I was born in Japan right before my dad went to Vietnam in 1968. We lived in the Philippines for a few years ( with my mothers family in Cebu.) before moving to the Fort Walton Beach area when my dad became stationed here in 1972. As a Military Brat I've lived all over the world. Mostly Europe and Asia. However, pretty much every time that we would get stationed somewhere, we would return to Eglin AFB. Although I am comfortable with living abroad and traveling, The Emerald Coast will always be my stomping ground.
I can credit my father with lighting the artistic fire in my belly. He was an art student when he felt it his duty to enlist during the Vietnam Conflict. Although his military career became his way of life, he never let go of his love for art. I remember when I was very young that my house was filled with art supplies. My dad and I would spend a lot of time together drawing and painting when he was home from his many TDY's and deployments. Those are some of the most fond memories of my childhood. His love for art meant that we also had many comics and books around for reference. Some of my favorite early influences came from Creepy and Eerie magazines and Conan the Barbarian. And even though they are considered comics, they were full of fantastic art from guys like Berni Wrightson, Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo just to name a few.
I spent 20 years as an airbrush artist and illustrator. And even though most of the work I enjoy tends to be of a bit darker vein, I take great joy in creating beautiful things. I like to challenge my dynamic range. I do the odd acrylic once in awhile but I do enjoy mixing mediums. I draw daily and also play guitar for pleasure. My Mother was a concert pianist so I developed my ear for music very early. I tend to not like sight-reading and prefer to play by ear.
In the late 80's I began airbrushing t-shirts for tourists in Fort Walton Beach. It was a very formative time for my artwork and expanded my horizons quite a bit. I was lucky enough to take what I had learned with airbrush techniques and travel to England then Holland to work on different large scale projects. A good deal of the commissions I worked on were European Carnival attractions sent from all over Europe to be decorated by the artists and designers at Atelier Geurts in the province of Limburgh in southern Holland. I worked as an artist and designer there for about 3 years intermittently. We worked on project ranging from roller coasters in Switzerland to decorating parts of Tomorrowland at Euro-Disney in Paris. The money was great and the exposure to European vintage art and techniques was amazing, I was floored to be able to work with artisans from England, France, Poland, Russia, Greece, etc. and learn new techniques and be able to hang out with an eclectic and tight-knit group of artists. We are still friends to this day.
My body of artwork and my affiliation with the Custom painting industry garnered me worldwide attention during the revival of custom automotive painting on cars and motorcycles. I became a contributing artist for a few different sponsors at SEMA and I was fortunate enough to be an Instructor for the Airbrush Action Getaway Workshop programs. I taught 3 times a year in Orlando and Las Vegas with an average student load of about 15 artists. I was also lucky enough to teach in Northern Ireland and I get to travel to Mexico City a couple times a year to teach different art techniques.
I love what I do so, my job never becomes work.
I truly love what I do no matter what style or medium. My father by all measures of what he did, was a successful military man. He asked me once what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told him I thought that following his footsteps would be my destiny. He dissuaded me from it. His advice was this:
“ Find something you love to do, and figure out how to get paid for it.”
There are pressures and most of them come from within. I tend to be my own worst critic and am constantly pushing myself to grow artistically. But to be able to be here in this moment and create artwork is such a huge gift that I try to really honor it every chance I get. I consider myself incredibly lucky.
in 2012 I decided to leave the industry I was successful in to learn a new craft.
I started working on practice skin and as soon as I could get into a shop to learn I did. I wanted to cut my teeth in a street shop with a busy environment and high pressure to excel.
But the "Why" is more important than the "When."
The answer to why I decided to tattoo is multifaceted. Most everything that I have painted has a finite lifespan. Or, is ultimately expendable. I got to a point in my career where I had a real problem with the fact that I was putting my heart and soul into pieces that were basically, disposable. I have friends who are artists that would think that this is incredibly cool, but I didn't. Also, with teaching art I started to be a bit jealous of my students. Especially when I could literally see the light go on in their eyes when something that I was teaching clicked. That's a terrible thing to say, but I wanted to have those“Eureka” moments again for myself. I love my students and I love teaching them but once you get to a place where there isn't anything anyone can tell you about what you do, you are left asking yourself, “ what next?”
That's why tattooing is so attractive. The Japanese Tebori Masters don't treat a tattoo as a simple transaction. The idea is that once you tattoo someone, you are bound by the living art for the rest of your lives. And I pride myself on that relationship with my tattoo clients. I strive to give them singular and hugely meaningful tattoos based on who they are as people. Even if the idea a prospective client wants is simple, I love to design things that are uniquely theirs. The idea of picking a tattoo from a catalog is horrid. I think the tattoo should be as unique as the client. Even if something as simple as a word or as involved as a sleeve or back-piece. Everyone of us is different and we all have a unique story. Our tattoos should reflect that.
Tattoo is its own medium and deserves its own respect. The time I spent doing airbrush illustrations and art help when designing and applying tattoos in only one aspect. You are still making tiny dots with ink. But beyond that there are no similarities. Everything in the tattoo had to have been resolved before the tattoo starts. Have a strong background in art is helpful from a technical and composition standpoint but, tattoo are done like well, tattoos. I think if I could relate another medium to tattooing it would be more like watercolor. Working dark to light. But do I think that doing art for 20 years helps? Absolutely. I didn't need to learn art, just how to transition to the tenets of tattooing. There is a whole history and frame of mind I had to learn before I began tattooing in earnest. Even though I devoted myself to and completed an apprenticeship, I still had to learn a lot on my own. And that is what I dig the most. I get to grow as an artist.
These days I tattoo by appointment only. There are a couple reasons for this:
First, I tend to believe that a tattoo shouldn't be an impulse buy item.
Secondly, Most people don't enjoy the cattle-chute business model of a typical tattoo shop. Most people find a good artist that they trust and stick with them. I think that's one of the most important aspects of an artist/client relationship. And I would say that 90 percent of my client base is word of mouth. I do use social media as a brochure but nothing beats word of mouth.
Once a client contacts me, I like to schedule a consult as soon as possible to get the creative process rolling . Sometimes that's not possible so email and text works. Once we have a solid idea in place its customary for the client to leave me a deposit for the artwork. A deposit generally covers my time to put the drawing(s) together. Once we both like the design and placement, we schedule the actual tattoo or first session. I try to only do 1 tattoo per day because its better for the artwork, the client and myself to not be chained to the clock on the wall. I tend to price my work by the hour but if I bid a tattoo at 3 hours and it takes 5, I still stick to the price I quoted. I like for the client to be as relaxed and prepared for that tattoo as possible for when we start. I ask that the client eat a good meal beforehand, and be hydrated. Once the tattoo is complete, the area is prepared and bandaged and I give the client aftercare instructions. How the tattoo heals is just as important as the application and I educate my clients in the dos and don'ts of aftercare. I usually wait about a week to give a follow-up call to see how the healing is progressing. I like to stay in touch with my clients.
There are plenty of reasons I love being a tattoo artist but I think the main one is that I know that for both genders, having a great tattoo affects the clients self-image. And any chance I get to help someone with that I do. Another unforeseen side-effect of being a tattoo artist is the fact that most clients, while being tattooed will share and trust you with things they wouldn't discuss with their priest or doctor. Having a great conversation during a tattoo is a good way to distract from the pain and also to get a good sense of the who the client is as a person. The personal connection is very important to me. I've been told I have a great bedside manner when tattooing and I enjoy the exchange and the amusing anecdotes and witty banter.
Another thing I love about tattooing is feeling like I'm helping the client. Especially when it comes to memorial or remembrance tattoos. I've noticed that a client getting a memorial tattoo gets to externalize the emotional pain during the tattoo, discuss it and as the tattoo heals so does the client. I like the symbolic and literal way my art is helping people. Its the things like this that let me know I am on the right path with my art when I can see that my talent makes a difference in peoples lives. I think the negative stereotypes associated with tattoos are unfortunate. However I'm glad that public opinion towards decoration of the body are changing. I've noticed more and more tattoos are visible in mainstream television commercials and I think the stigma days gone by is waning. When I was growing up, only soldiers, convicts or bikers had ink. These days its much more accepted in many cultures to wear tattoos. And anything that helps provide a way to express your individuality is great. And why not? As long as the tattoo is tasteful and done in a professional way, I think most folks are all for it. Tattoos are great conversation starters and a fabulous way to decorate yourself and lifestyle.
The tattoo studio I work at is unique. When I had the opportunity to leave the tourist shop I was in and go to a legitimate Client studio I jumped on the chance. I was brought into Big Rooster Cycle and Tattoo by one of the biggest influences in my tattoo career, Nick Minervine. Most of the valuable lessons I've learned I've learned from him. In addition to Nick and Myself, there are also Keith Roice and Andrew Barnette that tattoo at Big Rooster. All of those guys have been around and we have a great cross-section of talent under one roof. We've all worked in high-pressure cut-throat shops and we jealously guard the mellow and laid back environment we've cultivated. In addition, Big Rooster also offers Harley Davidson customization and maintenance by Josh Stafford ( our resident Harley Guru) and Zach Scott, one of the best mechanics and fabricators around. The tattoo and motorcycle vibe here goes from mild to wild and all points in between and we love what we do.
Style-wise, I really enjoy doing color realism and black and grey style tattoos. Recently I've been doing a lot of high concept design tattoos based on some of my clients professions. ( navy SEALs and Special Forces) But I've really enjoyed the advent of watercolor style tattoos and even though its mostly female clients that love them, I enjoy the challenge that doing tattoos that look like watercolor provides. They are light and colorful and uniquely as beautiful as the clients I get to tattoo them on. Of late I've been doing woodcut style tattoos and dotwork (Pointillism) tattoos and also I have some really cool sleeve projects coming up this year.
We are all only on this planet for a short time. We all have different experiences and different backgrounds. I believe that while we are here we should all strive to leave as large an impression as we possibly can. This adds to the collective experience for everyone we come into contact with. Make a positive mark and leave people better than you found them. But like I said, Life is short. All of our things and money still don't equal our experiences. So collect experiences. And if that means getting a tattoo, then get a tattoo. Find and artist you like and make it happen. Tattoos are snapshots for where you are at any given point in your life. When the end is near, have something really cool to remember the ride.