My love of tattoos began at a fairly early age. I must have been about 16 when I started to get into them. I didn’t actually get one, but I devoured every issue of Outlaw Biker’s Tattoo Review. I also helped to build many a homemade gun that would end up scarring friends at parties and punk rock shows. Poor guys, I appreciate their enthusiasm and daring demeanor, but you really only have so much skin. I would not allow myself to be marked by a hack… let alone a hack that was a buddy in homeroom! Too young and dumb.
Now, this is not to say that I made every decision perfectly. I did wait until I was 18 and went to a reputable shop in Phoenix for my first piece. Piece is not really the word, more like small tattoo… toe in the water, cautious first meeting, etc. It was (and still is) a logo of Powell Peralta Skateboards called Bones. The image had a huge history with me and still has a lot of personal meaning. So at least I thought that part through. However, as many of us do with our first tattoos, I went smaller than I should have and now the detail has bled and faded away. If I had listened to the artist and gone a bit bigger, I am sure the piece would have held its integrity.
Anyway, I did make a second mistake. I got a second design without giving it enough thought. The image again did have personal meaning and for that I am thankful. However, the size and location were probably wrong and I went ahead and let an apprentice do the work. Now, an apprentice is not necessarily a poor decision. Often, they have had enough training to not screw things up too badly, and most reputable shops will have the mentor monitor every pass and stroke. My shop wasn’t quite that considerate. Bad scarring was the result of his tearing into my flesh with reckless abandon. I think I was probably lucky I didn’t have more time to think about what I was getting. If I had, I am sure the work would have been much more detailed and complex. I know what the guy did with the simple graphic; I would hate to have seen his rendition of something more artistic. A year or so later a buddy of mine took me to see his tattoo artist in Denver. She did a freehand skull that I really dug. It was added to the original piece the apprentice in Phoenix had done (a blue dragon) and what she added really made the piece for me. If I had only gone to her to do the entire thing… Anyway, live and learn.
Skip ahead about 15 years. I was still an avid tattoo fan and had become obsessed with checking out all the artists I could. I spent the following three years researching artists from around the globe to find the best of the best, those that I considered to be the cream of the crop. I was not only looking for amazing tattoo work, but looking for amazing traditional art as well. I had decided to put up an exhibition of tattoo artists’ fine artwork at the University where I teach. The research I put into the exhibition allowed me to discover some artists that I really, really wanted to have work on me. And, they were so good; I wanted real pieces by them. Something substantial.
So, please join me every Tuesday as we look at a new artist who I consider good enough to give a portion of my limited dermis. I hope to eventually list artists in every state that I would personally recommend. If you or someone you know would like to be considered for my list, drop me an e-mail and I will check it out. I would also love to hear your tattoo stories: good, bad, or ugly.
Love, Respect, and Ride Safe,