Artists: Derek Billingsley
What year did you start tattooing?
I started in 2010 in Oklahoma City with Tony Garcia, my mentor.
How did you get into tattooing?
I started wanting to tattoo at eight-years-old. It’s been a lifelong journey for me and everyday is a reminder of where I came from.
What was your first shop experience like?
I went through a traditional apprenticeship and it was tough but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It molded me.
Do you have any special training?
I guess going through a traditional apprenticeship nowadays is actually special. [Laughs]
You seem to travel quite a lot. What are some of the shops and conventions you frequent?
I love traveling. It keeps me sane and constantly inspired. I enjoy the change of scenery and the lifelong friends I’ve made along the way. I frequent so many different shops it’s hard to say. It’s constantly evolving.
You seem to work primarily in a neo-traditional style. What led to that?
I grew up being infatuated with American traditional tattoos. I always enjoyed using real life references and drawing with more realistic proportions, so I basically combined both of those to create what I do. I don’t classify myself to any style. I really just want to create good, clean, solid tattoos with lots of black.
Where do you see traditional tattooing going?
In a way it’s going in a good direction for sure with so many talented artists tattooing nowadays. On the other end, the absence of real apprenticeships has really tarnished a lot. Kids who have been tattooing for a year are opening up shops and having apprentices when they have no business trying to teach anyone, the blind leading the blind. There is no respect and that’s truly sad. I’m just a dude who loves tattooing and wants everyone to get along, enjoy the ride, and do it with the upmost respect. Self-entitlement is a major problem. We aren’t owed anything. If anything tattooing has given me so much.
What makes a good traditional tattoo?
Clean bold lines, minimal palette with skin showing and lots and lots of black.
You also work primarily in color with red appearing in the majority of your pieces. What led you to that particular aesthetic?
Red is the shit. It’s bold and strong. I don’t know really, just looks rad to me.
What inspires you as an artist?
Music really inspires me a lot and pushes me in a certain direction. I owe a lot to music.
What other media do you work in?
Mostly watercolor, but I’m always interested in learning new things.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
I have really been pursuing other avenues with tattooing. I have a clothing line that has been in the works for a while and should be out first thing next year. I have been doing designs for people for a while and wanted to take that next step.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
One of my closest friends inside and outside of the industry is Dave Tevenal. That dude is a machine who pumps out the best shit. He has held me down since day one and I owe him a ton. So here it is Dave, a big thank you from me to you!
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
Anything that gives me a direction and leaves it open for creativity. I love tattooing so much; I’m stoked to be doing this every single day. I really enjoy strong, powerful, tough images.
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you have for them?
Do your research and really find an artist’s work you love and can stand to be around for lots of hours. It’s forever.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
Eagles. Yeah, eagles are tough. Oh yeah, and all the grim reapers!