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Humbly Seeking Advice

Posted by John Lohry from IP: on 03/26/12
Virginia Beach, VA United States - website

Hey there, it's been a while since I last posted on here. For the past few years now, I have been getting all of my tattoo work done by the same artist here in Virginia Beach. J's been tattooing professionally for over 25 years, having started up in the Bowery of NY...well before it was legalized in the state in 1997. He basically started out just tracing flash for his uncle (and mentor). His mentor eventually took him on as an apprentice by putting a machine in his hand and told him to tattoo a big, burley, biker guy. J said he knew he would probably get his ass kicked if he screwed up, so he made sure not to screw up, lol. J is great friends and has worked with J.D. Crowe, Kari and Jeremiah Barba, Filip Leu, Paul Booth, Joe Capobianco, and a number of others. In fact, he helped J.D. Crowe in getting the first shops opened in the Virginia Beach and Norfolk areas about 10 years ago after a 50 year ban.

J and I have developed a really good friendship throughout the past few years to where he's very openly talked to me about various topics regarding design, technique, and has taught me a lot of technical stuff aspects of tattooing. He's even had me pull lines (under his supervision) on my wife's sleeve which I designed. For about a couple years now, he's asked me to draw numerous other pieces to help him keep up with client demand. He also gave me one of his machines and told me to put a pencil/pen in the chuck so I could draw with it in order to get used to the weight and balance of the machine. I have also disassembled and reassembled it numerous times as well, just to get use to things. I swore to him I would never actually tattoo on anyone until he himself told me I was ready. I am fully aware that I currently do not have the experience necessary to start tattooing anyone, nor am I in a hurry to do so. That time will only come whenever J says I am ready, and only under his watchful eye.

J has said a couple times before, however, that he just wasn't into taking on apprentices. At the same time, the confusing part is that he has repeatedly said that I, of all the people who have come into the shop, definitely deserve a shot. I was just in there a couple weeks ago while my wife was getting more work done from one of my designs and he asked me if I had started tattooing yet. I told him I had not and still wouldn’t do so until he was willing to take me under his wing, to which he just sorta chuckled a little.

Anyway, my wife, who has been trying to find something to get me for my birthday, talked to him last week about some ideas. She asked him what he meant by asking if I had done any tattooing yet and he explained it to her, saying point blankly that she should get me some equipment and kick me in the ass to get started on some pig skins. I’m not really sure how to take that. And I would never even consider tattooing anyone else until he said I was ready and I had completed all of requirements of the Virginia state DPOR. He then showed her some supplier websites that would be good places to start. She knows I don't really like surprises, so she told me about their conversations.

J's first recommendation was Unimax, and said the Apollo and Star machines were a good place to start. I partly think this might be because he and Wes Wood, who used to own Unimax, go back a long ways. His other recommendation was Superior Tattoo. I had checked both of these sites out before but had always hoped I could get something...I don't know, a little better when I was told I was ready. I just really don't know the quality of what Unimax has to offer. I've always looked more at the Sobas, Sharpz, Ciferris, FK Irons and others...stuff like that. Aaron Cain's machines are true works of art, and their price tags definitely reflect that, lol. In fact, I've even spoken with Paco Rollins a couple days ago and he said I can get a line and shader set from him in no time.

So, I guess my question is, what should I do about this based on what he's said? Do I purchase some equipment and work on the pig skins for him to critique has he recommended to my wife? If so, are the Unimax machines a decent machine to start with? Is J basically saying to start with these rather than dropping a ton of money on a machine until I get the hang of it? I would much rather spend a little more money on a decent set of Pacos, or something similar, rather than start with something that's gonna wind up junked before long. Do I just go with exactly what he has recommended? And while he hasn't exactly called it an apprenticeship in any official terms, I'm not sure what else to call it. On one hand, he's telling me to buy some equipment and get used to the machines and practice. But on the other hand, I'm still a bit hesitant because he hasn't said that this an actual apprenticeship. And to add to this dilemma, I know that most suppliers will not sell to someone who is either not a professional or currently working as an apprentice at a studio. I haven't even asked J if I should any equipment shipped to him since 1) I'm not even supposed to know what he and my wife discussed and 2) we have not entered into an official apprenticeship.

So I truly want to do things the right way. I have no intentions no tattooing a person until J says I'm ready, if ever, and even then only under his supervision. I truly want to do this the right way, and through a traditional apprenticeship, rather than ever be termed a scratcher. I'm just a bit unsure about what I'm really supposed to do in this case. He hasn't said that this, whatever it is, is an official apprenticeship...but is there really any other kind? There's no doubt that I am definitely very honored that he is willing to impart any sort of mentorship on me. Thanks, sorry for the long read, and I appreciate any advice or guidance you all can provide.


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RE:Humbly Seeking Advice

Posted by Michael A. Merrett aka Dr. Ama from IP: on 03/31/12
JACKSONVILLE, Florida United States - website

if you wanna be legit, you need to have your "mentor" hook it up...he should know what to get you...honestly, a good "mentor" would set you up a liner and shader from his works, that hes left in a drawer, or just put something together for you...along with that he should also allow you use of his power supply, or at least an old one....he should be watching over you and seeing if you even have potential, first...a good soul wont throw you out there to fend for yourself, when he knows you just cant go to a legit company and buy good supplies cant call in his name , or pay for it...unless he is right there to talk to the CSR...
as far as machines, if you do have to buy some... sharpz or rollins are my suggestions, liner and shader...theyre humble machines, and if all goes to shit, you can pawn em off on someone for about 75% of their value...also, if you become a rockstar, youll always have them to run to when your new workhorses' or nuemas break down.... theyre not expensive and theyre set up right...that was how i started, so thats all i can offer you..ive no idea how joe blizzy got his start....
another word of advice is story length, i honestly skimmed through what you wrote b/c it was too long...its nice to have a story to tell, but if you want an answer from a busy, badass pro, you may want to give just the important details..these guys dont care what names you know droppin names and telling stories everyone has heard a version of wont give you too much help, unless the guy youre talking about happens to read this...
anyways, good luck, do the entire apprenticeship, work your ass off,

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RE:Humbly Seeking Advice

Posted by John Lohry from IP: on 04/02/12
Virginia Beach, VA United States - website

Thanks a lot, Michael...I really appreciate all your advice. I kinda figured my post was a bit too lengthy, but I hoped it would at least help to more fully explain my situation and my commitment. I agree with you, however, it was too long, lol.

I'm still considering a set of Pacos, but have since found an incredible builder from England who is making me a matched custom set. His machines have been used by Nate Beavers and others, so I'm pretty stoked. Everything from the frame, coils, springs, etc. are completely handmade. I'll be ordering my power supply and other things this week...then it's nothing but pig skin for quite some time. Hopefully this shows J my level of commitment and will then step in, show me the ropes, and take me on as a true apprentice.

Thanks again.

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RE:Humbly Seeking Advice

Posted by Epicdermis from IP: on 04/05/12
East Petersburg, PA United States - website

Honestly, I would shop around for another apprenticeship. If the dude was serious about mentoring you, you wouldnt even be asking these questions. Yes, there is such a thing as an official apprenticeship. It's call an apprenticeship.

Take your artwork portfolio around to some good studios( there are quite a few in Virginia) and see if you cant get your foot in the door. He may be your friend and all, but it sounds like he is on the fence about taking you on. Everything you need to get started should be laid out for you by your mentor, not given to chance as a gift from your wife. The companies he recommended are kinda lame really. There are much better suppliers and machines available. Paco's machines are a great start for a very fair price, but before you go investing in any equipment, make sure you have a solid apprenticeship set up.Tattooing has progressed an awful lot since your friend got started, and it sounds like he is very much mired in the old school mindset. If you want a solid start in this highly competitive, ambitious, and talented modern landscape, you need to jump on board with a studio/mentor who is firmly in the 21st century, someone who is upfront and clear about their intentions and what you need to make a go of it.

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