Thursday, June 23, 2011

And what have I been doing in Russia?

...Getting a tattoo of St. Basil's Cathedral, of course.

Polly and I had been discussing getting tattoos from early on in our stay in Moscow. We even shared a moment of connectivity when we simultaneously joked about getting a St. Basil's tramp stamp. Several months ago, as we began to become aware of the quickly approaching end, we started investigating the details more seriously. Polly came across this article and we decided to go with Serafim as the artist. His website,, much like himself, is reminiscent of US biker culture. His tattooing style is influenced by the original American style of tattoos. Other than what he said for the article, there were a couple of policies he states that impressed me. One is that they don't do satanic tattoos because they believe in god, and they don't do nazi related tattoos because their grandfathers fought in WWII. They ask that you don't drink 12 hours before getting the tattoo and they don't want people in the studio under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

First up was Polly. She had been the one to initiate communication with Serafim, telling him what we were both interested in, and arranging the time and date of our first meeting. The studio is fairly easy to find, given the complexity of the directions (go to this address, but to the back of the building. find the door with the sign for the sports club, ring the bell, go downstairs into the gym tell them you're looking for the tattoo studio).

Serafim met us, then identified Polly and asked her to come back with him. Roughly 45 minutes later (while I sat in the lobby, hoping Polly had not been killed and I was next), Polly emerged with puzzled laughter explaining that it was done.

it reads, roughly: i purposefully go unkempt, with my head, like a kerosene lamp, on my shoulders. a quote from a Esenin poem

Next Serafim and I discussed what exactly I wanted, which was still a little unclear to me. I, at some point, had decided I really did want St. Basil's (it's hard to explain exactly why. I can only say it's one of the most beautiful and remarkable things I've seen in my life), but on my ribs, not lower back. He discussed it a little with me, then told me he was going on vacation for two weeks and didn't want to start just yet. Excited but disappointed, we left.

About 3 weeks later, I finally returned to the shop with my friend Dan in tow for moral support. The initial excitement had somehow worn off, but extreme nervousness remained. He showed me a drawing, which I initially thought was a little small, but once he placed it on my skin realized was perfect, then kicked Dan out. He only works with himself and the recipient in the room, which was a little disappointing at the time but, to me, only adds to his professionalism. About 3 hours and a lot of swearing later, we had an outline:

skin still irritated and everything

We scheduled another meeting for a week later to do the fill. While it only lasted an hour and a half, it was definitely one of the most painful experiences of my life. We had hoped we would be able to finish it on that second meeting, but Serafim, sensing my agony, suggested we have one more session.

Small, low quality photo of a partially completed tattoo

I decided to wait a little more than a week for the next session, given how much the area still hurt after only a week, and finally returned last Tuesday to finish it off. The final session hurt the least (as there was the least to do) and only lasted about 45 minutes. This was the end result:

I am not even close to as tan as this picture makes me look

I have to say, from the very beginning I was 100% comfortable with Serafim as the artist. He is a genuine, easy going, talkative person. As a tattoo artist, he has an excellent eye for what does and does not work, and I trusted his judgement (on size, on colors, on exact location, on the small amount of background he wanted to add, etc) completely. I couldn't be more pleased with the end result, and am actually sad I won't see Serafim again anytime soon--though I will probably have my other tattoo touched up by him, along with the red in the cathedral brightened at some point in the fall when I have money again. Speaking of the cost: it wasn't cheap. Serafim has the attitude that because there are so few licensed tattoo artists in the area he has a little bit of a hold on the market and can charge what he feels is fair. And I totally agree with him. A tattoo is a lifetime investment, and there are risks involved that are minimized when you go with someone as professional as Serafim. It was worth every kopeck and moment of pain.

It should go without saying that I highly recommend Serafim Tumanov if you're considering getting a tattoo done while in Moscow (or, even if you weren't considering it).


  1. WOW!! The colour looks fantastic! You are so brave!!