Monthly Archives: April 2009

Progress report

There is something about a bicycle that encourages me to try things I never would before. From the moment I climbed onto the saddle and gave it that first push a part of my brain that had been asleep for years woke up and said ” HEY! lets go further! lets go faster! lets go harder!”  I was hopelessly out of shape, (I’m still out of shape, but now not hopelessly so) and yet the third day I owned my new bike I decided to ride 10 miles. In Pittsburgh this leaves you with two choices; the first is to ride in a circuit that is relatively flat, it ends up being fairly boring to see the same sights over and over every 5 minutes, but at least you are not climbing some monster hill. The other choice is to bike the hills as they come, and lord let me tell you, they do come.

So on that day I took a route which was basically downhill all the way to a trail the city had thoughtfully provided out of an old railroad route, since it runs past the city jail its called the jail trail. My legs did fine the whole way there, but my lungs and heart protested at these new demands almost immediately, “fuck you guys” I thought, and rode. Now, even the most basic of minds can grasp that when you go down hill a bunch that eventually. . . probably soon. . .you will have to go up hill quite a lot too. And i did. Long gradual hills that sapped me with every pedal stroke, and 30 degree monsters that loomed over and laughed at the fat ass and his puny gears, even the granny gear was like trying to run a marathon on your knees. . hopeless.

Twice I stopped on the way home, my chest on fire, my lungs heaving, a dull throbbing ache in my head that I realised was my poor heart struggling to keep oxygen going to my atrophied arteries and muscles. I sat next to my bike and wondered what the fuck was wrong with me!? Why would I subject myself to this, I’m an old fat guy, I should give up, I should accept the fact that Ive decided to be smart and funny and NOT athletic a bit. In fact Ive spent a good part of my adult life mocking physical accomplishments! I recently even had the terrible realization that I had not actually run in years. . .did I even know how anymore?

But I was in the middle of nowhere and nothing motivates you like the lack of choices, so I got on again and rode toward home. One more time on that first big ride I had to dismount and walk up a steep-as-fuck hill , and not that anyone gave a shit what I was doing,  but as the cars drove past me I had the unbidden thought “man, I hope they think I have a flat” and took some solace in the fact that Id only ever seen bikes being walked up this particular hill. . .

That was a month ago. I’ve probably put a hundred miles on my bike since then, which is not really a lot to some folks, but I can already see and feel the difference. A couple days ago I rode an even longer circuit around the city. I took leisurely detours just to look at areas I had never seen when I wasn’t zooming past in a car at 30 miles per hour, I rode in the mix with downtown traffic, slamming on my breaks and my back tire skidding in that satisfying way to dodge cars and buses, I hit the jail trail from town back toward those same long climbs and the sudden behemoth hill between me and home. I didn’t stop where I had the first time, I was sapped, but my body wasn’t about to collapse anymore, I stood up on the pedals and powered through the last of the tiny rise, past the rock I sat on and wanted to give up. I was breathing hard and my thighs ached but I didn’t stop because I didn’t need to anymore. In a month my body had become better and I knew it. When I got to the monster hill I had recovered a little so I stood on the petals again and crushed as much as I could, about halfway up my gas ran out and I had to stop. I was huffing like a freight train but there was none of that feeling of “I think I’m about to have a stroke”  that usually happens when I do anything more strenuous than opening a jar of pickles. I looked back and there was another guy at the bottom of the hill walking his bike. I drank some water, let my breathing get closer to normal, got on again before he was even close to me and rode the rest of the way up. I secretly loved that guy in that moment.

I was so fucking proud of myself. I rode to the  Starbucks Cara works at and sat there sweating and grinning and I just wanted to tell everyone, “Hey i just rode 15 miles!” or “Didja know there is a riverfront trail from the strip district to downtown?” or “I almost made it all the way up Neville from Panther hollow!” Then I took a shower and rode to work.

How fucking  COOL is that!? I did all this before work!

I wanted to go right back out again. I always do on my bike, I want to go so far that people who don’t ride bikes will either be amazed or think I’m lying whenI tell them i rode 10 or 15 or 20 miles today. I want to push the envelope of my body because it is at such a great pushable state. At their peak, a professional racer can shave seconds off their time, they can add to their endurance times in minutes. Me? I can shave my bike commute to work time in half, I can double or triple my ability to go without stopping, I can and will climb those giant hills, at the end of a ride, in the heat and I will do them without stopping. I can feel it getting nearer, and the more I notice how much better I feel the more I want it.

When I bought my bike I thought only in terms of convenience, of riding to work or to the store. I never would have guessed that a simple machine would do what no amount of self-loathing or advice from friends or even common sense had done for me and that is to motivate me to push further, faster, and harder.

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Categories: bikes, Buddhism and life, pittsburgh, random dumbness | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Feets Ahoy

So we tattooed Caras foot the other day, she wanted to keep this design very traditional. Some of the first pictures of tattooed people feature some amazing tattoos done simply and with bold graphic style, we tried to capture this same thing in her tattoo. The only color was a tiny bit of brown in the sails. Cara took it like a champ as always.cara-ship-foot

Categories: Tattoo stuff | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Human Endeavor

In rare moments there comes along a human action that is so unique, so astounding that it seems like it is impossible. For decades the common wisdom held that man could not run the mile faster than 4 minutes. And for decades no one did, then one day in 1954 Roger Bannister did the mile in 3 minutes and 59 seconds. After that the 4 minute mile was routinely broken and the number has been getting pushed further and further back. The common wisdom about what was possible by a human was, in fact, wrong. All that it took for that mistake to be the “truth” was that enough people believed it was the truth, and the result was no progress for years and years. Once Bannister showed the “truth” to be mistaken, the barrier was lifted.

When you watch this video, I think you will see yet another example of what we (or at least me) thought was possible turned on its head.

This kid is fucking amazing.

Categories: bikes | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Diary-esque

One of the more fun things, in a black humor sort of way, about Cara working with me now is that she gets to see how tiring tattooing really is. I always suspect that when customers come in and see me in an old t-shirt listening to the Stooges and Ladytron at work and ‘sitting on my ass” all day drawing that it must be the easiest thing in the world to do. in a way it is, I suppose. After all I do love my work, but after a full day of tattooing non stop and (stupidly) not eating anything til 6pm and stopping to help customers who come in and waste my time asking if we do piercing or how many tattoos they could get for $60, its exhausting. My first job was working prep and dishwasher at a fairly busy restaurant, and that shit was no joke, but I was never as worn out from that job the way a really ballbuster of a day of tattooing gets me.

I swear it took me an hour to feel human again after work, I just wanted to curl up into a cocoon and let my brain shut off. Cara was pretty beat too, plus she had the added stress of worrying about her skill level and if she was “getting it” quickly enough. I tried to tell her once my brain turned on again that its simply one of those things that , sooner or later, clicks into place. Unfortunately, until it does you feel like you are trying to learn to ride a bike while playing the violin, its so many things to try to juggle at once. I’m proud of her for sticking with it.

mermaid-ribI finished a piece that I’ve been working on for a couple months now, a really tough cookie and all around swell customer Lindsay got a big ass mermaid on her ribs. In a fit of true awesomeness she asked me to add some drowning sailors hands and to give her a look of sublime disregard for the hearts shes broken and ships shes sunk. It was awesome to do a mermaid as the legends describe them. . .bloodthirsty and vain! I really hate tattooing on that love-handle/waist/rib area but this particular customer made it as easy as it could be. The background clouds are supposed to represent that old sailor song about “red sky in the morning, sailor take warning. . . ”

In related nautical themed news, Cara has decided on a very traditional ship for her left foot. I always get strangely proud of her when she gets really into the tradition and history of tattooing and she really wanted this tattoo to be reminiscent of the great old time tattoos the circus ladies sported at the turn of the century. We got the drawing finished and I cant wait to get it one her, Stay tuned for pictures soon!

We dropped Eddie off to get neutered yesterday. We were both pretty nervous, but the ladies at the clinic were very nice and we felt that he (and his nuts) would be in good hands. Today we went to pick him up and it was the b-team working the desk all the way. I’m just glad that this collection of bitter ex-diner waitresses and day shift strippers wasn’t manning the helm when we dropped poor Eddie off or we might have changed our minds!

"You are gonna cut off my WHAT!?"

"You are gonna cut off my WHAT!?"

Anyhow, the deed was done, he has some stitches and a little less weight below the belt-line now. Poor guy is all sack and no balls! We brought him to the shop today since we needed to give him some medicine at 4pm and we wanted to make sure he was ok. He did pretty good too, we had him barricaded in the drawing section and he only snuck out occasionally and didn’t bark at anyone. He just had that “Hey guys, what goin on over here!” thing that dogs have when there’s lots of people around. If there is a pack they want to be in the middle of it! We are hoping that the removal of the lads will help his urge to hump a large blue stuffed shark of his lessen and perhaps curb his sassy ‘tude as well as assorted long term health benefits.

After work and food/recovery we went to Squirrel hill to get Italian ice and while in line this lady came up with the most adorable dog, his legs were all very twisted and obviously crippled, but he walked his bow-legged walk just fine and didn’t seem to mind at all. His owner told us she had seen him at animal friends and when she found out that no one wanted him because of his birth defect she immediately fell for him and adopted him. I’m glad there are people like that in the world.I hope I’m one of them!

Categories: random dumbness, Tattoo stuff | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Unpopular things I believe

1. No tattooer can give 100% of their attention to tattooing if they drink alcohol. I dont mean during or before the tattoo, I mean ever. Alcohol is evil, plain and simple, its destructive to your mind and soul. It is the destroyer of good intention and clouds even the keenest of minds. If you damage your mind, by drink or drugs, then you are, to some degree, selling your customers short. In the same way I believe that you are also selling short your children, friends, and anyone who would benefit from you not clouding  your mind (which is everyone).

2. A gun is death incarnate. no one who has ever lived can be trusted with the power to kill simply with a twitch of their finger. I don’t know the solution, but I do know that making death so simple, quick, and easy is one of the most tragic things to ever befall us.

3. Ethnicity is a myth. Culture is an arbitrary set of patterns you were born into, it is no more “you” than which clothes you decide to wear are “you”. If you take an Eskimo and raise him in Kenya then he will behave Kenyan, if you take me and raise me in the arctic circle then I will live like an Eskimo. We become so attached to the myth of our origins that we feel we must defend them, even to the death. Its as if we fear that if we stopped reinforcing the story of our ethnicity that we wouldn’t be anything.  The truth is if we stopped believing in the myth we could then be everything.

4. We as a species, spend far far too much time making something stand for something else. We refuse to drive safe, economical, and practical vehicles if they don’t look cool. We breed dogs into vicious dangerous breeds so we can feel tough by proxy. We buy impractical, expensive clothes because a label seems to tell others that we make more money than we do. We use our political affiliation to stand in for the complex and nuanced shades that reality demands. I believe that if we were comfortable in our own skins, if we felt at one with the world we wouldn’t need anything to stand for anything else. We wouldn’t need our objects to “represent us”.

5. I believe Conan the Barbarian is the pinnacle of the filmmakers art.

6. I can see no valid argument to be a vegan. There are many good reasons to be a vegetarian, but Veganism seems to be the extreme, something done purely out of guilt or a desire to cause guilt in others. To live in the world is to exploit it in some way, even the Jains of India realise this though they seek to minimise it to a level bordering on psychotic. In the western world vegan-ism is simply a way to wag your finger at everyone else. It seeks to elevate the proclaimer while denigrating all those who have “sinned” by eating cheese or wearing wool.

7. Bikes are better than cars.

8. Everyone should have a granddad with a tattoo. i myself did not despite having a grandpa who was a naval vet of world war two. Frankly, I think he let me down by not getting my grandmas name, “Betty” on his bicep in 1944.

9. In a society we agree to certain things in order for that society to run smoothly. Not everyone can be their own farmer, doctor, construction worker, lawyer, and mechanic. We agree that some of us will do those  jobs  and others will fulfill other roles society has deemed important. In the modern world there is absolutely no valid reason why every person on this planet should not have access to health care. And for this to be an issue in the worlds wealthiest nation (us) is a disgusting travesty that history will revile us for.

10. Universal Communism has failed miserably, unrestrained capitalism has done the same. The fact that the two largest powers on the earth cling to one or the other of these failed dogmas is frightening.

Categories: Buddhism and life, random dumbness | 3 Comments

Before you ask me for an apprenticeship. . .updated November 2014

The original version of this article was written in 2009, at the time I was getting asked for apprenticeships all the time, usualy via email, usually by people who clearly were not i love with tattooing. One of these potential “apprentices” told me when I asked if she had any tattooers herself, “oh I dont want any tattoos myself, I just think it would be a cool job I could make a lot of money at”. So perhaps you can understand the exasperated tone of the original version of this article.

I still agree with everything I wrote, but the 6 years since I originally wrote it have changed me and tattooing and I felt it was time for a rewrite and to update the information. One of the biggest changes is the end where I answer several of the comments and complaints that folks had about the version 1.

A lot of people want to be tattooers, and I can understand why, i seems like one of those jobs where one doesn’t have to follow “the rules”, even as tattooing has become more mainstream it still retains that cache of being by and for the outsider. Unfortunately the same kind of personality that is attracted to tattooing is often the same type that resists any sort of rules or tradition and tattooing, despite what anyone tells you, is full of rules and traditions. These rules and traditions are not arbitrary, they are not there because tattooers are mean or afraid of competition, they exist because tattooing is an old fashioned artform (even the newer forms) that is best taught in and old fashioned one on one, mentor/student way. In other words, an apprenticeship. This has been bourne out over and over again through ancient history right up to todays photorealistic, pneumatic/rotoriffic masters, and when people eschew an apprenticeship, when they try to “figure it out” or find a “short cut” the result is the same; some poor sod (or hundreds of poor sods really) get shitty, unsafe tattoos.

Few tattooers would write an article like this, it is considered best to slam te door in the faces of people who want to become tattooers, and if that worked I would slam the door myself. I actually believe that just by saying “fuck off kid” that we professionals are causing more people to order crappy kits and tattoo out of their house, we don’t show these prospects that there is any “right” way to go about it so it should be no surprise that they choose the only way they see availible, the wrong way. What if, instead we showed folks the right way to get an apprenticeship, not how-to tattoo, but how to seek the proper training?

This article is my point of view based on 18 years of experience, having done an apprenticeship, and on seeing the results of dozens and dozens of felow tattooers stories. Some did apprenticeships that were good, some bad, and some folks just winged it. I took on my own (and only) apprentice in 2008 and learned a ton from that experience as well. You dont have to agree with this article, I dont care either way, but you should at least appreciate that this article is something Ive never seen given out, for free, by someone who has the experience I do, its a gift for the 1% of prospective apprentices willing and able to someday become, not just tatooers, but good tattooers who are a positive boon to the world of tattooing.

DO’s

1. DO get into tattooing through an apprenticeship. Sure you could ‘figure it out” the same way you could “figure out” how to defuse a bomb. The reality is that it’s far more likely that you will blow yourself up, and in tattooing you will be fucking up on real live humans who deserve better. Everyone has a story about how so-and-so awesome tattooer just started scratching out of their crib, but even these (extremely) rare exceptions will tell a newcomer that an apprenticeship is the way to go.

2. DO start the whole process by getting tattooed yourself! I mean a LOT. Sleeves, large work, all that. No one is born knowing what makes a good tattoo, its an acquired language, you need to be exposed to it personally before you even consider tattooing others. Getting tattooed is a secret door into understanding tattooing. Even clients with no intention of being a tattooer become knowledgeable after getting hours of work in the tattoo shop environment, it’s like learning a new language by living in a foreign country instead of just reading about it in a book. Getting a lot of work also shows a prospective mentor that you love tattooing and not just the image of it. Frankly, most tattooers won’t even entertain the idea of teaching someone who can’t be bothered to get tattooed themselves.

3. DO draw a lot. Draw everything. So you have gotten that one skull down pat? great, now draw a fairy, a beaver, a motorcycle, a flower, and a face. If all you can draw is skulls then you are useless as a tattooer. For me the first big surprise in learning to tattoo was how rarely I did “cool” stuff! Especially in the beginning our artistic skills will lag behind our vision, even the best artist on paper has some adjustment time when they begin using a tattoo machine, practicing with subjects outside of your comfort zone is great preparation for being a professional tattooer when you never know what idea is coming through the door.

4. DO read every book, magazine, and website on tattooing you can. Learn the history and mystique of tattooing. Respect for tattooing is worth a lot to a prospective mentor. All that “old stuff” isn’t just for historical curiosity, there are lessons to be learned even from the crudest old work. Studying where we came from gives us a huge bank of ideas and images to draw upon. In the modern world of tumblr/Instagram tattoo pages a new artist can find a level of work to aspire to (not copy), having a goalpost to aim for helps to focus a new artist on getting up to speed quickly.

5. DO remain open minded about every kind of tattooing. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is “declaring your major” too early. In the beginning you should be open to all sorts of tattooing,mother all have something to teach you and after several years of work you may find that your passion has led you to a totally different style than what attracted you at first. Besides, to a prospective mentor an apprentice who declares that they are too good for tribal or tasmanian devils is someone already too big for their britches.

6. ting DO get lots and lots of work from the person you plan on asking for an apprenticeship. Someone walking in cold and asking for an apprenticeship is all take, take, take. By getting work you show the tattooer you are serious, interested, and they have a chance to spend some time with you and a chance to gauge your dedication. Getting tattooed by your prospective teacher is probably your best bet for getting an apprenticeship if you dont already know them personally. Don’t treat tattooing like the kind of thing you drop off an application for, this isn’t a summer job, its a whole new life, treat it that way.

7. DO be willing to sacrifice. You might be expected to work at the shop for free and still keep a job on the side. You might have to move to a whole different city to find someone willing to apprentice you. If you have tried every shop in town and no one is taking apprentices there is probably a reason, perhaps business is slow in your town and no one wans to create another mouth to feed at their shop. You might be also be asked to do all kinds of menial shit like cleaning, running errands, dealing with customers. Some of this is hazing to weed out those who dont “rally want it”, some of it is teaching you how to clean and set up tattoo equipment safely, an some of it is payment for the training you are receiving. If you cant deal with some hard work, critiques, and ball busting, don’t even bother.

8. DO understand that to be a tattooer is not merely a job, you become a representative of an artform we have given our lives to. It becomes your lifestyle, your hobby, the hill you climb forever, I know a dozen tattooers who lost girl/boyfriends when they started apprenticing because it was so all-consuming! Most tattooers feel that taking on an apprentice is special, its damn near sacred. Understand and respect what a huge amount of trust and respect taking you on as an apprentice is. Look at your desire honestly, if you think it will be easy money, lazy work, or a way to be a cool kid then stop now, it is none of those things and you will be a poor representation of tattooing if you half-ass it.

DON’Ts

1. DONT waste our time telling us how much you want it, how many years you have dreamed of it (especially if you are only 18), don’t tell us how “good at it” your friend/mom/baby momma thinks you would be. Talk is cheap, show us by doing not saying. Most prospective mentors want someone who is a hard worker who is humble not a deluded maniac who will talk a good game and then balk when they are asked to mop, practice drawing hands, or do other unglamorous parts of their apprenticeship.

2. DONT badmouth other tattooers, even if it is your prospective mentors worst enemy. being a shit talker is simply proof to that shop that you will one day, sooner or later, be shit talking them, too. Even if your mentor is the worst shit talker around, it is a bad habit that will only hurt in the long run.

3. DONT ask via phone, email, internet, letter, do it in person or don’t bother. Anything else tells the tattooer that the gift of a tattoo life isn’t worth your time and personal appearance. An apprentice is an investment of time and effort, why would we give that to someone who cant even be bothered to talk to us in the flesh? Not only will asking “hey you taking apprentices” on Facebook rub most tattooers the wrong way, it might even make it even harder to get a foot in the door at all, word gets around the tattoo community and someone badgering folks online will not get you a good reference.

4. DONT show up without some artwork, bring examples of your artistic ability. Paintings and Photoshop art are nice, but what most tattooers really need to judge are drawings. It doesn’t have to be photorealism or japanese, but it should show a confidence in line, shading, and some understanding of how colors work with each other. I can’t tell you how many folks have shown me their “drawing while high” doodles on a notebook cover or napkin and acted amazed when I wasn’t interested in teaching them. We may dress like 19 year olds, but we are professional artists, approach a prospective mentor in a professional manor with a professional body of work if you want to be taken seriously.

5. DONT be surprised if you are asked to pay for your apprenticeship, especially if you don’t personally know the artist. There’s a lot of ways to weed out those who are not serious, paying for your apprenticeship is one of them. (BUT beware those shops who turn out 20 apprentices a year for money, chances are you will end up paying 5 grand to mop floors for 4 months and then get fired for some made up infraction). This can be tricky and is why it helps to familiarize yourself with tattooing by reading and getting tattooed, know who is using apprenticeship as a trick to fleece the uninitiated.

6. DONT ask just anyone. Some tattooers cant tattoo, an apprenticeship with one of them is just the blind leading the blind. Educate yourself as to what a good tattoo looks like before you start asking around. In all seriousness, the book “The Complete Idiots Guide to getting a Tattoo” has some fantastic info on how to spot good work from bad. Learn the language a bit before you start asking. Some tattooers are so bad that learning from them is effectively a step backward and I have a few friends who did these sort of “apprenticeships” and spend years undoing the poor habits that were instilled in them.

7. DONT expect to start tattooing right away, there is a LOT of groundwork to do first. Lots of apprentices don’t even touch a machine for a while! No matter how good of an artist you are, tattooing is a skill acquired via repetition and practice, you will most likely be drawing a lot of roses and butterflies months before you tattoo even the most basic stuff. Just learning to safely and efficiently set up and break down a machine is a skill you will have to learn, in a good apprenticeship you will be making lots and lots of baby steps and gradually building on each previously learned bit one at a time. Patience in learning to tattoo (and life) means that you will have a strong foundation when you start learning new skills.

8. DONT mistake the art of tattooing for an excuse to get up late, be lazy, dirty, drunk, high, or snotty. You must be your own taskmaster. A good blue collar attitude towards your apprenticeship will help you learn fast, thoroughly, and with respect from your peers. There are guys who are jokes in this art form and don’t even know it, there are lots of tattooers who have a ton of talent and skill that can’t get hired anywhere reputable because their known attitude problem, drug habit, or poor work ethic. The best artist in the world is useless to a shop if they are perpetually late and unprepared. A hard worker trumps a rockstar every time.

9. DONT pretend to be “in” already. You don’t have to be meek and submissive, but don’t act like the hipster cool guy either. If you get an apprenticeship you will be working closely with the whole shop, be the sort of person you would like to hang out with day in and out. Your mentor will be your primary source of info, but everyone at the shop will help you, as well if you are approachable. My own apprenticeship was by 2 or 3 other people as well as my mentor, and they each helped teach me something that rounded out my skills, if I had come off like a cocky know-it-all these guys wouldn’t have told me anything. Mouth shut- eyes open was my mantra!

lastly, BE CAREFUL!

1. BE CAREFUL of tattoo “schools’. They are a huge scam and not a single one is worth 2 shits. Some states require a license from these shysters and its a damn shame. The fact is that learning to tattoo means taking in small bits of information, learning to apply that info until it becomes automatic and then learning a new bit on top of the previous one. This takes time and practice, something no 2 week (or 6 month) course could teach even if the “teachers” were any good. If not absolutely necessary save your money!

2. BE CAREFUL of scumbag tattooers who see an apprentice as a way to get free money/labor/sex. Tattooing is wonderful, but nothing is worth being exploited, if you find yourself in that situation then get out, regroup, and start looking again. Never stay in a situation you feel is unsafe.

3. BE CAREFUL in learning the basics of cross contamination and how to maintain a safe relationship to the bloodbourne pathogens you will be encountering in tattooing. It wouldn’t hurt to read up on this stuff/take a class before you begin any apprenticeship.

4. BE CAREFUL to avoid the disease of ‘rock-starness”. Humility will carry you miles further in tattooing than all the talent in the world if its wasted on an egomaniac. Stay humble, know your real ability level, and don’t tackle stuff so far above your head that you (and your customer) will regret it.

5. BE CAREFUL of someone willing to take an apprentice who has less than 4 or 5 years under their belt. I didn’t take my (only) apprentice til I had 12 years of tattooing under my belt and almost none of us know enough about how we do what we do without many years of tattooing behind us. Skill in this business is measured in decades not years.

Now good luck, don’t give up, and don’t email me anymore about this stuff.

yer pal,

Jason

Frequently asked questions about this article:,

“Who are you to decide how someone should get an apprenticeship”

I’m the guy writing the article, you don’t have to like it, this article isn’t about “likes”. It’s information I obtained through doing that I’m sharing. Do you think the way it works is not fair? You might be right but either way this IS the way it works in tattooing. So you can take what I am giving you (for free) and use it or ignore it, I dont care either way, but you had better understand that I am trying to help. If you can’t see that, there’s nothing I can do for you.

“Joe So-and-So didn’t do an apprenticeship, and he is better than you!”

Cool. Go ask him for a job, tell him you don’t want an apprenticeship you just want to start tattooing and see if he hires you. Or ask him to write you a 4000 word article on how to start tattooing.

“Why can’t I just look at the youtube/scratcher bbs/how to website?”

You can, but you can’t ask them the questions a real trained professional can answer for you. The beauty of an apprenticeship is that ideally it is a personally tailored training regimen. Few skills these days are taught one on one, crafts person to crafts person and there is a reason tattooing still is. A cyber apprenticeship is to a real apprenticeship as cybersex is to real sex, it just is t the same thing.

“Why are you so mean”

If you think I’m mean then you haven’t asked many people yet for an apprenticeship. This is my nice way of saving you getting yelled at by some guy whose been asked 400 times that week for a apprenticeship by unprepared yahoos. If you walk in prepared and with some knowledge, you are already looking better to your prospective mentor than 99% of the people who ask us.

“Is there anything you aren’t telling us”

Yes, and I am sad to say that the number one way people get an apprenticeship is that they already know their prospective mentor. It sucks, but is true for most jobs that are above entry level. The old “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. My teacher was my brother, most folks I know who got into tattooing legitimately did so because they were some tattooers friend or other relation. This is why I encourage you to get work from the artist you want to learn from, you need to build that relationship if it does’t already exist.

“This article is bullshit because some tattooer I know said something different”

It’s entirely possible. This is my version and the best advice I can give based on my experience. It might be totally different where you are from.

“There’s too many tattooers, why help these kids become apprentices”

Because I’d rather help someone at least learn how to ask than just say “fuck off” and have them go order a Chinese tattoo kit fro. The internet. Like I said above, if just slamming the door stopped people from Scratching then we wouldn’t have scratchers, but we do, so the current wisdom of just trying to close it up isn’t working. If the worst that happens from this article is that a bunch of kids learn about tattoos, get lots of work from prospective teachers, and go around asking to be properly trained then I’m happy with that.

Categories: random dumbness, Tattoo stuff | Tags: , , , , , | 28 Comments

Skullerpuss vs. Seniorita muerte

Stephen Jay Gould was a brilliant essayist and scientist, an ardent Darwinist, he none the less felt it his duty to confront some of the unanswered questions in Darwins theory of Evolution. One of which is the fossil records annoying tendency to show long periods of stasis and then sudden (in geologic terms) appearances of modification in the same family of creature. In an effort to resolve this he posited and then went on to vigorously defend and provide evidence for what he termed “punctuated equilibrium”. Basically it turns out that species spend a relatively long period with only moderate changes visible, while generations of mainly uneventful mutations occur, it is only when these invisible mutations become so common that a wide swath of the species shares them that change becomes apparent, it appears to have happened suddenly even though the mutations leading up to these adaptations have been accruing for hundreds of generations.

Which is a very long winded way of saying that my tattooing seems to have its own periods of punctuated equilibrium. I feel like my work reaches a plateau of some sort and then for some time it feels like Im not getting any better, as if  my tattoos are simply holding the line not advancing technically or imaginatively. Yet, all the while, new ideas and tiny technical changes are gathering behind the scenes and then suddenly I’ll have a rash of really bad ass tattoos (in my humble opinion) and feel like my work has taken a giant leap forward.

This week was one of those weeks. First I finished this Skullerpuss.  .er. . . octoskull? Whatever.

gerald-octopus We did the outline about 2 weeks ago and all the black shading. On the coloring session I had the idea to do the tentacles the same way I would color a traditional style snake body. In fact My intention at first was to keep the color palette really limited to the old school 3 color family (plus black), however the more i got into it the more I wanted to use some pastel type colors to contrast with all that flatness. I had a few moments of nervousness during this guy, wondering if i was fucking up by making all these Easter colors all over it, but in the end both myself and the customer dug on the result. I seldom have a fully rendered idea of what colors and ideas i want to put where, i feel like letting the piece (and customer) speak leads to more unexpected, and usually more amazing, results. its fun but it can also be nerve wracking to get to the end of a piece and have no idea what color the last bits need to be. Somehow it usually ends up being just right, like the old saying says “God protects idiots and children”. . .

A couple days later I got to finish a Day of the Dead-ish piece that was outlined a few weeks back. The customer brought in a tiny print out of a painting. The art was cool enough, but I felt like I could put a more tattoo-y twist on it so i redrew the thing from the ground up while still trying to keep that sense of tenderness and cuteness. olivia-muerte-sleeve1

This was a long one, the coloring took over 5 hours but she sat like a champ and was game for any suggestions I had while still maintaining a sense of her own vision of the piece. I love when it feels like the customer and myself  are working together to accomplish some art instead of me trying to prevent them from wrecking their own work with ill thought out notions. Its a fine line, many many times a suggestion that I was not in agreement with has turned out to be better than any of my own ideas, so its important to keep an open ear and mind to the clients wishes and ideas.

I don’t mind admitting that I love both of these pieces, they are not perfect (but what is?) but they do represent another step forward in my own tattooing. Of late i have really felt that this kind of stuff is what I enjoy doing and seems to come out the best, and to that end Ive started to turn down work that i don’t feel I can really do ‘next-level’. There is a part of me that feels like this is cheating or ‘rock star’ but frankly after a dozen years tattooing anything and everything that walked in I think its time to get a little more picky. Im booked about 3 weeks ahead, and that’s plenty, If I cut back on the stuff Im not excited about i might only be booked 2 weeks ahead, but I will be excited about every piece and the end result is that the customers will get better tattoos.

So in the coming weeks Ill be changing up the way i do things a little, Ill be telling more folks ‘no’ and that kind of blows, but I think necessary if im going to stay as in love with tattooing as I am now.

Cara has been stepping her game up and is fearless. Ill be able to funnel a lot of the stuff I don’t feel like tackling anymore to her which will be nice for her continued improvement and customers will still get the quality and friendliness we strive to make out trademark. She seems so much more together at 27 than i ever was at the same time. Chronologically we may be 10 years apart, but I know that if i was her age she would be so far beyond me emotionally and intellectually that I wouldn’t be able to hang at all. As it is I still feel like I’m learning something wonderful every day I get to spend with her.

Enough rambling! Im out.

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You smelt it, you felt it, you dealt it

It seems that the longer we live the more we should know, obviously if you have experience after experience one would assume that it all builds into some version of the truth, a foundation that we could use to maintain balance. Sadly, it seems like the opposite is true. As long as our lives are based on mistaken notions, it seems like suffering never ends.

It like an archer aiming an arrow the wrong direction, no amount of wind or luck is going to put the arrow on a true path to the bulls eye. If we begin with false notions our lives will go the same way. My daily Zazen feels like that archer re aiming his bow a little closer to the true direction. Each day a little more correction, A little adjustment, and hopefully the arrow flies in the right direction.

I find that I get annoyed with other peoples annoyance. its a bad habit that I’m really working hard on. When i read of some tattooer bitching about biting, or the ‘good ole’ days’ or how tattooing sucks now it frustrates me to a point that I am embarrassed to feel. I love tattooing and its given me back what Ive put into it time and time again so i suppose I feel defensive, but its not only that. I see these people as suffering and it annoys the shit out of me to see someone causing dissatisfaction to themselves and not even being aware that it comes from them! I hate to see the ‘out there’ blamed for what is clearly ‘in here’.

Of course, the fact that it bothers me is the same thing on my part. Sometimes Buddhism is a pain in the ass, you cant hide from bullshit of any kind, especially not your own!

In Buddhism we are continually reminded that compassion is not the same as pity. True compassion is feeling what others feel because you realise they are you and vice versa, its a recognition of the universal nature of their suffering. Pity, on the other hand, is simply feeling bad for others because they have it so bad compared to us. And its that comparison is the problem, we are elevating ourselves ( Ive got it so right) and lowering them (poor bastards don’t have what i do). Honesty, what I feel for other tattooers is pity and it makes me a little disgusted with myself.

Secondly, a wise person  (Cara) once told me “If you spot it, you got it” meaning that we we see a failing in another then 99% of the time its because we see that same failing in ourselves and don’t want to admit it! The clearest example of this is someone who gossips to someone else about how much a third person talks behind peoples backs! If you take the time to examine your own dislikes and the things that annoy or trouble us about others then it usually points to those same faults in yourself! How bad does that suck!? But the truth doest care if its easy or hard, it just is, the trick is training our minds to deal with it as it really is.We can take those wise words (if you spot it you got it) as a cue to examine ourselves when something annoys us about another person.

Obviously being disgusted by what Hitler did doesn’t mean we are all genocidal dictators, but if we get mad at a friend who complains too much what are the chances that we ourselves share the same trait? Pretty good, in my experience.

In this case I think its fairly clear that I have some firm notions about what is right and wrong in tattooing and am very opinionated about it, when i see this trait in others it irks me because , subconsciously at least, I’m seeing the same bitter quality in myself. Now that I am more aware of it I can work on it instead of contemplating what angry letters I’m going to write to tattoo magazines or post on tattoo forums I can sit with this part of myself and learn to accept my fellow tattooers with compassion instead of pity. I can try to re-aim the bow a little bit closer to the bulls-eye.

Categories: Buddhism and life, Tattoo stuff | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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