Vibrant and dynamic tattoo work, largely inspired by Japanese and Americana tattooing traditions, make up the portfolio of Marco Serio. Marco, who was a resident artist at Manhattan's Invisible NYC for over five years, moved to Amsterdam in 2011, working at a local shop and then in his own private studio. Most recently, however, he gathered a crew of 9 top tattooers, each with their own unique tattoo point of view, and opened The Blue Blood Studios in Amsterdam.
Despite running a crazy busy studio, Marco took some time to play along with our Proust Questionnaire for Tattooists:
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
To be completely unhappy with a tattoo I have done. That is why I strive to not let that happen.
What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Walking into the studio with my fiance, hanging out with the crew and tattooing.
Your most marked characteristic?
What is your principle defect?
I'm a scatterbrain.
Your favorite painters?
Hieronymus Bosch, Istvan Sandorfi, Benjamin Cohen, Picasso's early years, and Dali.
Your favorite musicians?
Dan Auerbach, Miles Davis, Howlin' Wolf, and Lightnin Hopkins.
Who are your favorite writers?
Nietzsche, Oscar Wilde, Fernando Pessoa, and Walt Whitman.
Your favorite virtue?
Who would you have liked to be?
How would you like to die?
In my sleep.
What is your present state of mind?
Calm and happy.
What is your motto?
The bigger the sacrifice, the greater the reward.
See more of Marco's work on The Blue Blood site, Facebook, and Instagram.
Also, The Blue Blood Studios will be hosting several upcoming events for both fellow tattooers (painting nights in which visiting artists will share their knowledge) and day donations for charities (a day for the homeless, a for battered women, and a for kids in need). Check in with the studio on Facebook.
Colorado-based tattoo artist and painter Shawn McDonald of American Standard Tattoo Gallery in Fort Collins, CO, has been on the road, doing guest spots across the country, but he took some time to play along with our Proust Questionnaire for Tattooists, the Q&A designed as an old party game -- offering some insight into one's personality, including particular affection for Scarlet Johansson.
Shawn will be a guest artist at New York Adorned in NYC from October 27th to 30th, and then at Mainstay Tattoo in Austin, Texas from November 13 to 16th.
I believe Shawn may still have some free spots left at NY Adorned this week, so hit them up to see if you can score some time.
Now, here's our quick & dirty Q&A:
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Being uninspired, there's nothing more miserable than having no idea what to make next.
What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Those final exciting moments when a great tattoo or painting is about to completed.
Your most marked characteristic?
What is your principle defect?
At times, I'm maybe too submerged into my work, not giving enough time to normal.
Your favorite painters?
Caravaggio, Leonardo DaVinci, Angelica Kauffman, Timothy Hoyer, Mike Davis, Albrecht Durer.
Your favorite musicians?
Clint Mansell, Juicy J, Sargeist
Who are your favorite writers?
Oscar Wilde, DaVinci, Harlen Coben
Who would you have liked to be?
Who married Scarlet Johansson?
How would you like to die?
See more of Shawn's work on Instagram.
Before Ami James, Kat Von D, and reality TV, there was tattoo superstar Lyle Tuttle. Tattooing since 1949, Lyle rose to fame in the late '60s tattooing a predominantly female clientele and celebrities like Janis Joplin, Peter Fonda, and Cher at his San Francisco studio. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the inside cover of Rolling Stone in the 1970s, an iconic image of modern tattooing. Despite criticism for being the tattoo media darling of his time, he is credited with presenting tattooing as an art form to the mainstream and promoting safe and hygienic industry practices. Tuttle officially retired around 1990 but continues to travel the tattoo convention circuit, often teaching seminars on machine building and lecturing on tattoo history. In this interview, he offers some history lessons, discusses fame, and muses on tattoo artists as contemporary witch doctors.
With your long and exciting history in tattooing, what do you consider one of the most significant landmarks in the art during your career?
Women's liberation. With more freedom, more women got tattooed. Back in the day, I was in more panties than a gynecologist--because women were getting their tattoos inside the bikini line, little rosebuds and butterflies.
What about female tattooists? In the documentary Covered, you said that when women would come into your studio wanting to be tattooers, you'd say: "Look, honey, you got the world's oldest profession tied up, now you want the second? Do me a favor and buzz off." How have your thoughts on women in tattooing changed since then?
Tattoo shops today are a lot kinder and gentler places than they used to be. In the past, tattoo artists worked in arcades, and it wasn't a good environment. Sometimes it was hard enough to protect yourself, let alone be the frontman for some woman. Women who were involved in tattooing at that time were generally married to a tattoo artist, so they worked together--there were a few man-and-wife teams. There was a woman who tattooed before WWII in the 1930s. Her name was Mildred Hull. She was on the Bowery in NYC and had a sign displaying that she was the only woman tattooist on the Bowery. She was very proud.
So you're saying that you were talking more about the environment of tattooing at the time?
Yes, the environment has changed. It's eco-friendly to women now! It's a pink world! And I think women in tattooing have been good for the industry.
Do you think that celebrities have also played a big role in the popularity of tattooing?
Oh yes, sure. I remember there was this one guy who was getting an armband--his arm was the size of an oak tree--and tattoos always hurt more on the inside of the arm than the outside. And when the tattoo got into the inside of the arm, the guy said, "When I get a hold of that Dennis Rodman, I'm going to kill him..." I thought that was pretty funny.
You've tattooed so many celebrities yourself. Cher, Peter Fonda, Janis Joplin...
The first day I went into work after Janis died, there was a girl waiting by the front door, and she wanted Janis's heart on her chest. A lot of people wanted the tattoos she had. I still get inquiries about her wristband, which I just freehanded from a piece of jewelry she had.
Tattooing celebrities also brought you notice, like being on the inside cover of Rolling Stone and even on their Christmas card. What was one of the best things that came of that?
Well, I'll tell you what wasn't: Fame and fortune don't necessarily walk hand in hand. You have to be smart enough to make the fortune from the fame. But I never was a money-grubber. The buck was never first and foremost to me. All my publicity, which was mostly from women I tattooed, started in the late '60s. 1970 was a bumper year for me, '71 even more so, and '72 was my heyday. I don't even know why you're talking to me now. I'm a has-been. But I guess that's better than being a never-was.
Has there ever been a backlash to your popularity?
Not really. There were some people I alienated because of my popularity. Today, I have guys coming up to me and saying, "I want to be as famous as you someday." And I say, "You ain't fucking good-looking enough!" [Laughs.] But tattooing has really been kind to me.
What do you think about today's popularity of tattooing?
It's too easy. Too accessible. Today, you see supplier catalogs in the tattoo shop waiting room. And the shops have become pussycats and hangouts for yuppies and other degenerates. These silly bastards are getting tattooed on the sides of their necks and getting their hands all marked up. When people start screwing around with their bodies, they keep looking for new avenues and then it gets into one-upmanship. How do you take a day off? These people can't take a day off unless they go to some blind farm. I'm not ashamed of my tattoos, but they are nobody's goddamn business.
Tell me about your first tattoo.
When I was growing up during WWII, many servicemen coming back from the war or on leave would have a tattoo dribbled on them, and boy, those were hot stuff to me, something everything teenage boy would admire--travel, adventure, romance. Tattoos to me were like stickers on my luggage. I just had to have one.
When did you get it?
In 1946. I went to San Francisco when I was 14 one day--I lived 120 miles north of San Francisco--but not to get a tattoo, just to see the big city. I passed by a shop and peeked in the door and the guy says to me, "What the hell do you want?" I said, "Umm," and pointed to a heart with "mother" because I could afford that one. I remember when I stepped over the threshold of that shop I had no idea where it was leading me. It was stepping into a time machine. It consumed my whole life.
I don't know. It was an atavistic tug. Atavism is a reversion to primitive nature. I believe in genetic remembrance. How many thousands of generations of cultures have had tattoos as an important part of their culture? Tattooing is the mother art. It's been around as long as anything else. Neanderthals could have tattooed; there's evidence of that in cave paintings. But the damn church got involved and destroyed everything they didn't agree with, so there's a gap in the record, but it dates back long before written history. Being a tattoo artist is the closest goddamn thing the general public has to a witch doctor they are ever going to get. We all suffer from the lost tribe syndrome.
When did you start tattooing?
Three years later I was tattooing professionally, in 1949. The designs we'd do in those days are what they now call "old school." At least they spell school correctly. Now there's "new skool" with a K. I'm coming out with a school, a style of my own called "old stool." We'll only use brown outlines.
You can come out of retirement for that!
Yeah. [Laughs.] It's funny because I come out of retirement a lot. Anywhere I'm at, I'm asked to do a free autograph tattoo. I've been doing it for 15 years or something. One guy came up to me and said, "I get so goddamn tired to roll over in the morning and see your name on my old lady." There are also people with my portrait tattooed on them that I've signed. What I got a bang out of is, one time, a woman got so mad at me, she went out and had my name laser removed. That's a real peacock feather in my hat!
Why was she mad?
She erroneously thought that I had said something about her at a convention. Someone must have told her a lie, which started off as me being drunk in a bar. I drink. I usually start around 12 noon, but I don't get drunk.
You mentioned conventions. I see that you're still going around the convention circuit a lot and teaching seminars.
I've been doing seminars on machine building for 10 years. I'm an amateur machine builder. I don't have a factory or anything. I build them for my entertainment. But I'd never thought that I'd be teaching anybody sitting in a classroom and divulging secrets. In the past, it would be unheard of.
But you have done a lot to preserve tattooing's past. Tell me about your museum collection. What are some of the highlights?
Well, for one, there's my Edison autographic printer. It was made for cutting perf [perforated] patterns. They punch all these holes in a piece of paper following a design to transfer the artwork, so it was used as a stencil to make copies. It wasn't invented as a tattoo machine, but it was the first electric handheld device with a reciprocating motion. You don't need much penetration to go through paper, but to tattoo a person, you have to have a much longer stroke. So in 1891, Samuel O'Reilly, an Irish tattoo artist who became well-known in New York, came up with the idea to increase the stroke to make it more powerful and penetrate the skin. He's credited as the inventor of the electric tattoo machine, but Edison really was. O'Reilly only made a modification of the autographic printer. That's the granddaddy of all tattoo machines even though it was not designed for it. Edison in all his stuffiness would probably have frowned upon tattoos.
A literary agent asked me once, "Why don't you write a book?" But something stuck in my head that I heard someone say: "To write is not to live because you're reliving." Why rekindle an old relationship when you [can] go out and make a half a dozen new ones? On Benjamin Franklin's [mock] epitaph--I don't remember the exact words--was something like, "Here lies Ben Franklin, like the cover of an old book with its pages torn out...the story will be written again in a greater and grander edition."
In your 80 years on this earth, what personal doctrine or ideology have you developed?
"No sweat." Don't ever sweat over anything and don't let anyone make you sweat. I have it tattooed on the back of my leg in kanji, but they couldn't translate "No Sweat" exactly so it reads "Perspiration No." I've been at Chinese places and pulled my pant leg up and they stare at it, beyond their comprehension. I'm actually just seeking to find one truth. If I find one, then maybe I will find the second one. Man is always looking for the secret. I'd like to know one goddamned truth before I die.
As it's his birthday today, I found it fitting to post my Q&A with Noah Morris of Regicide Tattoo Studio in Dyersburg, Tennessee. I met Noah in person at the Virginia Beach Tattoo Fest in August, and then followed up with him on a discussion about the tattoo scene in Northwest Tennessee, whether the client is always right, what there is to love about tattooing, and more.
How did you get your start in tattooing in 2002?
I have to be honest, I got my start as a scratcher. I was in college and was doing graphic design work. From that, I had a few friends talk me into buying one of those kits. What can I say? I was young and naive . Fortunately I didn't do very many. I saw very quickly that something wasn't right, and if I wanted to do this, I had to do it right. So I stopped and went to the best shop I could find. I went in, had a brief conversation with the owner, returned a month later with some drawings. From that I started a formal apprenticeship. Left college and never looked back.
What's the tattoo scene like in Northwest Tennessee, and how have you seen it change over recent years?
The tattoo scene in Northwest Tennessee and surrounding areas isn't the greatest. This area, in general, does not support the arts, and it's something that I still struggle with now. So there wasn't a lot of freedom to explore, and when I did, I usually failed miserably. I spent most of my earlier career just trying to make a living. Shops were few and far between and there was very little comradery between those that were. Things are starting to change a little now. Better artists are coming into the area and a mutual respect is being established between those artists.
My clients are becoming more open minded as well. This has to do a lot with me finally realizing that if you want to tattoo cool shit, you have to draw cool shit. So I have started focusing my time and drawing things I want to tattoo and putting them in a big book. I post them on Facebook and Instagram so at least people are seeing different options. Still though, heaven forbid I draw a hannya or oni! It's like I just drew the devil. We're still working on that. It'll come around. Haha!
What kind of designs are people asking for these days?
It's hard to say what people are asking for these days. It's funny because the internet has been such a blessing and a curse at the same time. People come into the shop talking about not wanting to pick some flash piece off the wall. And now everybody walks in with something from Google images or Pinterest (Pinterest is the worst) on their phone. I just laugh because 15 million people have just saved that image too, as opposed to the ones that hang in the shop. Personally I would rather have something off the wall. I have flash tattooed on me. Still, to this day, I haven't run into anybody with the same tattoo.I love the classics. I could tattoo skulls, flowers, women and Japanese imagery every day. That's what gets me excited.
If you don't think a client's idea is a good one, do you: (a) do it anyway (the "client is always right" approach); (b) talk them into another tattoo that you feel would be better; (c) turn away the client and not work with that person?
This is one industry where the client is not always right. In fact, they're usually wrong. As a tattooer, it is your job to guide them in the right direction. That's why it's good to have plenty of art on hand. People respond better to visuals than just trying to explain what you're thinking. It took me a long time to figure that out. We try to work with everybody and most of the time it works out. But I have come to the point that I will flat out tell somebody, "No, I can't do that." And it pisses off some people. But, at the end of the day, I want to feel good about what I tattooed. Even if it's just a small name on somebody. I want that name to fit the spot, be clean, and legible. I don't want to put 10 different images with 6 names in a spot the size of my hand. That would just be doing a disservice to the customer and myself.
I know it seems a lot of this sounds negative. I don't want it to be that way at all. I love tattooing and it has given me a great life. And it's the clients that make that happen. Without their willingness to let you permanently put something on them, we as tattooers wouldn't have anything to do. I wouldn't want to do anything else. Sure it can be frustrating, but what job isn't at times. In fact this is one of the hardest but funnest jobs one could ask for.
What projects, travels, events are coming up for you?
I have big plans for 2015. I am new to the convention scene, but I plan on doing at least 5 shows this year. I find it very refreshing to get to work outside your natural environment and break away from your comfort zone. I will definitely be going back to Virginia Beach. Such a fun show, and hey, got to meet you there. A couple shows in Nashville and just see what else comes my way. I have seen how traveling can burn some tattooers out and I don't want that to happen. One of these days I would love to make it to Europe and Japan. That's all in due time. I'm starting to get into oil painting. I'm super excited about that. So hopefully soon I'll have some nice oil paintings to share with everybody. I feel it's going to be a great way to expand artistically and bring what I've learned into tattooing.
What do you love about tattooing?
The thing I love about art and tattooing is there's no topping out. As long as you keep pushing yourself to be better, you will have a career that lasts a lifetime. I don't feel I've even come close to doing my best work. There is still so much to learn. I hope I never become complacent with my abilities. I want every 10 years of tattooing to be my starting point.
You can keep up with Noah on Facebook and Instagram. And wish him a Happy Birthday!
Italian tattooer and painter Lara Scotton has made NYC her permanent home since 2011, and as part of the East Side Ink crew, she's catered to the tattoo needs of the city -- and to many cities in her extensive travels. She graciously took time from busy schedule to chat about her work, life, and share what's currently on her bookshelf, in her headphones, and on her computer (and much more). Here's how our Q&A went:
What do you think has been your greatest experience as a tattooer -- and what has been the most difficult?
Not too long ago, a took a day to tattoo an entire family of 6 cousins. They were my clients already and it was great having people all around that want to commemorate their union and you are the chosen one to do it! I'm the family tattooer. I find the bond between tattooer and clients beautiful, when they keep coming back and they ended up being your friend. Same thing when you have to tattoo another artist, especially if it's a friend. I can keep going on tho...it is such a pleasure doing what I'm doing.
The most difficult experience for sure was the beginning, struggling to try to work everyday, and show people that you are really serious about it. Working in 4 different shops, sometimes far from each other, carrying all the equipment around -- that was really hard and confusing at the same time.
When did you join East Side Ink?
I used to guest spot at East Side Ink when I was traveling between Europe an US. I was in the States spending three months in the summer and three months in the winter; that was in 2010/2011. Then one day, I was working in London and the East Side Ink manager called me to ask me if I wanted to come to New York; they needed an artist at the time. The very next day I bought my flight ticket, and a month after, I moved to New York. Now are 3 years I'm there as a permanent tattooer.
What have been the biggest differences in tattoo culture between NYC and your hometown of Milan?
NYC was a good school for me. I feel like I really started tattooing in here. People can be easy: they go from having no tattoos, to starting a full sleeve. I feel Milan and Italy didn't reach that point yet. People think a little more about having a sleeve done. They start with little things and eventually they getting bigger work done.
You have a diverse portfolio, with some particularly beautiful lettering work. What style of tattooing do you particularly love to do?
I like to do lettering. I love drawing the tattoo for my clients, and I try to put flowers in everything that I do. I love doing black and gray and colors with patterns and Asian influences.
What would be your dream project?
Dream project? Well, having an entire body to tattoo would be great!
Do you find a lot of tattoo influences in your painting, and vice versa?
Yes, lately I found it really hard to paint something that doesn't look like a tattoo design. It gets all mixed up. But that doesn't happen the same way when I have to tattoo. When I'm working on skin,I'm always trying to think about how it is going to stay after few years.
What guest spots and conventions do you have coming up?
I'll be at Everlasting Tattoo in San Francisco at the end of July (I'm doing guest spot there every three months); at The Family Business in London at the end of August; and in the beginning of September I'll be in Italy -- Adrenaline in Follonica, Tik tak Tattoo in Cantu' e and probably in another shop in Milan, but I didn't decide yet. Next year I would love to do more European conventions but I didn't go that far yet with planning.
What is something that people would find most unexpected about you?
I play tennis every Wednesday and I have a lot of plants!
What are you currently ...
Reading? "Sacred Bleu" by Christopher Moore
Listening? I'm going backward with music; yesterday I was listening to Mad Season.
Watching? I just watched How to be a Man on Netflix. Really funny!
Following? I follow More Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.
Finding? I was at a concert and I saw Jimmy Page.
Find more of Lara's work on her site, Instragram, and Facebook.
The US imported exceptional tattoo talent when New Zealand's Erin Chance decided to make Richmond, Virginia her new home. I became a fan of Erin's work, which leans towards the neotraditional, from her time at Auckland's renowned Sacred Tattoo studio, and I'm stoked that Erin will be sharing her talents on the road in North America (and places beyond). I grabbed Erin for a quick email Q &A. Here's how it went down:
First off, when did you officially make the US your home?
I finally got my Green Card right before Christmas 2012, so I've been here just over a year now. Best Christmas present! I'm based in Richmond, VA., but on the road a lot.
Has moving to Virginia had an impact on your work?
A little, mainly what machines I use, etc.. My art has been going through some changes. I'm sure tattoos will follow suit before too long.
You have a wonderfully diverse portfolio, but also one with a particular bent towards neotraditional work. Do you prefer to work in different tattoo styles or focus on one genre?
Thank you! I really enjoy Neo-traditional/illustrative work above all else, but I also enjoy recreating fine art as tattoos from time to time. Not photorealism, at least in colour. That terrifies me! Ha! More like comic covers or fantasy paintings. I'm a nerd.
Since you began tattooing in 2006, has there been any experience, whether it be in tattooing or personal, that had a profound affect on your work?
Traveling has been a huge part of my career since early on. I've been places and met people I probably wouldn't have had the chance to if it weren't for tattooing, and it's impossible not to learn from those experiences. Also getting the job at Sacred, so early on in my career was an opportunity of a lifetime. Dean Sacred and Dan Andersen were amazing mentors and I wouldn't be where I am today without them. Chris Bezencon of Eastside Tattoo in NZ was my first mentor. There I learned a unique approach (by modern standards) to tattooing. Rotaries and single needle outlines! As a result, I am much more comfortable using a tight 3 than a 9rl [round liner]. Ha!
One of your tattoos that has made its way all around the internet is the stunning fox hunt themed backpiece, (shown above). Could you tell us more about that piece?
The fox hunt scene is on an old family friend. I've known Steve my whole life, and he was actually a huntsman for years so this was a tribute to that time in his life. Although we don't actually have foxes in New Zealand. Haha. It took somewhere around 70-75 hours (7 full days and 2 halves) over 2 months. He is a machine!
If you could sum up your philosophy on tattooing, what would it be?
Work hard. Give the cleanest tattoo you can. Make people happy, but not at the expense of your own professional integrity, or sanity!
You recently showed your fine art work at Glitch Gallery. What are the parallels between your fine art and tattoo work?
Generally, my art and tattoos are more or less the same style, but for this show, I definitely pulled away a little in some pieces. I think, as I start painting more, the shift will become more noticeable.
Where is the best place online for people to purchase your artwork?
You can by my prints at www.erinchancetattoo.bigcartel.com.
When you're not tattooing or painting, what do you love to do?
I'm a gamer, haha! Not that I ever get time for video games these days. I read a lot, and I have 3 lovably annoying cats that love sitting on my lap or shoulder while I'm trying to draw.
Any guest spots and conventions coming up?
So far, I have a guest spot at Archive Tattoo in Toronto coming up, then Hell City Columbus, Silver State Reno, a guest spot at Red Rocket NYC, the New Zealand Tattoo & Arts festival, and the Melbourne Body art Expo. I'm sure there will be more added in between though.
See more of Erin's work on her site, Instagram, and Twitter.
The work of Slovakian tattooist Ivana Belakova of Ivana Tattoo Art is hard to forget. Her style blends street and graphic art, infusing it with what she calls "funky color," to an effect that is unique and exciting. The self-taught artist did her first tattoo about 12 years ago, and since that time, has earned a reputation worldwide, not only for her tattoos but fine art as well. Currently, Ivana lives and works in Los Angeles, but is constantly traveling, so I was thrilled that she took the time to answer some questions for Needles and Sins.
If you met someone who was not familiar with your artwork and asked you about it, what would you tell her?
I would say I do funky color. It's probably the closest how can I describe my style. I do enjoy doing "modern" funky looking designs: a mix of street art and graphic art...a bit of realism at the same time. Yet, I am open minded to try new things that are very different from my particular style.
At the moment, I am doing more "street art" looking tattoos. I was a bit tired of doing realistic looking designs and I'm getting back to my "roots" now, I totally enjoy graffiti style artwork. I just want to have more fun and freedom in my work!
I look at the tattoos I did yesterday, and I would change them today. My style is constantly evolving, but there's similarity in my work when it comes to colors. With every tattoo I do, I'm learning something new and the level I'm at right now is not defined and never will be. My mind is constantly changing; so for me, it's a very natural process of evolving as an artist and as a person. I do what I feel at that particular moment. Every person is so different and every one of them gives me a different vibe.
You've been interviewed for so many different magazines, and many features on tattooists, in general, tend to focus on the same questions. Is there anything you'd like to say about your work that I haven't before?
Perhaps how I see and how I feel about my tattoos...I consider my tattoos like a form of contemporary art. My tattoos are not probably masterpieces like whole body suits or they are not coming from an old tradition; yet, they are important to be here. I consider tattoos as a serious art form; it is so raw and unique especially when it's made the right way on a professional level.
When it comes to me, the most important tattoos are when I feel I pushed boundaries within myself. When I come up with something new, when I create something different. When I felt I have moved a bit forward. Those are definitely the most important and meaningful tattoos for me.
A top tattooer specializing in photorealism, Tony Mancia, is captured up-close and in detail in this great video, also embedded below, produced by Steadfast Videos. It's a well produced, tight documentation of Tony's process in creating this "Pride & Envy" tattoo. It's particularly interesting for those who want to check Tony's technique -- you can get a glimpse of the needle configurations, how the ink is put in skin, the highlights and color effects, and other ingredients in making this really strong tattoo.
Find more of Tony's work at Manciatattoos.com. His private studio is located in Inman Park, Atlanta, GA; however, he's often on the road. Check his schedule here.
And find more of Steadfast's videos on Vimeo here.
I had such a pleasure interviewing tattoo power couple Michele Wortman and Guy Aitchison of Hyperspace Studios for the January issue of Inked magazine's Icon feature. [It's the one with Kat Von D and Deadmau5 all lovey on the cover (pre-breakup).]
In the interview, Michele and Guy share how their distinctive artistic styles developed, some of the controversy behind their approaches, how one can be a better artist through attitude adjustment, and their most cherished collaboration: baby Kaia Rose.
Here's a bit from our talk:
You're both renowned for your distinctive styles. How would you describe them?
GUY: I work in abstract style--a lot of different abstract styles--but generally it's earned the definition of biomechanical. This can take many forms as long as it's a nonrepresentational kind of tattooing that flows with the human form. it could be something that is either kind of robotic--imagine a Transformers style--or it could be something a bit more organic, like an alien exoskeleton with all kinds of crazy textures. or sometimes you get a mix. People who get tattoos from me generally just want to get tattooed. a lot of people feel like they need to have a pretext for their tattoo that symbolizes something, but people who have collected enough often will arrive at a place where they are getting tattooed because they're getting tattooed. They like tattoos. They are looking to be decorated. That's the number one rule of this style. Make it attractive, make it flow well with the body, make it sort of exaggerate the musculature a bit. it's meant to be flattering but also meant to instill a sense of, "Wow, I've never seen anything like that before." When people come across it, they should be stopped in their tracks a bit.
Guy Aitchison Tattoo above.
When you first started tattooing and developing this style in 1988, it was really new and innovative.
GUY: Well, I wasn't the first person to do this stuff. I was attracted to H.R. Giger's paintings. That was part of what got me interested in tattooing initially. I wanted to tattoo stuff like that. For those not familiar, Giger designed the sets and monsters for Ridley Scott's Alien movie. It has this look that just has a natural flow, great depth, and a sense of realism to it. I thought it would look great on skin. in my first year of tattooing, I came across a few people who were actually doing Giger paintings as tattoos, and a few had done a really nice job of it. It definitely proved the point that it was a viable style. I then started hanging around a few of these tattooers: Eddie Deutsche, Greg Kulz, aaron cain, and Marcus Pacheco. These are the ones who were really exploring the abstract style at the time. We started working on each other and collaborating in various different mediums, and then diverged away from being Giger clones, and each of us looked to redefine what we were seeing. In particular, I was looking for ways to make it look stronger as a tattoo. I was working with bigger shapes that flowed with the body as the structure for the whole thing. and then you have basically this infinite variety of textures and effects, lighting, things that you can apply to it. So it was definitely influenced by H.R. Giger and by these other tattooers I worked with, but at this particular juncture, 23 years later, it's certainly taken on its own look.
Michele, how did your style develop?
MICHELE: My style originated from being a collector and not necessarily resonating with the early work I collected. I started to assess it more and realized that I wanted something that was more unified, that had less weight to it, and that reflected more of how I was feeling rather than the styles that were available at the time.
Around when was that?
MICHELE: It was around 1995 when I first got a half sleeve. I know that's not very much coverage, but at the time it seemed it, because you didn't really see women with the coverage you see now, and it felt like a big step. Then I got a chest piece a year later. My work had a fair amount of black in it, and I wanted something that felt lighter and a little freer. So I started getting lasered, getting rid of all the black in my ink so that I could reconstruct it, and during that period of time, I became a tattoo artist.
Michele Wortman tattoo above.
Would you say your style is more feminine?
MICHELE: It's interesting you should say that because originally I had wanted a half sleeve of flowers, and this girl looked at me, rolled her eyes, and said, "You would get that. How typical of you." That bothered me, so I decided I would rebel against my feminine nature and get architecture, which is very masculine in my opinion, very manmade. The fact that i rebelled against my feminine nature in the beginning only to come back to it later was an interesting lesson for me--to be comfortable and enjoy things that might be associated with having feminine qualities and not try to fight it and be someone I'm not. That had a lot to do with the energy i was putting into my tattoo work, and that became my defining style.
Black is really part of the old-school tattoo tradition, black and bold. Have you ever been criticized for not following these tattoo tenets?
MICHELE: Absolutely. I've been heavily criticized for my style. I've had people come up to me at tattoo conventions, slam my portfolio down, and tell me that what I was doing wasn't tattooing. So I had a steep hill to climb, and I still feel like I'm climbing it. But if you believe in what you do, you need to stick with it.
Do you have a response to the technical critiques?
MICHELE: I do have a response. Early on there was some validity to their assessment because I was just learning to tattoo and my work wasn't as developed as it is now. It was definitely very experimental, not using black outlines. The black has a boldness to it, and it does seem that it stays in the skin better, so I can see their point. The thing is, work that is soft in contrast with a limited use of black needs multiple passes. If someone has a piece that doesn't look so hot, it's not necessarily because it won't work. You really need to get that saturation and develop contrast over multiple sessions, since you don't have a strong, bold line holding your design in place. It's a different approach to tattooing, so it has its own flavor of rebellion in there, even though it may be viewed as a stereotypical feminine aesthetic.
Read the rest of the Q&A here.
Also check Guy & Michele's online resource for tattooists and collectors: Tattooeducation.com.
Today, Part 1 of the Tattoo Age feature on Mutsuo of Three Tides Tattoo was released on Vice.com, and as anticipated from the trailer we posted last week, it provides viewers with a very real portrayal of one of Osaka's finest tattooers, artistically and on a personal level.
It opens with a great quote from Chris Garver (which was also in the trailer), about Mutsuo receiving a "90s style tattoo education" -- that is, taking every request that walked in the door and learning the skills to master the different tattoo styles requested by clients. The fact that he was mentored by all the shop's artists and guest artists played a big role in developing these skills as well. As Garver says, "He's a maverick." The footage is also a great peak into the daily life at Three Tides Tattoo.
To see more of Mutsuo's work, also check his Facebook page and Tumblr.
The second season of Vice's Tattoo Age video series began with the fabulous 3-part profile on Valerie Vargas of Frith Street Tattoo in London. Now, it takes us to Osaka, Japan for a peak into the life of Mutsuo of the Three Tides Tattoo. Part 1 of Mutsuo's profile drops October 10th, but the trailer below promises that it will be another great watch.
What's particularly interesting about Mutsuo, as discussed in the trailer, is that he's skilled in a variety of genres -- black & grey, old school, new school, traditional Japanese... Chris Garver remarks that his tattoo dexterity is rooted in the "90's style tattoo education" in which Mutsuo learned from all the artists, including guest tattooers, at the renowned Three Tides Tattoo studio. Vice notes that he "went from being one of the shop's first customers, to the shop's first apprentice, to the most senior artist there." Looking forward to learning more about this progression.
While we wait for Part 1 next Wednesday, we can check Mutsuo's tattoo work on the Three Tides site, his Facebook page and Tumblr.
"Tattourist" Jason Tyler Grace sold his possessions and set out to travel the world in early 2010, immersing himself in life-changing experiences, personally and professionally. He says in his first Tattoo Artist Magazine column: "I had no idea at all what a huge fucking impact this [traveling] would have on me and my work or what it would do for my outlook on tattooing, the craft, the industry and the community." In that column and subsequent writing on TAM, he shares his wild and wonderful adventures, and you can indeed see the impact of them in the tattoo works he posted along the way.
Now, JTG is settling down and making NYC his home. This month, he joined the stellar crew of Kings Avenue Tattoo and will be working at both locations -- two days a week in Massapeque, Long Island and three days a week on the Bowery in Manhattan. He says on his blog:
Jason employs vastly different visual imagery, so that you may find old school traditional work next to LA-styled black & gray next to graphic abstract art throughout his portfolio. Check his tattoos on Facebook as well as his blog and website.
To make an appointment, contact Kings Avenue Tattoo via email email@example.com or phone [LI: 516-799-5464 and NYC: 212-431-5464].
Tattoo by Raffaela Olomhe Ricci
Drawing & Tattoo by Brunella Ricci
Italian-born tattoo nomads Raffaella Olomhe Ricci & Brunella Ricci travel the world soaking up the art and culture of the places they visit, translating these influences into very different but highly skillful tattoo work that reflect their own approaches to the craft.
In the late nineties, the sisters owned and operated Stigmata Tatuaggi, one of the first female run studios in Milan. While the shop was highly successful for many years, Raffaella Olomhe and Brunella wanted to concentrate more on their art, while seeing the world, rather be addled with the extra work tattooists must manage for a busy shop. So they closed Stigmata and hit the road. Brunella says, "Traveling is a great way to open your mind, to get to know other realities and meet other artists."
In Raffaella Olomhe's work, indigenous tattoo art of the tribes she has visited have had quite an impact on her own art. She says of her style:
I specialize in ornamental tattooing, solid black, shading and dotwork. I work exclusively freehand and custom, strongly influenced by Maori and Pacific tattoo art. My work is more aesthetic than symbolic with a careful study of shapes and patterns. I mix different styles from many cultures. I also specialize in Celtic dotwork.
In quite another artistic direction is Brunella's tattooing, which she describes in this way: "My style is black and gray. I'm inspired by old lithographic prints, comics, graphic design, and look to interpret them in my own way."
At the moment, the sisters are based at Tribe2 Tattoo in Glasgow, Scotland. They will then head to New Zealand in November & December 2012 and do some guest spots as well as work the New Plymouth tattoo convention on November 24 & 25th.
Check their blogs for updates on their travels and for new tattoos and art.
For an in-depth article on the Ricci sisters, pick up the May 2012 issue of Tattoo Revolution magazine (also available as a digital download).
Celtic Tattoo by Raffaela Olomhe Ricci
Tattoo by Brunella Ricci
As March is National Women's History Month, we'll be doing even more profiles on female tattooers and collectors over the next few weeks.
To start it all off, it seems fitting that we profile the colorful Kristel Oreto as my feature on her for the UK's Total Tattoo is in the latest issue of the magazine (April 2012), and it also happens to be her first day working at Art Machine Productions in Philadelphia.
Here's a taste of the Total Tattoo article:
There was a time when telling someone they "tattooed like a girl" would get you punched in the face. But Kristel Oreto unabashedly deems her portfolio "bubble girlie style," and has a clientele of both men and women who come to her for work that is sugar and spice, and occasionally, a death metal skull.
Much of her fan base need not travel far as Kristel is a fixture on the tattoo convention circuit but you can find her full time at Art Machine Productions in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but she continues to tattoo, four times a year, at Crimson Anchor studio in New Port Richey, Florida, which is owned by her husband Joe Tattoo.
"Bubble girlie style" not only describes her tattoos, but her personality. "I'm a really girlie, over the top, bubbly person, so when people ask me to explain my work, it's just that: my style is me," says the 30-year-old native Floridian. "It's based off of New School--all my influences have come from New School--and things I love. I love filigree, old antique stuff and Hello Kitty. [...] I love the way the candy and cupcakes look. They are so happy and colorful. There's no way you can look at a cupcake or piece of candy and have a bad thought in your mind.
To read the entire piece, look for the issue at booksellers in Europe, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. You can also purchase a copy online.
To see more of Kristel's work, check her online portfolio and Facebook page.
The folks at Vice TV are offering one last piece of Tattoo Age goodness with this bonus video from their Freddy Corbin profile. [See Part I, Part II, and Part III.]
In this wonderful footage, you'll find Freddy's return to Varanasi, India in January 2010 where he tattooed local people there for free in a small temple on the Ganges River. He explains that he returned for "good juju" with the birth of his son. I particularly love the photos of smiling faces from those who received one of the seven religious symbols Freddy drew up. While the whole video is touching, the story of Freddy tattooing a deaf boy who couldn't speak is especially moving. Once again, I highly recommend it.
Another treat from Vice is their Dan Santoro print giveaway, which we posted last week, asking y'all to comment on the Needles & Sins Syndicate FB page or by Tweeting at us to win. Randomized.com picked four winners, and a screen cap of that pick can be found on Facebook.
I'm really hoping the series gets picked up for a second season. I'll be following @Tattoo_Age on Twitter for updates.
In the Dec./Jan. issue of Inked magazine, you'll find my Q&A with the inimitable Ed Hardy, a man who inspired fellow artists and tattoo collectors to move beyond the tattoo "menu" on shops walls and pursue custom, personalized art. For those outside the tattoo world, his name is associated with everything from trucker hats to condoms, and because of his Ed Hardy clothing line and merchandising deals, the Californian native was able to retire with a sizable nest egg and fully return to painting, ceramics, and other mediums after 40 years of tattooing. Of course, Hardy remains connected to tattooing, largely through his Tattoo City studio in San Francisco, Hardy Marks Publications, and the occasional tattoo souvenir for a lucky fan.
In this interview, Ed talks about the documentary "Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World" [recently released on DVD], the tattoo impulse, his fine art, and he briefly addresses the haters. Here's an excerpt:
Do you think the whole popularity of tattooing will dissipate?
It's interesting how the Ed Hardy brand and unexpected commodification of tattooing has freed you up to do fine art. It's seems at odds with commercialism in some way.Read more in Inked.
UPDATE: The full article can be found online here.
While we've learned a great deal about the stellar artists featured in the Vice TV series Tattoo Age, the latest video, Part 2 of the Freddy Corbin profile, goes even further and offers a modern tattoo history lesson as Freddy muses on his start in tattooing over 27 years ago and the greats who have guided him.
Weaving old photos and archival video from Michael O. Stearns' tattoo documentaries from the 90s, the episode charts Freedy's life from his first tattoo at Lyle Tuttle's old San Francisco studio (which he paid for with a $75 tax return), to how he got Erno Szabady to give him his first shot, to that fateful call at 9am when Ed Hardy asked him to come work at his Realistic Tattoo studio. Along the way, Freddy tells stories about how he learned history from Sunny Tufts, how Henry Goldfield was a great mentor artistically and technically, and how he was inspired working alongside Dan Higgs and Greg Kulz.
Once again, another must see.
If you missed Part 1, you can find it here. See Freddy's work on TempleTattoo.com.
Tattoo Age has a contest where you can win this Dan Santoro print. Details on Twitter.
Tattoo on Ismael by Cy Wilson.
I met Cy Wilson at the Paris Tattoo Convention (photos) in 1997 and was instantly charmed -- not just by his open and affable character, but by his body of work that stood out for its modern yet organic compositions in his tattoos as well as art prints and silkscreen apparel. [I was equally charmed by his artist mother Sylvie, who went around the convention feeding berries to those working.] Indeed, being born of artist parents, you can say he was baptized in Parisian ateliers since the 80s, but it wasn't until he traveled to Asia and met a Japanese tattooist in India (who tattooed a sleeve on him), that his life tattooing began.
In contrast, Caro came to the art through a more academic root. Carolina, born in Heidelberg, Germany, first studied "European Media Culture" at Bauhaus-University Weimar but later pursued research into tattooing and "conceptualizing pain as a catalyst for creation and change whilst inking people in real life." She met Cy, and did her first tattoo on him in Lyon, France. They have been together for 4 years and tattooing together full time for two years on the road between Barcelona and Copenhagen. Next spring, they'll be putting roots down in Barcelona as Caro is seeking to get her Masters degree in Art Criticism at MACBA (Museum for Contemporary Art). Caro says that their different backgrounds inform their creative process, style, and relationships with their clients.
Tattoo on Normann by Caro
When asked to describe their tattoo style, they explain:
We do black, graphic work, everything between bold and very delicate, always body involved and always singular pieces. Our idea is to create tattoos that represent our visual culture as urban young people from the 21st century. Rather than reproducing "ancient" representations of things, we like to interpret even classic themes with a more modern graphic approach. But of course the new does not really go without the old; we consider it is very important to have a solid knowledge about symbols and cultural connotations in order to embrace the new.[...]
Tattoo on David by Cy.
They also have a special approach to client relationships. They first set up a meeting (free of charge) to discuss the idea and design. They always draw directly on the body and very rarely on paper (only if it's very specific motif or small geometrical design). They say that this way the client "can already carry an approximation of the potential tattoo in his/her skin and check it out alone at home, naked in front of the mirror, with different clothing and so on. We feel this helps the people a lot to get a clearer idea of what they really feel themselves like." They make it clear that they are anti-sexist, anti-racist and anti-homophobe and will not work with those who hold such prejudices. While they believe regulations on hygiene tend to be exaggerated, as they are dealt with like surgical procedures, they take special care to "eradicate even the smallest risk of infection." [Cy was misquoted in the French translation of "Tattoo World" as saying the opposite.]
To get tattooed by Cy and Caro, check their upcoming travel dates:
Nov 7 - Nov 17 Zurich, Switzerland at INK TANK
Nov 17- Nov 27 Freiburg, Germany at VISAVAJARA
Dec 28 - Jan 23 Berlin, Germany at CHORUS TATTOO
Jan 23 - Feb 4 Copenhagen, Denmark at Colin Dale's SKIN&BONE
For more on Cy & Caro, check their blogs SkinTraces and TravelTraces as well as Facebook.
Tattoo on Normann by Caro
The final installment of Vice TV's Tattoo Age profile on Troy Denning is now up and horrifying vegans across the Internet. It begins with Troy "putting crabs to sleep" in preparation of a BBQ he's hosting, with many of NY's tattooratti in attendance. You'll also see him rocking out at Karaoke and mocking the "Engrish" of his Japanese friends, who in turn, mock his Japanese language skills.
But amidst all the carousing video and catchy soundbits, there's serious discussion on Troy's work. For example, he explains that his favorite Japanese-influenced tattoos have been those that were rendered more flat and readable, without a lot of "bells and whistles." There's also talk of the Japanese mythology that figures so heavily in Troy's large compositions.
As I've said before, I'm liking how Vice TV is approaching these videos by having fun footage where the artists' personalities shine, but also some substance when it comes to tattoos.
In case you missed them, here's Part I and Part II of the Troy Trilogy.
In the many interviews I've done with artists, the issue of whether "a tattoo should look like a tattoo" has come up repeatedly. Some say that only "bold will hold," that is, strong outlines, bold color, and lots of black. Others contest that tattoos need not be limited by these constraints and can indeed stand the body's aging while not strictly adhering to these tattoo tenets. Personally, I got quite a lot of flack for my "Art Brut" chapter in Black Tattoo Art, where I featured the avant garde style of deconstructed tattoos. To some, it looked like scribble, and to others, a new and exciting tattoo genre. When such tattoos are expertly executed, I generally fall into the latter category. While so much of this work has centered in France, Belgium & Montreal [see Yann Black, Jeff, Boucherie Moderne, Loic, Noon ...], there has been an emergence of US-based artists working in this genre.
Simon Watts of Immaculate Conception Tattoo in Hollywood is one such artist. I talked with Simon about his evolving tattoo style in which he's incorporating his painting and street art approach into his tattoo portfolio. He explains:
The drawings kind of look like I just sat down and tossed off some random scribble but there really is a lot of tweaking and editing along the way. And even though it happens quite quickly and looks effortless, that is only possible thanks to years of drawing, editing and critiquing.I then asked Simon to discuss his artistic background and how it has shaped his tattooing:
The background to my style is this: My natural tendency is to be a bit of a control freak and perfectionist, which doesn't inspire spontaneous creativity as you tend to overthink everything. So back in the 90s, I was living in central London and set myself a task of sorts. I decided to grab a big fat marker pen and head out into the night and make some drawings. This kind of set me some necessary limitations as the cops don't like you running around drawing on public spaces, so you have to work fast. Without even realizing it, I'd kind of found my own visual voice so to speak and had my own style.
It didn't seem obvious at first or even possible as I'd really had to relearn to draw for tattooing and my usual style contradicted everything I'd been taught. But deep down I knew it could work. After all there's lots of line movement so the line is always changing direction, which is good (no straight lines); there are lines crossing over each other everywhere, which breaks up large flat areas so you're not having to shade vast areas of flesh and trying to get it even. Plus you can play fast and loose with how you shade things. You still want to give the correct overall impression of three dimensions but you don't have to be exactly literal with directions of shading or depth, etc. So it's kind of liberating. I love it.You can see more of Simon's work on Facebook & the Immaculate Conception Tattoo site.