AN ARTIST’S WIFE WEIGHS IN ON WHAT IT TAKES TO MAKE IT IN THE TATTOO INDUSTRY.
by Jody Miller Johns
It seems, nowadays, that every schmuck you meet is a “tattoo artist”. They order some crappy machines online, print out another artist’s image and turn it into a stencil, slap it haphazardly on a trusting fool, and go at it in their dump of a kitchen. If the victim is lucky, the dude wears gloves and uses a clean needle. If he’s REALLY lucky, the finished product might not even look that bad. But the chances of it healing properly, staying vibrant, and aging well over time are slim.
These types of guys are known to professional artists by one of two names: “Kitchen Magician”-which is undoubtedly soaked in sarcasm since there is little “magic” happening. In fact, it virtually takes a magician to fix the garbage these guys put on skin. Or, there’s the more apt title of “Scratcher” which refers to the idiotic way that unlearned a-holes attempt to fake talent.
Anyone who is truly interested in becoming a tattoo ARTIST knows that it doesn’t come easy. A traditional apprenticeship can cost upwards of $5000 and last at least 2 years. In all reality, you have to really WANT this job. It takes a strong person to work tirelessly, day in and day out, on perfecting their drawing and painting skills, doing whatever grunt work is given to them around the shop, attending conventions & shop events, AND keeping a positive attitude…for free. A great apprentice knows that, in the end, he or she will be rewarded with something that none of those scratchers will ever have-a respect and understanding of the craft of tattooing.
Tattooing is more than just putting ink to skin. You have to understand the history of the art, the cultural influences it’s had over time, the different genres of tattooing and the artists that cultivated those styles, and how all of these elements affect the industry today. Siege always knew that he would take on an apprentice when the right candidate came along. In June of 2013, he was introduced to an artist with hopes of learning to tattoo. He was young-just 22 years old-but showed a great deal of potential. He started hanging out at the shop more & more-attending artist receptions, joining in for paint night, & helping out with gallery events. It was only a matter of time before they were finishing each others sentences, talking in movie quotes, and discussing tattoos.
Siege and Jay made plans to start working together. Because of Jay’s necessity to help support his family with a full-time job, he couldn’t start apprenticing right away. But that didn’t discourage him. He spent every day off at the gallery watching and learning and every night after work drawing and painting. He was doing “homework” before he even had the position. At the beginning of this year, Jay was finally able to decrease his hours at work and dedicate himself fully to his apprenticeship. He has been studying hard and diligently working on his artwork-developing his own style which will be the foundation for his career as a tattoo artist.
I recently chatted with Jay about his apprenticeship, how it’s affected his life, and what impact it’s going to have on his future:
ME: WHEN DID YOU START DRAWING?
JAY: “I’ve been drawing my whole life, but started taking it more seriously in high school.”
ME: DID YOU TAKE ART CLASSES IN HIGH SCHOOL?
JAY: “My high school didn’t really offer any drawing or painting classes so the first real art class I took was a life drawing class in college.”
ME: WHEN DID YOU FIRST THINK YOU’D LIKE TO PURSUE ART AS A CAREER?
JAY: “I honestly never thought I could make a career out of my art until I met Siege.”
ME: DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW YOU WANTED TO TATTOO?
JAY: “I definitely knew I wanted to tattoo when I was a teenager, but I never really expected it to happen.”
ME: WHEN DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST TATTOO?
JAY: “I got my first tattoo when I was 19. It’s a portrait-style bluejay on my upper arm.”
ME: WHAT IS IT LIKE WORKING WITH SIEGE?
JAY: “Working with Siege is one of the greatest experiences. He is a very encouraging mentor who is always pushing me artistically and is always encouraging me to explore my own style.”
ME: WHAT DO YOU STRUGGLE WITH MOST WHEN DRAWING AND/OR PAINTING?
JAY: “I’ve always struggled with the human anatomy, but working with Siege is changing that for me.”
ME: DO YOU PLAN TO SPECIALIZE IN A CERTAIN STYLE OF TATTOOS?
JAY: “I’m definitely a new-school guy because I’ve always sort of drawn that way, but I don’t necessarily want to ONLY do new-school style tattoos. I really like photo realism and black & grey portrait style. But I want to be good at anything and everything that walks through the door.”
ME: WHAT ARTISTS OR STYLES OF ART DO YOU APPRECIATE MOST?
JAY: “I really appreciate all styles and genuinely good artists. I’d say I have a ‘Top 5’ in every style, but to name a few: Timmy B, Justin Hartman, Tony Ciavarro, Tanane Whitfield, and Siege…of course.”
He smiles as he finishes that last sentence, but I know he meant what he said. You can truly see the amount of respect that this guy has for his mentor and for the opportunity he’s being given right now. Jay recently started working on skin…pig skin, that is! As a stepping stone to tattooing people, pig skin is most like human skin and offers a realistic medium for him to get familiar with how tattooing feels-one of the keys to doing it properly.
Check out a gallery of Jay’s art HERE and stay tuned for updates as his apprenticeship progresses!