What is considered one of the first tattoo shops in history was set up in New York City in 1870 by Martin Hildebrandt. His daughter worked for P.T. Barnum as a tattooed woman. His clients were mostly soldiers looking to commemorate a piece of home life, or a moment of bravery. Tattooing took on even greater prominence in American culture during World War II as the art gained major patriotic connotations. And yet, it’s retained a sense of dangerousness. Tattooing was banned in New York City in 1961 after an outbreak of Hepatitis B. The artists could be arrested for plying their trade there until 1991 and yet no tattoo shops were ever closed. Over the years, through subcultures like biking and rock and roll, tattooing has become accepted as an art form. For some, it offers a therapeutic release. A time to enter into a meditative state, finding focus through the pain and coming out of it with a unique piece of artwork. For others, a sense of healing–art that covers up scars and painful memories.
This issue is dedicated to the men and women who have dedicated their lives to using skin as a canvas; to giving people permanent mementos of the moments and people and ideas that matter most to them. Tattooing isn’t an easy trade–the hours are odd, the pay uncertain and the results are judged for years to come. But to have a tattoo and give tattoos is to be part of a community of artists dedicated to creating art that lasts a lifetime.
7 S Pearl St, Albany
“I started when I was 18 but I gave up. I was very interested in it at the time but it was really hard to do. So when I was 18 was ‘I’m not good! Forget it! If I would have stuck with it I would have been great now. I got the opportunity to tattoo professionally when I moved up here three years ago, my cousin Tragedy owns this shop and Shocker. I’ve always wanted to be able to support myself through the arts. I loved body arts and I love everything about tattoos–even if it’s a shitty tattoo– somebody is putting themselves through pain and paying for it to be able to individualize themselves. It’s really an easy way to make your body your own and that was very attractive to me.
Most Interesting tattoo you’ve given
Hard to say which is my favorite. I love black work, realism and portraits–everything I draw I like to tatoo push. It’s hard to say what is my best because every tattoo I do I want to be better than the last. So you’re never satisfied with the work you do but you learn from it.”
Favorite tattoo on your body: Chris Garver, a friend of mine gave me my foo dog. He’s based out of the city, but he’s internationally known.
Most you’ve spent on a tattoo: I’ve always had friends who tattoo so I’ve never really spent too much on a tattoo
Most expensive tattoo you’ve given: Most I’ve charged is probably around $700.
What is it like being a tattoo artist in the Capital Region: I love it. I feel like I learn so much by being hands on. I’m always learning from the people who come through the shop and work here now. We’re always learning always together–someone will be turned on by something and want to share it. We’re very open, very much a family in that way. I love being able to see so many different artists with so many different styles.
5 S Allen St, Albany
Dustin Horan, owner and artist
I’ve been doing this for 18 years and I own the tattoo shop. We hit all the angles and everyone here has been doing this for a long time. There’s a bunch of great artists and we try to do our best to please everybody.
Best/most interesting tattoo you’ve given: The best, I always like to think, is the last one I did. The most interesting…I did a dragon sleeve yesterday. I guess I like the big tattoos, the really large scale ones that go from the back to the backs of the knees, or sleeves, a lot of body suit stuff are the most interesting because you grow with those people. Some people will come in and be like, “Oh, we’re just gonna do this one,” and then it turns into limbs, like “I’m gonna do my leg now.” I like that.
How many people come in with a plan to do large-scale pieces vs people who come in and do it one piece at a time?
Here, now, it’s generally that they want to do a large piece. It wasn’t always like that, when we started it was a lot of smaller tattoos.
Worst/most difficult tattoo you’ve given: I’m no good at writing [laughs] I won’t even do it anymore because there are so many people who are better at it. We have a guy Pete [Clarke] here who is probably the best script artist I’ve ever seen in my life, so why would I bother?
Most elaborate tattoo: It’s those big ones.
How long should someone consider a tattoo before getting it?
I’d say at least a month, but it’s different for everyone. There’re some people who wait a year, usually people who just spontaneously do it end up regretting it. I have a six-month waiting list, so you have to wait at least six months to make sure you still like it, but I don’t recommend that necessarily. I think you know when it’s right.
Biggest challenge as upstate tattoo artist: I have no challenges. I love tattooing and I think that there’s a lot of awesome clientele and there’s a lot of awesome artists here–and not just in this shop. There’s some people that I grew up learning tattooing with and it’s really good to see them–like there’s the Saratoga Tattoo Convention where you see all these people that you only see once a year but that you’ve been seeing for so long who also tattoo and do the same. I have no complaints about upstate.
Most expensive tattoo ever given: Well we charge hourly here so it would have to be the longest, like those bodysuit people that just keep going and going.
How long do those usually take? Years. I’ve been tattooing one guy–I just went to his wedding–that I’ve been tattooing for like 10 years.
Your favorite tattoo on your body: I’m really excited about my back piece now that one of the guys here is doing. We’ve been working on it for a little bit but it hurts, so I keep slacking. But, I’ll look in the mirror in the mornings like, “Oh man, that’s so cool.” It’s a samurai warrior named Benkei and he was a warrior monk who got kicked out of his temple or something, it’s an old Japanese legend.
Why did you become a tattoo artist? Because I don’t think I would have as much fun as a comic book artist. That’s what I really wanted to do and this just, it didn’t fall into my lap so much but it kind of seemed like a good idea. My mom really pushed me to do this and my buddy recommended so it all kind of just fell together.
First tattoo? [inner right bicep] It was like an Alien Workshop symbol, a skateboard symbol. I used to skateboard a real, real lot and I was like, “I’ll always love skateboarding,” so I got that. I don’t skateboard anymore though. It was in college, before I even know I was going to tattoo.
Tattooing on yourself: When I started I would do some doodles, but I’m not that big a fan of inflicting pain on myself.
Best client. I have to go back to those ones who just keep returning. I have guys, a little more than a handful, who will like, when I open my book, they make appointments with me almost every other week or once a month. It’s almost like church for them. They’re coming in around the same time every month, they take off the summers because they’re like, “I wanna go swimming, I don’t want to heal.” So they end right before summer starts and they come back in September. It’s kind of like school, we’re like, “How was your summer?” It’s great. They come in, they sit down they get tattooed. Those people that know it’s gonna take a while and they’re dedicated to it.
Worst client. People who change their minds right before their appointments where you have the drawing and they’re like “Ah, I change my mind,” and they didn’t tell you. I don’t really deal with a lot of bad clients I have a lot of great people. There’s just all different people.
628 Central Ave, Albany
Gene Hernigle- been at the studio since 2001
Best tattoo/most interesting you’ve given: Every tattoo is interesting because the reason for getting it is so personal and beautiful. When you think of body parts, Tommy has tattooed tongues. But the subject matter is always interesting because if you want something on your body for the rest of your life, what do you feel that strongly about? The location is also interesting because someone could be very reserved, but be totally covered and out there.
Worst/most difficult tattoo you’ve given: It’s subjective, but people come in and ask for things you don’t necessarily agree with. We cover up more swastikas than we’ve put on. We’ve done a lot of swastika cover ups and Tommy tries to avoid all gang-affiliated designs–symbols, teardrops, anything that says ‘I belong to this organization.’ You don’t want to get that reputation, you don’t want to be known as somebody that goes around dealing with a dangerous situation. There’s difficult subject matter and we do have the right to [refuse] business and service, so there have been times that we have turned people away just because of the content. One day I had an Indian gentleman come in, he was about 26, and he wanted the Vishnu tattoo, this one had four arms and each palm had a symbol. In one palm there was a swastika but that was his culture, and I just said, ‘Well I would prefer not to do that.’ We talked him out of it–he had the tattoo done but we left out that part of the hand.
Most elaborate tattoo: All day events. Tommy did that [back piece] on me in 10 and a half hours, the outline. The gentleman speaking with Eli right now, Jay, he’s got hundreds of hours of work on him. Everything is covered on him. Extensive work is beautiful, but just because it’s not massive doesn’t mean it’s not intricate and beautiful.
How long should someone consider a tattoo before getting it? I would say try to hold out to the legal age of 18. You have to live with your choices. When I was younger I got a tattoo that was very foolish and I have to live with it still. I got a lot of my work done when I was very young. When it’s right, it’s right though. We take deposits for designs from clients and customers. When you put a deposit down, that doesn’t go bad. When you’re ready to get that tattoo, that tattoo is waiting for you. We’ve had people come in 10 years after they’ve put a deposit down on a design and that design is still ready and waiting. Last year we had a gentleman come in who was in around 2001, 2002. We have a file room that has all of the old designs so after a couple hours of searching we were able to find the design and he was able to get the tattoo that he had started planning for that many years earlier, so you know he really wanted it. That’s dedication.
Biggest challenge as upstate tattoo artist: Security. Being able to pay bills every month and worrying about health care. We’re all self-employed in small businesses. What Tommy offers us [here] is that security, because he is so established. Tommy and Mary prepared for this studio to have some sort of legacy so that it will be able to keep going.
Most expensive tattoo ever given/ longest session: There are people who spend hundreds of dollars on tattoos. It kills me when people say, ‘Well, cheap work ain’t good and good work ain’t cheap.’ The value that you place on your artwork is more than a dollar sign. I have tattooed people who are living paycheck to paycheck and people who have an abundance of money that have tipped more than the tattoo costs. Expense is subjective but getting what you paid for is, in the end, the desired goal.
Your favorite tattoo on your body: I like ‘em all.
Your first tattoo: Barbed wire around my arm. That was also in the ‘90s so it was cool at the time. At that time in my life I was more concerned with what other people thought than myself.
Why did you become a tattoo artist? I’m fortunate. I was able to find my way to Tommy, I went through my apprenticeship with him and he still teaches me every single day. This has been going on for 18 years. I like the work I do and that’s enough of a reward.
Best client: Cash. No, that’s terrible. Someone that knows what they want. Being specific, that’s awesome. It’s well thought out, it’s well planned. But if you come in and say, ‘I want a tattoo and I want it to be here,’ it’s like… Okay. Cool.
Best client experience: We do a lot of work with people who deal with self-mutilation. To be able to rewrite that part of your past where you don’t have to show those scars, you’re able to cover them up and rewrite your history. When somebody’s hurting you don’t want to add on to that pain and I’m glad that I was able to help. Even with other clients, burn victims. There’s a lot of trauma and to start some kind of healing process is very beneficial to the soul.
148 Jay Street, Schenectady
Chaz Leger Tattoo artist of 17 years.
Best tattoo: “I’ve done some awesome black and gray sleeves, I did some great portraits; came out phenomenal, lot of good stuff, lot of good stuff… realistic roses… my specialty is more realistic and black and gray, but I also do some slammin’ colors too. My lettering is real crisp, tight. I get a lot of positive feedback from it. They tell me I’m very light-handed.”
Worst tattoo: “Worst tattoo I’ve given? I had this one kid come from Union College, him and his friends; me, my brother and my father at the time were all working here. Each one of us had to do one of them; one kid got a clover, one of them got something else, and the kid that they wanted me to do wanted a tiny flag on his buttcheek. So, I really didn’t want to do it but I got suckered into it because everyone wanted to get it done at the same time, so I went to do it and he had a hairy ass cheek, so I had to shave the patch for the Italian flag to fit perfect. That probably had to be the worst tattoo I’ve ever had to do.”
Most elaborate tattoo: “I’m working on a pretty elaborate one right now, a medieval battle scene sleeve, and I’m freestyling the whole thing. 100 percent. It’s coming out real nice, he’s actually sitting down right over here; my client.”
Most expensive tattoo: “I got one guy out here, he is a local. I’ve been tattooing him for probably about 12 years. He started with an awesome crucifix on his back that was custom drawn; he wanted it to look like railroad ties on wood. I custom drew it, we got down to it… it took like a month to design it to his liking, to make it perfect. He started with that in the middle, then from there he got an ocean scene with ships behind it, anchors, skulls, cloudwork, he even has Tattoo Blues’ logo on it too… so his whole back is done with saturated, beautiful ink. It was probably at about $3,000, maybe more than that. But he did sessions, full days at a time, and they were anywhere from $300 to $700 sessions per clip.”
Why did you become a tattoo artist?: “Throughout grad school, I was always very good at art and all the teachers pushed me because I had become a mentor to all the other students in art class because I was so good at it… high school, 10th grade I went through a rough time where I almost dropped out but then I turned myself around and art seemed to be something I was great at. When I turned myself around, all the teachers in the school pushed me and my artwork and help me put my portfolio together. I started acing school, and they pushed me to Sage College in Albany; I actually got accepted to Pratt and another place in France but I wanted to stay local so I went to Sage College and I majored in fine arts and minored in business. When I was there, they wanted me to become an art teacher, but I was already working part-time at the family business for my father when he started Tattoo Blues about 20 years ago. That year, I knew teacher’s started out with maybe $40,000, $60,000 if you’re lucky. He grossed $100,000 that year and I was already doing well in the business, so I was like I’m just going to keep going with the family business and make it work. Tattooing is just another art medium to me, and I really enjoy tattooing and now it’s my favorite art medium and it’s lucrative. I make people happy.”
Style of tattooing: “My style is clean, concise, and quality. That’s my style.”
Best/worst client: “I would have to say my wife, that’s probably my best client. She’s probably the worst client because she complains so much, because she don’t want me to hurt her. She wins both. There’s not that many bad clients, they’re all good. It’s fun, it’s a good work environment and people tend to be humble here. Once in a while, you get people who ain’t, but that just means they got something else going on in their life, usually. So I can’t really complain.”
7 Hill St, Troy
Best tattoo you’ve given: “Best” tattoo is such a subjective opinion. My favorite type of work to do is black and grey work, florals, geometry and linework. I absolutely love anything nature themed.
Worst tattoo you’ve given: I won’t do tattoos that could be construed as hurtful, negative or hateful. I was once asked to tattoo leopard print on a woman’s private region and that is by far my most memorable and interesting tattoo experience that I’ve had yet.
Most elaborate tattoo: I’ve done many full sleeves which requires a lot of planning and patience on both the clients and my part. The toughest pieces to do are ones involving geometry and symmetry because rarely is the human body perfectly symmetrical and all lines much connect seamlessly.
How long should someone consider a tattoo before getting it? Time frame is different for everyone but a general rule is the younger you are then the longer you should consider what you are getting and why. The younger the age, the higher the likelihood of their potential regret down the road. Follow your gut and always consider the advice that professional tattoo artists may provide.
Biggest challenge as upstate tattoo artist: There are a lot of very talented artists in the Capital region so standing out as someone who is different, professional and unique is always on the forefront of thought. Art is subjective so there are people who will love and hate your work depending on their tastes. Being a woman owned tattoo studio is unique and offers its own set of challenges.
Most expensive tattoo ever given: The larger the project, the more expensive it becomes. I charge hourly so it depends on the detail of the piece and the investment that the clients are willing to put into their body work.
Your favorite tattoo on your body: A cute little peanut butter & jelly tattoo that my daughter did on the back of my ankle when she was 10 years old. It’s literally perfect. It has a little extra “crust” on one side but it’s so imperfectly perfect <3
Why did you become a tattoo artist? I have a Masters degree and worked in your “normal 9-5” for a few years despite my desire to tattoo (which had always been my dream job). I was scared to turn my passion into my profession. After multiple boring staff meetings I decided that it was better to follow my own passions than to follow some prescribed notion of what I should do with my life. So after 3 years of working in Higher Education, I left it to learn to tattoo. Tattooing allows me to be creative on a daily basis and work one on one with people, which I love. Win, win!
Best client: Someone who is open-minded and willing to collaborate ideas with expertise to create a beautiful piece that is personal to each client. Flexibility and preparation are essential! I do have tons of favorite clients for multiple reasons but if I list their names then some others may feel left out haha.
Worst client: Someone who doesn’t respect my time, doesn’t show up to their scheduled appointment(s) and/or completely changes their minds at the very last minute after I’ve spent hours preparing their drawing. The later is an indication that they aren’t really sure what they’d like and sends up red flags for their long-term enjoyment of the piece. If a client is a “no show” then I won’t ever put them in my book again. If clients don’t show then we don’t make money.
459 Fulton St, Troy
Best tattoo you’ve given. This is like asking us to pick our favorite child. Some are better than others. I personally enjoy the collaborative process and meeting the challenge of exceeding my client’s vision of their own tattoo.
Worst tattoo you’ve given. The worst for me are the ones you just know the client is going to regret someday. I had a client who wanted to surprise her new boyfriend by tattooing his name on her body. I asked the usual questions before committing someone’s name to permanence, how long have you been together? When are you getting married? You can probably imagine the responses I received. Furthermore, her teenage daughter was trying to talk her out of this decision. I did my best to redirect her tattoo selection to no avail. I did end up tattooing his name but not the way you might think. I suggested that we put his name inside of a heart and tattoo around the name, leaving the name knocked out without any ink. This took me more time to do and I did not charge her more for this solution, as I knew in my gut that it was for the best.
This way if she regretted the decision, I could always fill in the heart.
She came in a week later, mind you the tattoo isn’t fully healed at this point and she was pleading with me to fill it in. I agreed to fill it in once it was completely healed, and she was incredibly grateful for my suggestion.
Most elaborate tattoo. I have a client who requested a Memento Mori tattoo. This is a tattoo that is indented to remind the collector of their own mortality. A “remember that you have to die” tattoo. He gave me full creative license and allowed me to design an elaborate concept. I ended up having a death beetle with its wings extended inside of geometric shapes much like the Vitruvian Man. I replaced the extended wings of the beetle with two halves of a portrait (of the client) that parted to reveal a human skull underneath, instead of the insect’s thorax.
How long should someone consider a tattoo before getting it? I tell my kids, decide what want and wait a year. If you still want it in a year from now, that’s a good sign.
Biggest challenge as upstate tattoo artist. My biggest challenge is fixing and covering up poorly done kitchen tattoos. I understand wanting to save money as much as the next guy, and there are many places where I will cut corners in my budget. I will never understand how people justify compromising not only the artwork on their skin but also their safety. In the long run they end up spending much more. Not only do you have to pay twice, cover ups are usually more expensive than getting the tattoo you wanted done right in the first place. If you are unfortunate to contract something like Hepatitis in someone’s kitchen, you will quite literally pay with a shortened lifespan.
Most expensive tattoo ever given. priceless
Your favorite tattoo on your body. I have a star that represents the members of my family. it’s a sentimental thing for me and that’s why it’s my favorite.
Why did you become a tattoo artist? Shortly after high school, one of my friends came home from the military and had one of my drawings tattooed on his arm. It was almost overwhelming how flattered I was by this. As an artist, it’s an incredible feeling to have your art hung on someone’s walls, shown in a gallery, or purchased by a collector. None of that compares to the feeling of having your art adorn someone’s skin for the duration of their lifetime and immortalized in photographs.
Best client. Like the best tattoo, the best clients are the ones who bring me a challenge and give me the artistic freedom to arrive at finished concept that works for both of us.
Worst client. I’m not going to say worst but rather the biggest challenge is a client of mine who is autistic. I’ve worked with kids who are autistic for years and I find it extremely rewarding. Let me back up and say that I have a passion for skiing in the winter and I’ve been a professional (part time) ski instructor for years and I have a ton of experience with working with the autistic.
So I am extremely patient with my autistic tattoo client. This is a collaborative process and when he doesn’t like my suggestions he can be savage. This is challenging because no artist ever wants to feel insulted, I just have put my ego in check and remind myself that not everyone can do what I do.
80 Division St. 2nd floor, Troy
Best tattoo you’ve given: This answer changes by the week as I strive to get better and learn more everyday. Sometimes little changes in technique can yield huge results on a long term process. Honestly, any tattoo that walks out of the door on a happy and excited client is the best!
Worst tattoo you’ve given: I once tattooed “Zachary’s bitch” on a girl’s ribcage after trying to talk her out of it for 45 mins. hahaha
Most elaborate tattoo: Lots of ornamental blackwork pieces or sacred geometry tattoos tend to be very elaborate. I’m currently working on a large backpiece with a blend of bold lines, delicate lines, and repeating patterns.
How long should someone consider a tattoo before getting it? That’s completely up to the individual… some folks crave the impulsive ideas, and others let ideas marinate for months or years before making them permanent. I typically book clients months in advance which allows the client and the artist time to truly design something that has a beautiful lasting impact for the client and the artist. After all collaboration between artist and collector is a very important part about what tattoo artists do. I find that it’s a great opportunity to revisit sketches a few times before tattooing them so I can play with different textures or compositions to create the best art I possibly can.
Biggest challenge as upstate tattoo artist. Winter.
Most expensive tattoo ever given: There are so many variables that go into pricing… style, detail, body location, how the client sits, color vs black and gray, skin type etc. That being said any large scale, multi-session tattoos, like back pieces, sleeves, bodysuits tend to take a long time and significant financial commitment. But tattoo collecting is a marathon not a sprint. And you get what you pay for
Your favorite tattoo on your body. I have a goofy tattoo of Boomhauer from King of the hill playing the banjo on my shin. I absolutely love that show and bluegrass music so it makes me smile. I also get a lot of people that comment on that silly tattoo with smiles on their faces so that’s always cool.
Why did you become a tattoo artist? It literally fell into my lap while I was getting tattooed by Lydia Bruno… but that’s a longer story.
Best client. Every client who leaves the Factory Happy and had a great experience. Or my wife since she started as a client and now we are married and have a baby on the way hahaha
Worst client. Any client who is unable to communicate what they want or don’t want. And those who nitpick every tiny little detail. We aren’t creating art on paper… We are working on folks with varying skin types and personalities with machines that vibrate 120+ times per second on a moving 3d form that may have involuntary reactions during the tattoo process. If you want perfect you shouldn’t get tattooed. Sometimes beauty is in the imperfections!
80 W Circular St, Saratoga
Joe Wood, manager – tattooing for 14 years
Best tattoo/most interesting you’ve given: In terms of style I prefer to work with Polynesian design. I spent some time in Hawaii where I worked on the style and patterns in the traditional sense as well as the more modern style. The style of realism also, I do a lot of floral detail in large pieces like sleeves on the arm and leg.
Worst/most difficult tattoo you’ve given: Geometric styles, they’re really popular now… you’re doing a lot of line work and geometric shapes that have to not only look good on its own but also it needs to fit in with a larger design. Line works can be pretty challenging, you have to be precise. Every one of the [seven tattoo] artists here has a very different style so chances are–if you’re coming in with something like that–someone here can get you closer to what you want.
Most elaborate tattoo: Again, I’ll have to go back to that realism. You have to be perfect in the details when you’re recreating. If you mess up something like an eye, that image of grandma can go to looking like grandpa real quick.
How long should someone consider a tattoo before getting it? I usually go with a year. It sounds cliche but if you put the design on your mirror at home and and look at it every day and you still like it, then I would say go for it. But it depends on the person and the situation, some people can get just one or two tattoos in their lifetime and that’s fine with them. Then there’s the “collectors” as we call them: people who are just covered from the neck down–if they were wearing a suit you would never know it–in these body suits of designs that are all connected.
Biggest challenge as upstate tattoo artist: I would have to say educating people. Educating people on the difference between a good tattoo and a bad tattoo. People are seeing a lot of art nowadays, especially with the internet and these new TV shows–and those are great to see, some really nice designs and nice work. But with things like Pinterest what you’ve got to understand is that those really tiny designs look great but what about 10 years later? I’ll have people come in wanting a quote in a quarter-sized design. What they don’t understand is that tattoos, over time, they expand. The ink expands. Like that thumbprint tattoo that’s really popular now, that will be a blob of ink in a few years. Even a curl under a cursive ‘e’, that will end up looking more like a comma. The problem is that everyone coming in, they think they’re gonna be that one exception to the rule. They’re not. We want to give people something that will not only look good right after you get it, but also in that 10 years time.
As an artist, I also wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone what they should and shouldn’t get, that can be hard sometimes but you know, I’m not going to give an 18-year-old a full skull sleeve, that’s what we call a “career killer,” and you know, when you’re 18, you’re still living at home with your parents, you say, “Well, if they won’t hire me because of my tattoos then I wouldn’t want to work there anyways.” But when you start to get older and enter into the real world and have bills to pay, it’s not that easy. Down the road I’ve had people come in when they’re 25, 26 and say “Thank you for doing that,” or “Hey, if I did that, I wouldn’t have this.”
Most expensive tattoo ever given/ longest session: [Charges by the hour, depending on the design] I try to stick between 2 or 3 and 5 hours but the longest I’ve dones is about 10 and a half. We have some people who are traveling here from out of state because they like our work so you have to work around those parameters. With tattoos it’s very mental. You have to go into sort of a meditative state, or breathe through the pain. It can be physical too, with tattooing or being really still. As an artist too it’s really mental, You’re focusing on these designs for hours at a time. That’s why I’ll schedule those long, like 8-hour, sessions, early in the day so that’s what I spend most of my time doing and then afterwards I’ll go around and take care of stuff around the shop or take some walk-ins, some small ones. We do take breaks every hour or so, about 10 minutes so we can get up and stretch out. I got this sleeve [right forearm] by my friend down in Austin, Texas. I couldn’t afford to be flying back and forth to keep working on it so I sat 8 ½ hours for this [inner] side on Sunday and eight for this [outer] side Monday. It’s not something I would recommend. A tattoo, at the end of the day, it’s basically just an open wound. That was not a fun flight home, I looked a bit like Popeye with the tiny bicep and massive forearm… it was so swollen.
Your favorite tattoo on your body: [Upper right thigh] I got this tattoo in Japan, which was a challenge because it’s illegal there actually. A lot of the shops, like mine, are really hidden. I had to go to this building with a tiny sign and go up three flights of stairs to another door and then down a hallway to another door and in the way back was this studio. The artist didn’t speak much English and my Japanese was sub-par but the work was great and afterwards we actually talked for like two hours using Google Translate which actually worked pretty well and we became friends. He recently invited me back to do a guest spot and I’m hoping to go in like a year or so and finish the rest of my sleeve. My other favorite is my kitty [covering inner left bicep] who recently passed away. He lived to be about 21 years old so I figured he deserved a spot.
Why did you become a tattoo artist? It’s the best way to make the art I want while skipping the whole starving artist part. Actually my 11th grade art teacher recommended I do it, so I owe her thanks. I graduated in ‘99 so… that was before tattooing became a really viable thing where nowadays you can be an artists and make a pretty comfortable living. I started off in this dirty biker shop, I mean this was back when you could still smoke inside a tattoo studio, so, yeah. I would just watch these guys work all day, I didn’t care, I thought they were so cool.
Best client: Someone who understand that good things take time and that, like right now where I’m backed up until December, they’ll probably have to wait to get their piece. But people who really love it, they’ll be like, “That’s fine, I’ve seen your work, I want it done here.” That’s where I think it’s good that I get so booked because it kind of weeds out the people who aren’t into it.
People who sit well, also. I’ve found that it’s not always the people you expect. There’s this one girl–she’s one of my favorite clients now–she’s about 4’10’’ and she’s tiny, a little thing. But she came to me for her first tattoo, she wanted a sternum piece and that can be painful for a lot of people but she said, “No, I can take it,” and she sat better than a lot of people–guys my size or bigger that after a few hours would need a break. And that was her first.
Worst client: People who can’t handle waiting more than a few days to get their tattoo. People who are really squirming or fidgeting the whole time. When you’re working on a moving body that’s a lesser chance that the piece will come out well and that’s a reflection on you. One time, and I don’t do this often, I had to stop a tattoo. I had a girl that was getting script all down her side. She wouldn’t stop moving and I explained to her, once you mess up a letter, there’s not much you can do with it after that. We took a break, and she was good for about 5,10 minutes and then right back at it. But I don’t get a lot of people like that. And you know, no one likes sitting for a tattoo–it’s painful but it can be done. Thousands of people have done it before you. Also, aftercare is really important, I can’t forget about that. If you’re not keeping lotion on it, washing around it–if you’re not going to take care of it after sitting for so long, going through it? [shrugs] The thing is, as an artist, your name is still attached no matter what a person does after they leave the studio. Nine times out of 10 a person showing their friends a new tattoo isn’t gonna go, “Oh well, I wasn’t sitting well, I was moving around, I didn’t really take care of it,” No, they’re gonna say, “Ah, this guy at the studio, he sucked.”