And here's part two. Looks like it'll be split into three, actually. ALSO, don't forget to check out the new(ish) King's Ave blog! Without further ado...
Is there any style you lean towards, then?
It’s tough because I feel like there are three different styles I really enjoy doing. And there are all different kinds of images. But I’d say ultimately, I like to tattoo good ideas. There’s a guy that came in who I am doing a Japanese monster sleeve on and it’s pretty heavy. It looks like it’s got a very American approach to it. But he came to me with all these monsters that I didn’t know anything about. And they’re really interesting stories, so I thought his idea and approach and his ideas of how he saw his arm going, how he wanted to lay it out, was very inspirational. People come in with great ideas and it inspires me.
Sometimes I do more research on the idea, or just try to do some digging, especially in Japanese tattooing, try to get to know the story so you’re not just throwing a bunch of filler in there that doesn’t make sense. Mike knows a lot, he knows his shit. So luckily I’ve got coworkers I can ask and some friends in California who know more about the work. But I’d say I like any great idea.
What are the challenges?
I feel like any kind of challenge is good. I feel like everything should challenge me. That’s good and bad sometimes, because sometimes you can over think it and beat a classic idea into the ground by trying to make it a little different. But then I can look back on it and say, “I stepped all over my dick, I shouldn’t have tried that.” But I feel like mostly everything should challenge me to try to keep it classic and fresh at the same time.
There’s such a fine line between keeping it old-looking and taking a new approach on something old but keeping that traditional look where it can be timeless. That’s the major trick. All these styles have lasted for years and years and still look good. You look back on Sailor Jerry’s work, and it still looks incredible, his flash and even the photos of his tattoos. But you don’t want to do the same thing, you want to have your own twist but you still want to capture that classic look, that bold classic look.
How about tattooers that inspire you?
Aside from my coworkers, I’d say the number one answer is Ed Hardy. I’ve been tattooed by Ed before and watching the master at work was unbelievable. It was insane.
I still can’t believe how fast he works. It’s so fascinating because you realize the time he came from, he was doing acetate stencils with powder, the graphite transfer, and watching him outline things you realize no movement is wasted. He’d go right into one image into the next into the next so the line would never stop, just what would work in that angle. And you realize a lot of that is just he way he learned.
He has the perfect balance between having things classic with a new twist. His work is timeless and he takes risks. Any artist that takes a risk is really inspiring. Whether it works or not, I recognize it as being very ballsy. I think it’s healthy, it’s healthy for everybody. Sometimes I’ll see tattoos and I’ll think, “Wow, I really don’t like what that guy did,” but I can respect it because it’s different. A lot of people don’t try, and everybody tries new things here and there.
Aside from my coworkers, the three major influences are Ed, Dan Higgs and Chris Conn. Those guys have the same balance as Ed: a new twist with a classic look. Chris and Dan, their work is so far apart. Dan’s work is so simple and so heavy, and so broken down. And Chris’ is a lot fancier but it has this simplistic, powerful quality to it. When I started at Halo, I had Dan Higgs’ set of flash, his ’97 set, hung right next to my station. So I was constantly staring at it and it really had a long-term affect on me. Not to mention, one of my friends was getting a sleeve from him and the work was so incredible, it was like nothing I’d ever seen. I got tattooed by Dan a few times before he quit.
Were you able to get tattooed by Chris Conn before he retired?
Yeah, a few times. Luckily I got ‘em all in there. Dan was always on the east coast, so my wife got a sleeve from Chris and I’d been tattooed by him a few times. We used to just fly out to California and get tattooed, mostly when we were living in Boston. It’s so good to watch other people work on you and you learn so much. You come home inspired.
Any tattooer you wish you could’ve gotten work off of?
I’d push it back to Greg Irons, I would’ve loved to have gotten something from him. Sailor Jerry, I’ll start going back kind of far, like Bob Wicks, some of the older guys, Owen Jensen. Their flash, to this day, I look at it and I just wish that one day I could paint something or design something as nice as they did.
I feel like every time I look through a Jerry flash book I see new stuff. There’s this beautiful simplicity that’s so hard to capture. It’s so hard to simplify something and keep it beautiful at the same time. It’s the ultimate pain in the ass. It’s the ultimate goal for tattooers. It’s so easy to add all the frosting but the way that he strips stuff down, same with Dan [Higgs], his stiff is so simple, I feel like he breaks things down into shapes and I still strive for something like that. I’m always trying to grow in that direction, always trying to simplify. Trying to find a perfect recipe.
So, you were really hesitant about the interview…
Well, it’s backfired a few times. Did you hear about the airbrush thing? This certain magazine that will go unnamed, it came out a few months ago. They do this thing where they airbrush people. They were in here one day and they did an interview and they change everything you say, it’s insane. But they were like, “We gotta get a group shot, we gotta get a group shot.” And I was here on my day off, tattooing a friend, and I said I had to go. So [the interviewer] asked me to hang out for an hour.
Yeah and I had been tattooing all day for eight hours. So he says, “Lemme get this quick snap of you and we’ll superimpose it into the shot.” So I’m leaning up against the wall and he takes the shot. [When the magazine comes out, the shot] is in the centerfold, in this insert and they airbrushed me with all these other tattooers. We’re sitting around, airbrushed. Not my face but like everything. I am an airbrushed image. Mike had it done, too, and it’s really funny at first but it left the worst taste in my mouth. And any photo of me that’s ever been in any magazine, I look like an ass. Of course, I got my balls busted for months about it. Eric’s like, “Uh, you gotta do an interview,” so I was like, “I’m not having my fucking photo taken!”
One of the last interviews I did, the person called here and they said, “I’ve got most of it written, I just need a couple of points.” I said, “I’ve never talked to you in my life.” And they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, I know but I got the gist of it.” And the first question they asked me was, “How long you been pumpin’ ink?” So that’s all I gotta say.
Well, I think that goes with the feeling of protection, that you want to preserve tattooing, too. Do you think tattooing needs a certain level of protection?
I do. When you bring up the issue of protection it immediately makes me think of TV. There’s a lot of good and bad with that. I guess it all boils down to the person, do you stress on the bad or the good? I feel like I stress on the bad a little bit more because people’s attitudes when they come into the shop. People roll in here with their four kids and start telling me how to do things and assume you’re going get a sleeve in one sitting because someone on TV does it one sitting. It’s crazy. It’s so crazy.
One of my coworkers in Boston, he was tattooing some guy and the guy looked over and looked at his power supply and told him it was on too high. He was like, “What’re you talking about?” and the guy said, “Well, so-and-so on TV runs it like this.” They see some number on the screen and they don’t know what it means. Shit like that makes me want to freak out.
I used to go into tattoo shops when I was 16 and I was scared. I was scared of these biker dudes and they made sure I was scared. They’d talk shit to you and really get in your head. I feel like intimidation, it may not be healthy but it’s part of the mystique of tattooing. I feel like it was my initial attraction to tattooing. It was underground and it was scary. I felt like it was such a great aspect of tattooing. But now with TV It’s polished and everyone thinks they know everything about tattooing.
There’s a fine line, too, with me saying, “I like this and I don’t like this.” I’ve been tattooing ten years now but I still feel that that’s not a lot of time. I mean, I’m seeing guys that have been tattooing thirty years and I still feel like a rookie. But I feel like a lot of the guys that started far after I did feel like they’ve been in it forever. I just don’t think it’s the right approach. We all still have so much to learn.
A client said to me the other day, “You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen more than you talk.” And I feel like that’s true. I do feel like protection is important. There are a lot of secrets and mystique with tattooing that should be preserved.