Artists: Damien Rodriguez
damienrodriguez.com | invisiblenyc.com
148 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002
FRESHLY INKED: What year did you start tattooing? I started tattooing in the summer of 2003.
DAMIEN RODRIGUEZ: How did you get into tattooing? I’m pretty sure I have the same teenaged misfit “skateboarding to punk rock to hardcore shows to graffiti to getting tattooed a lot” story as 90 per- cent of every other tattooer out there, ha ha. But anything I did or thought about regarding tattoos and tattooing before reading Grime’s Two Year Autopsy was just a waste of my time. That book is what showed me what can be done with the right dedication.
Where did you apprentice?
I apprenticed under Pastor and Cracker at A-1 Tattoo in Franklinville, NJ. It was a small town in south Jersey that all of us young hoodlums from Philly would drive out to and get tattooed. The owner, Cracker, was a friend of ours so we would go there and hang out a lot. I did community college for fine arts for only, like, a year—I liked drawing and graffiti so I thought that’d be fun to study, but it was all crap, just a bunch of art weirdos talking about “What is art?” and stupid shit like that. I already had a bunch of tattoos and thought it was ill, so I eventually got it in my head to go for an apprenticeship, thinking that would be easy. Little did I know! After being told “fuck off” by over a dozen shops, A-1 finally took me on— after much nagging and begging—only on the condition that I work for peanuts and drive Pastor back and forth to and from Philly because we both lived there and Pastor didn’t have a car.
Do you have any special training?
I took some basic art classes in high school, and then that one semester of various 2-D and 3-D drawing and concepts at that little Philly Community College, so nothing to shake a stick at… the realness was my apprenticeship! Both Past and Cracker really broke me down and had me start from scratch with everything I thought I knew. My first month as an apprentice I thought I was the man because of my one stupid semester at college, and I thought I’d be drawing skulls and daggers and dragons, but Past would make me draw bowls and drinking glasses, ha ha. He gave me books to study and even gave me homework assignments! In hindsight it was the best thing for me, but at the time I was miserable! Pastor is an amazing artist, tattooer, and painter, as well as a natural teacher, so he had tons of knowledge to offer and I couldn’t be more thankful. While he helped me with my drawing, Cracker taught me all there was to know about the technical and business side of tattooing. So my apprenticeship was really well-rounded.
How do you describe your style?
Describing one’s style is never easy. I just tell people I do Japanese and traditional and let them make their own silly sub-genre names. All of my imagery is basic tattoo shit; roses, skulls, koi fish, and dragons. I like nice movement, heavy black, and sometimes tweaks where I can to make it a little extra dynamic. The past few years I’ve been simplifying a lot, though. I used to do light sources and reflective lighting, but that’s all just bells and whistles. I’m trying to train myself to go even simpler and just make a nice, strong tattoo that stands alone without special effects.
What inspires you as an artist?
Inspiration comes and goes at random. Sometimes I’ll see an awesome tattoo my friend does, or I’ll see an awesome yakuza movie. My coworkers at Invisible always keep me on my toes, though!
What sets you apart from other artists?
Not stealing from my peers! I don’t creep on blogs and Facebook and copy and paste some other dude’s hard work. I actually study books and try and learn where imagery came from and why it’s drawn the way it is, or why it’s paired with that type of flower, or why it’s that color. I get tattooed by people I respect and I watch what they do; I don’t just e-mail them on Facebook and ask some b.s. like “What inks you use?” There’s some lazy-ass heads out there these days. Really bums me out.
What other mediums do you work in?
I mess with watercolors sometimes; I’ll start a flash set and then put it away, ha ha. I’m never happy with my paintings. Is graffiti a medium. My late-night walks and rooftop climbing come and go still.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
Tattooing has taken me all over the country, to Europe, and to Japan! It allowed me to relocate from my crazy-ass hometown of Philadelphia to New York City, where I couldn’t be happier. I’ve met some of my best friends through tattooing, as well as countless amazing artists and straight-up good dudes. I hope to see even more faraway lands and meet count- less more awesome people!
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
First and foremost are all my coworkers-brothers at Invisible NYC! You’ll never meet a more dedicated group of individuals. But naturally I still have the utmost respect and love for my former teachers and coworkers as well, back in Philly and on Long Island, where I also worked for a time.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
I prefer larger projects, anything that keeps me studying long hours all week. Who doesn’t love sleeves and back pieces right? And tattooing mikiri really relaxes me. My coworker Kiku says, “It’s like meditation,” and he couldn’t be more right! I love days when I know it’s just that all day. Downside to large stuff is no one ever finishes, ha ha. You’ll finish a sleeve three years later and hate it ’cause you don’t draw that way anymore.
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you give them?
I always try and steer people in the right direction the best I can. At the end of the day it’s their tattoo so you can only interfere so much, but sometimes people need a little nudge this way or that when it comes to the drawing or placement. I just try and add my two cents depending on the tattoo.
Is there a tattoo you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
The only problem with doing Japanese tattoos is that most of the real, real ill shit is also the most DL! Americans don’t know what a damn baku or nue are. You tell ’em Fudo Myoo and they think you’re talkin’ about fondue—true story, btw. So sometimes the puzzle is trying to convince them to get things they know nothing about. ’Cause let’s face it, how many koi and geisha can someone do?