INKED: How much did having a professional artist for a father influence you as a kid?
TIM HENDRICKS: His influence is pretty much everything. Half of it was just getting the raw talent handed down to me. Every one of my siblings got it. I’m just the only one that wanted to do it for the rest of my life. Ever since I was old enough to be able to comprehend the question about what I wanted to do with my life, the answer has always been artist. There was never anything else. When I was a kid, if I was bored and I had done my chores, my dad would make me sit and draw.
How did you make the leap from “I want to be an artist” to “I want to be a tattoo artist”?
The area that I grew up in wasn’t a total ghetto, but it wasn’t a nice neighborhood at all. There were gangs and local punk rock dudes. The whole element bred tattooing. I would go to tattoo parties, and my friends and I would trip out on older cholo dudes who had just gotten out of jail using their new skills to make a few bucks. Tattooing found me. It just made sense. I was an artist and people in my ‘hood were getting tattoos—it just fit. There was a point when I was working a regular job and I just walked out one day. I realized that I was happier tattooing two to three days a week, and making enough money to barely get by, than working six days a week at this stupid restaurant.
What was your first tattoo?
I got some feathers with my last name on my arm. I was completely incoherent at the time at a tattoo party in my neighborhood. It was done by some off-his-rocker cholo who had just gotten out of prison. I knocked over all his ink and shit, so I think I had to pay a little more for the tattoo. I think it cost $25.
Did the first tattoo you gave go any better?
The first tattoo I gave was to my best friend at the time. His name was Ray. I tattooed him in his garage when we were living together. It was my first real tattoo with a machine. I was 17 and it was a band around his arm or something like that. It was single-needle and it took forever. We sat there for about five hours drinking beers and listening to rock and roll music. It was beautiful.How did you go from tattooing in a garage to doing it on national television as a cast member on Miami Ink?
I worked with Chris Garver at True Tattoo in Hollywood. He went out and said he was doing a little pilot. He came back, showed it to me, and I said, “This is going to be huge.” Sure enough, it was. When Kat left the show out there, they needed somebody to fill her shoes. They asked me and I accepted the honor.
You also worked with Kat Von D at True Tattoo.
I don’t think she’ll admit it now, because she was pretty bitter that I decided to go out to Miami. There was some invisible line in the sand that I didn’t see. But she sat over my shoulder for a year or two years just watching me do portraits and a lot of that black and gray style. Hopefully I helped her out. She used to say I did. Now she doesn’t [laughs]. We’re okay, though. We’ve come to an agreement that we’re cool. It’s a shame things have to go that way. I wish they hadn’t.
Is there a lot of extra pressure giving a tattoo in front of millions of people?
No, I didn’t feel it. I can see how there would be. The first week I would have nightmares that there were cameras over my bed with a producer telling me to wake up very naturally. I would wake up and jump out of my bed with my heart racing. That faded after about five days. But I can see how having 80 percent of your life filmed, especially when you’re laying something permanent on somebody’s skin, can be nerve-racking. It wasn’t that bad for me. I’ll probably get shit for saying this, but I just really don’t care. Just lay the ink in the skin. I think that helped me lay better tattoos because it takes the stress away. The other guys are really comfortable with it by now too, which helped me ease into my chair.
Do you get shit from other people in the community for being a part of tattoo TV?
Oh yeah, of course. I’m sure I have a list of haters a mile long. A lot of them have a good point. The tattoo shows definitely take away some of the mystique and the beauty of our business. I contribute to that. If I didn’t take the offer, they would’ve went and found somebody else. I don’t know if I deserved the opportunity, but I know I deserve to work with my friends. It got me out of a little rut that I was in, and it got me inspired again. A lot of the people hating are just jealous. Fuck ’em. They can sit there and be angry. All that negative energy is going to bounce back upon them. I’m not going to hide behind any excuses. I knew it was going to create a lot of animosity. It goes back to that thing I said before: I just don’t care. I do care about tattooing. I owe my whole life to tattooing. Maybe it’ll give those people who hate the TV shows a little comfort to know that I still really do care.
How would you describe your style as an artist?
My style for a while was black and gray and portraits, but I learned that when you corner yourself in one style, you get burnt out. I did and I became unhappy for a while. I will always be known for my portraits and my black and gray, but I like to think I can do whatever comes my way.Does the personal nature of portrait work make it more nerve-racking?
Portrait artists are just good at replicating. There are portrait artists that really can’t draw. It almost has nothing to do with being an artist. A portrait is just following a grid of shapes, shades, and proportions. If you can lose track of the fact that it’s a face, it doesn’t take a genius to lay a portrait in. You have to look at one little piece at a time and it will come out fine. It’s like that old theory that if you draw a portrait upside down, it’ll probably be the best one you’ll ever do.
Do your loves for skating and surfing pre-date your love for tattooing?
Definitely. My dad pushed me out on my first wave when I was 6. I remember standing up and I felt like I was on top of the world. I rode that wave all the way until it hit the rocks and I fell off. Later, when I was between 6 and 8, I was walking along the beach with my dad and I asked him a couple of questions about surfing. He said the water was too choppy to surf that day. I was so fascinated by the whole thing and I told him that I wanted to learn. He was so pumped. He never pushed anything on us, but I can tell he was really excited.
Your dad probably had something to do with you learning to skate too.
I wanted a skateboard, and we weren’t the richest of folk. He couldn’t just go out and buy me a skateboard, so he had to make do. He took a piece of plywood and bent the tail with water and pressure. Then he put roller-skate trucks on the bottom of the board. That thing was a pile of crap, but it got me where I am today.Why do you think the skating and surfing communities are so compatible with the tattoo community?
I think they all fall in the category of expressing one’s self as an individual. I was never into team sports. I like to do it all for me. Maybe it’s selfish, but when I’m out there towing into a big wave or skating a huge pool in a backyard, I’m doing it for me. All the expression comes out of myself. That has a lot to do with tattooing. It’s personal and it’s something you do for you. No one else can be brought into [this] except [an] artist.
You are also known for making tattoo machines. How did that start?
Around 2003 I went to a guy named Danny Dringenberg and bought a machine because I knew that he was the best. He invited me to go to his shop and help him out. I almost lost my girlfriend at the time over it. I was there all night, every night. In the first year I built a ton of machines for him. Years down the road he gave me his blessing to go and build my own. I still call him up and ask him questions. I’m constantly learning from him.
How do you juggle all of your passions?
It’s a balance. If you do too much of one thing in your life you’re going to lose inspiration. You’re going to lose the love for it. A lot of these things that I do that I love, like building machines and doing books, I found a way to use those to produce some type of revenue. Some are small and some are pretty large. That allows me to do all these things and balance my life so I never get sick of one thing. That’s how I find happiness. That’s how I keep it all in line. I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s. Everybody gets confused that the whole purpose of life is to be successful in society’s eyes. They need the money, the house, the wife, the kids, the big cars. To me, that’s not success unless it makes you happy. You can either want more and work less or just be content with your life.