can be found at Korte Koepoortstraat 10, 2000 Antwerpen.
Text and pics by Anne-Sophie Verkoyen