(1) When did you get your first tattoo? Why did you decide to be a tattooist? When did you start tattooing professionally?
I got my first tattoo a month or two after my 18th birthday. 18 years old was the legal age for getting tattooed in the area I grew up, so I wasted little time before I dove in. My first tattoo was flames covering much of my forearm—now undergoing laser removal because my artistic tastes have changed…one of the consequences of getting large tattoos at such a young age.
By the time I’d gotten my first tattoo I’d already decided I wanted to become a tattoo artist—it seemed like a fun and exciting way to create art, and fit into a rebellious and free lifestyle. So by age 19 I had managed to find a tattoo apprenticeship at a local studio, which was in 2000.
(2) How did you learn tattooing? Did you have any teachers or masters?
My apprenticeship was under Mark Savaikis, who owned a small walk-in style tattoo shop in the town where I lived. I paid for the apprenticeship with money, as well as with tattoo shop labor. It was a very productive mentorship, lasting 6 months before I was starting to tattoo. After spending about a year tattooing at that first shop, I landed a spot at Darkside Tattoo, where I continued my learning under the incredible artists who worked there: Lou Jacque, Eric Merrill, Joe Capobianco, Julio Rodriguez, Anthony Plaza, and Sean O’Hara. I considered them all my partial teachers, as I was able to absorb little bits of knowledge from each of their personal styles and techniques. Being exposed to this variety and level of skill early in my career was of extreme benefit to my quick advancement.
(3) Can you explain your painting career? How did you learn painting? Did you attend or graduate any art schools?
Before stating my tattoo apprenticeship I had been attending art college at a small, local school called Paier College of Art. I spent 1.5 years there learning the basics of graphic design and classical realist oil painting. When I landed a tattoo apprenticeship midway through my second year at the college, I dropped out to pursue tattooing full time, since I knew it would demand much time and energy. I continued to teach myself painting on my own time over the years, and slowly developed myself into the painter I am today. However, I gained a solid foundation of knowledge from my instructor at the art college.
(4) We are very interested in your painting seminar for tattooists. When did you start it? Can you explain more detail about it? Do you think it’s important for tattooists to create other art, such as painting?
After approximately 8 years of developing my painting skills and knowledge on my own, in addition to my tattooing skills, I started to realize the many connections between the two artistic mediums that were of extreme benefit to my overall progression as an artist. I experienced firsthand how important it is as a tattooer, to practice art in other mediums in order to build your skills and avoid stagnation. So I began to formulate the ideas for a painting seminar, to help advance the artistry of the tattoo community, after being asked to teach a class at the Hell City Tattoo Festival here in the USA, around 2007. I focused my 3-hour seminar on the basics of oil painting, such as materials and supplies, archival techniques, and then progressing into more advanced special effects techniques to achieve realism with oil paint, such as layering and glazing. In order to gain the most help from my seminar, the attendees should already have some experience with either tattooing or oil painting, or both. They should have basic art knowledge of things like color theory, form, and light.
Teaching this seminar over the last few years has led to the development of a 130-page full size, hardcover book, which I recently published through Guy Aitchison’s Proton Press. This book covers all of the information I teach in my seminar, and much more. It also features many full color reproductions of many of my paintings from the last 10 years, so it’s great for art collectors, not just aspiring oil painters or tattooers. Anyone can order a copy of the book through www.tattooeducation.com
(5) If you have any special direction for your painting and tattoo work, we want to know. I really enjoyed seeing your painting, photo work and tattoo work. Can you explain the relationship of each artistic medium you work in?
Every artistic medium I use helps to influence the others. For example, I love photography, and that helps me achieve very realistic special effects in my paintings, and then the colors, textures, and illusions I experiment with in my paintings inspire me to try new things on skin. Some of the application techniques I’ve developed for myself in my oil painting transfer nicely to tattoo application, so I’ve been able to develop interesting and effective tattoo techniques based on painting theory, such as layering pigments, and having a more holistic approach to large-scale tattoo work.
Overall my fine art and tattoo work is moving in the direction of realism, without being a slave to reality. I try to realize my visions in a convincing manner, with detailed and precise rendering, while still incorporating optical illusions and surreal symbolism to inspire, teach or influence the viewer’s perception of reality.
(6) How about coming to Japan? Do you have any future plans to travel to Asia? Please give your message to readers in Japan and all Asia.
Right now I have no plans to visit Japan, but I would love to go there someday! I enjoy the precision and attention to detail of most Japanese culture, as well as the Asian Buddhist spiritual tradition, which has been a huge influence on my personal development as well as on the artistic symbolism I work with. Hopefully sometime in the next few years I can find a friend or a host in Japan or elsewhere in Asia, who would be patient with my Western, English-speaking ignorance. I would love to explore and experience every corner of this Earth before I’m gone…