Artists: Artist Spotlight: Kenny K-Bar
What year did you start tattooing?
How did you get into tattooing?
I’ve been an artist since I could hold a crayon. While I was getting tattooed, I inquired about an apprenticeship. A few weeks later, I lost my day job, and my tattoo artist/friend let me take up an apprenticeship under him.
What was your first shop experience like?
Because I didn’t know any better, I turned every negative experience I had there into a learning experience. I learned the “dos” and “don’ts” of what to do in a real tattoo shop.
What’s it like being a part of the Leathernecks Tattoo family?
I have the privilege and honor of working among some of the most talented artists I have ever met, tattooers who put the art first. I love that everyone who works here treats this place like home. I like the fact that everyone who walks through the door mentions that this place feels like home; it lets me know that my wife and I have done something right in creating this space.
Do you have any special training?
My upbringing and five active duty years in the Marine Corps have given me the drive and motivation to put my artistic ability to use.
What conventions have you done recently or are planning to do this year?
We recently did the Visionary Arts Tattoo Convention in Asbury Park, NJ, where I won first place for Best Sleeve (My 20th Convention). We are headed to the Boston Tattoo Convention, Labor Day weekend, and will be in Philly, Miami, and Baltimore this upcoming year.
What drew you to a realistic style of tattooing?
Ever since I could hold a pencil, I’ve tried to imitate life. Even though my biggest inspiration has been comic book art, I have always tried to envision them as real people.
How would you personally describe your style?
I wouldn’t label it as any particular style, there are many artists out there with very unique styles; I just imitate what I see.
What inspires you as an artist?
Other artists, my customers (because they come up with most of the ideas), and my family who always inspires me to better myself.
What sets you apart from other artists?
I wouldn’t set myself apart from anyone; I work very hard and try to remain consistent in my dedication to the art.
What other mediums do you work in?
I’m not a strong painter; I’ve kind of just always used a pencil and paper. While in the military I developed a form of art using military grade reflective tape. I use the tape by cutting out the image in layers, recreating life images. I’ve showcased it in gallery shows and inside my shop as well. I feel that if I wasn’t tattooing this would be my main art.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
I’ve used the shop and my being recognized as a tattoo artist to draw awareness/raise money for causes that are dear to me, such as the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, Wounded Warrior, and Toys forTots.
How is the Brooklyn tattoo scene different from the rest of the world?
I have two words: Brooklyn Bridge! Brooklynites have so much pride in their city; I find myself being an architect more than an artist, recreating the Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island boardwalk, fire hydrants, and other iconic Brooklyn images more often than not.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
I admire any tattoo artist who remains humble while other artists praise him/her, artists who let others watch and learn from them, sharing what they can. I admire artists like Stefano Alcantara, Carl Grace, and Bob Tyrrell; they are examples of the talent and humbleness I respect.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
As I gain more experience in developing my strengths as an artist, I always look forward to people allowing me to do my own original drawings on them. To me that is an honor, to know that someone has such confidence in my work that they would let me do something I have created, permanently.
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you give them?
I give them my speech about trusting the artist’s experience, making sure that they know who the artist is that is working on them–in other words, don’t just get tattooed by the first artist you see, do your research and make sure you are comfortable with the artist and know their work. Also, never be afraid of size; the biggest regret I always hear is that they wish they had gone bigger! And never criticize other people’s tattoos just because it doesn’t mean something to you; it may mean everything to them.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
Yes, I have a whole book of them that I bring to each convention. I always update them and have them on all of my websites as well.
Where did the name “K-bar” come from?
A Ka-bar is a knife that the Marines use. It is the weapon, other than our rifle, that we are taught to use for survival and protection. My peers gave me the name because of my first initial, and the fact that I am always prepared (carrying my backpack filled with survival gear). It just seemed fitting.
If you could tattoo anyone, who would it be and what would you want to tattoo?
My mom, because she has none, and she is my biggest fan. She was a graceful ballerina as a young girl, so I would love to tattoo a ballerina on her.