Interview : Lu Conghao, the artist-peinter who became a tatoo professional

Conghao working on a shoulder tattoo

In Lyon (France), we met Lu Conghao, a young talented tattoo artist whose itinerary is rather uncommon.

Conghao is Chinese and emigrated to France, in Lyon, to follow an artistic course at Emile Cohl school of arts, with a very clear idea in mind: to improve his technique to become a realist artist-painter. However, after 4 years of studies in the school, it is in the world of tattooing that he finally ended up.

With a big smile, Conghao kindly welcomes us at his home, because this is the place where he works. One can tell that he is really a relaxed dude, showing us into the room where he practises his talents. These can easily be seen on the walls, which display some of his work in realistic illustrating. Facing a piece of furniture where he puts away all his tattooing stuff, there is also an easel with a huge painting: an amazingly good reproduction of a Chinese painter’s masterpiece. “I didn’t have the time to tidy up the room. I hope you don’t mind” he tells us.

“If you can draw, you can be a tattoo artist”

 Pencil Guru : Conghao, you became a tattoo artist after graduating from the Emile Cohl school of arts which is mostly well known for illustrating. Can you explain what happened ?

 Conghao : I wanted to be an artist-painter after graduating from Emile Cohl. I had already done two years of painting studies in Moscow (Russia)’s school of Fine Arts. But then I realized how complicated it is to make a living with this kind of job. I also realized one thing : sometimes, you simply don’t want to sell ! When I think a painting is good, I  feel like keeping it ! (he laughs). As a result, I asked myself what else I could do. I have always liked realistic stuff so that’s why I thought about tattooing. In the end, it is the same thing as traditional drawing, in the sense that the machine is the equivalent of the pencil and the skin is a bit like paper. If you can draw, you can tattoo. Only the mediums are different. Another advantage of tattooing is when it is well done, almost averybody will agree on it and tell you frankly it’s good. It’s not always the case with painting, because in that sort of job, you will always have critics.

Conghao working on a forearm tattoo
Conghao’s workplace

PG :You’ve had to follow some special sort of training to become a professional tattoo-artist. Can you tell us about it ?

C : Yes, of course. I had to go to Paris for it. I registered for a one-month course where they teach you everything you need to know about the job of tattoo artist. They show you how to use all the tattooing stuff and how to handle the machine. They also insist a lot on hygiene because it is so important in this job.

PG : And then, you set up as a professional. But you don’t only do tattooing to make a living, do you ?

C : True. I began in the tatoo business by myself and I started tattooing at home, in Lyon (his flat is near the Part-Dieu railway station). But, as you said, I don’t exclusively do tattoos. I also use my drawing skills to have a second job and work as a link between Chinese and French companies. I make characters and backgrounds. And because I already earned some money with this activity, it enabled me to start the tattoo activity at my rhythm, without promoting it too much. I tattooed friends, then friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. There was positive word-of-mouth because my clients were happy with their tattoos. At the beginning, I was doing 2 tattoos per month. Now, I do 3 per week. I am actually starting to make plenty of tattoos ! (ed. note : Conghao even tattooed himself on his left forearm)

« In China, they think first of profitability for artistic activities »

PG : So your activity is expanding a lot, it’s good news, isn’t it ! But don’t you feel like joining a tattoo studio as an employee someday ?

C : No, I don’t. I wanted to launch my own activity, because if had decided to work as an employee in a tattoo studio, it would have been less financially interesting for me. I already had this activity of an intermediary between Chinese and French companies with which I managed to earn some money. I only needed to complete my income a little bit with another activity. If I had been an employee in a tattoo studio, I only could have done that and I would have worked all day doing tattoos.

PG : Compared to a traditional tattoo studio, how would you define your price range ?

C : I am more or less 30% cheaper than most professional tattoo studios. This is the advantage of being my own boss and working at home : I have less expenses and I don’t have to pay for an extra rent other than for my own home.

PG : Good news for your future clients then ! I imagine that it is also a reason for your success and that you intend to keep it like this for a moment.

C : Indeed. I would like to continue working on my own.

PG : Would you like to go back to China to pursue your professional activities there, someday ?

C : Not now, for sure. I am happy to be in France and I would like to stay here for at least 10 more years. I like the way people think about artistic jobs here.

PG : You mean that it suits you better than it would in China ?

C : Exactly. In China, you have the feeling that priorities are not the same : in many fields, and that includes artistic activities, cost-effectiveness comes first. The risk is that artistic quality can be affected by this kind of idea, as the technical way of doing things does not matter so much. In France, you feel that what looks nice and well-done is far more valued. There is a tradition for beautiful things in this country.

PG : Was it one of the reasons why you came to France ?

C : Definitely. At Emile Cohl school of arts where I studied, quality-first is really emphasized : they push you to do something good graphically. Money matters will come afterwards. I don’t say that it is not important for an artistic activity to be profitable, I just say that for me, the goal in this kind of activities is quality first.

A glimpse of Conghao’s art

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