It's not easy setting up an interview with a tattoo legend who doesn't need any press and has no time for your shit. [Or at least my shit.] Thankfully, the Godfather of Black & Grey tattoo, Jack 'From Way Back' Rudy of Good Time Charlie's Tattooland still does a lot of conventions, and I was able to stalk him sufficiently--with the help of Edgar Hoill--to get his thoughts on everything from single-needle tattooing to kustom kars.
As one of the godfathers of Black & Gray tattooing, you're the best person to educate people on the basics. First, please describe the black & gray style.
It's something that has evolved over the years. Originally, when Charlie [Good Time Charlie Cartwright] and I started doing it, we called it "Black & White" like the photography, but then realized--with skin tones being different and so forth--that "Black & Gray" was more accurate to what we were doing because it was, ya know, from solid black to every shade of gray imaginable. It originally was a California prison style that we adopted. Being the first ones to do it in a shop, it just started out with very humble beginnings and has evolved into what it is today. It's a style with obviously no color, using solid black to the lightest shade of gray and everything in between with a person's own skin as contrast. It's actually a difficult style to master; a lot of people try to do it, and many people can do it well, but there are a lot of people who can't.
What do you think are the elements of a good tattoo, black & gray or otherwise?
I think that contrast is always an important factor; you know, sometimes using a dark background to make something light stand out. There are a lot of different aspects that make a tattoo good, regardless of what style it is: good line work, good shading, solid color (if that's what you're doing). It's more than just a good design; it's placement, it's the structure of it, where it's at...Can you tell what it is? Do you have to get right up on it? Because some miniature fine line stuff you got to get right up on it to tell what it is while other things you can read from across the room. Or if you're trying to do tribal, you want it as solid as possible. Does it move with the body? Does it go with that part of the body? There are so many factors that make a good tattoo good.
Beyond tattooing, you also have a passion for classic cars and hot rods,and co-founded The Beatniks car club where many of its members are tattoo artists and collectors. What's the connection between tattoo art and customizing 50s styled cars and rods?
Hmmm, for the Beatniks, this is a club that is 18-years-old and counting, and all of the members are very heavily tattooed. There are a lot of tattoo artists in the club as
well, but it's not exclusive to tattoo artists by any means. All of the Beatniks share a love for tattoos and tattoo art. There are quite a few artists in the club as well who are not tattooers.For us, it's just part of the deal. There are a lot of people that are into old hot rods and customs who are not tattooed and don't have any desire to get any. For us, it's just always been part of the whole lifestyle--it's a little different for us. With most of us as artists, that talent shows in our kars, in our kustoms
and hot rods as well.