The latest issue of Inked magazine
is out, and for the "Icon" feature this month, I had a blast interviewing LA native Robert Atkinson
, who is widely respected for his Japanese-inspired as well as black & gray body suits. In the Q&A, Robert talks about how he went from tattooing tribal arm bands to crafting his signature large-scale work. He also muses on custom cars, the state of the industry and how to make tattoos hurt less.
You can pick up a copy at major newsstands or download the digital version here
It's the making tattoos hurt less part that really had me thinking about what it means to "earn" your tattoos. Here's a taste of our talk where Robert discusses using numbing creams and sprays on certain clients:
Your clients seem to trust you with a lot of their skin. You've done a lot of huge backpieces.
I've done about 35-40 backpieces in the past 8 years. Large-scale tattoo work is a luxury for sure. Any time you see someone with large work you know they paid for it. It's like wearing a Rolex or driving a nice car. It's luxury lifestyle shit, but it's not something you can just go buy. You have to deal with a motherfucker like me, show up for your appointments, pay a bunch of money and get it done.
And it hurts.
It hurts more ways than one -- it's painful and it's expensive.
There are a number of tattoo artists these days offering numbing creams and sprays that make the tattoo process hurt less. Do you offer it to your clients?
I keep a thing of spray for a few guys -- not for someone who's going to sit for two hours -- but for someone who will come in from out of town and wants to sit there and get four to five hours done. It makes it easier on him and easier for me. If people come in after wrapping themselves in Emla cream [to numb the area], I'm cool with it, but I'm not gonna say, "I have a have this cream and for $50 bucks extra I'll numb you up." I used it myself for the last sitting I had with Filip [Leu] and it fucking helped man.
Don't you think you lose some badass cred by taking away some of the hurt?
At the end of the day, no one is giving out trophies for being tough. In the beginning I was like, "Oh no, fuck that shit." Then, at one point, I lined 18 backs in one year and all these guys were going to a spa to get numbed up before coming in would lay as stiff as a board and get four hours out of that shit. So I started to think it wasn't so bad because they weren't moving around, or pissing and moaning that they need to get up every ten minutes. It's just another tool for big work, especially if you're looking at a 20-plus hour ordeal.
Robert also shared his thoughts on how he's seen the industry evolve and where he thinks it's going. We talked about the progression of his own work and what he does for fun when not tattooing. But it's that pain part of the our conversation I've been fixating on as I'm staring a five to six hour rib session next week. In light of the news that no one will be handing me a badass trophy when I'm done, I may so opt for the Vasocaine
. For an appointment with Robert, hit him up through his site.