Artists: Jason Donahue
Idle Hand Tattoo
575 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
What year did you start tattooing?
I began tattooing in 2000.
How did you get into tattooing?
I mistakenly thought I could just get some machines and start doing it ’cause I could draw a little bit. I did, like, two or three tattoos and realized I was never going to figure this out on my own. So I went looking for an apprenticeship, and after getting a ton of doors slammed in my face, finally found one.
Where did you apprentice?
I kind of had two apprenticeships. My first year was at Emerald City Tattoo in Seattle. Tony Johns and Aaron
Amundsen owned the shop and brought me on board, but it was Ego who took me under his wing and taught me about as much as you could learn in a year. Aaron also ran a small supply company, which was cool, ’cause he showed me how to make needles, mix pigment, assemble machines, and all that good stuff. Then I moved to Denver and somehow got a job at Twisted Sol. I don’t know how this happened, ’cause I’d only been tattooing a year and was pretty terrible, and at that time Twisted Sol was easily the best shop in Denver. Mike Nickels said he saw some potential in me and gave me a shot. The next three years, Big Mike, Lee Ball (RIP), and the whole TS crew really whipped me into shape. It was like tattoo boot camp—11-hour days, always busy, working with great artists. That was an invaluable learning experience.
What conventions have you worked at?
San Francisco/Bay Area convention, London, Long Beach, Austin, Barcelona, Nantes [France], Rochester, Sacramento, Berlin, Hollywood, Seattle, Detroit, and probably a few more I’m forgetting right now. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of my personal heroes and artists I admire at conventions. And when you get that many tattooers together in one place there’s always some really good parties.
How do you describe your style?
I do pretty traditional tattoos, but I try to add a little refinement and enough of my own twist on things
that they’ll hopefully be recognizable as mine. I also like to do Japanese-style tattoos.
What inspires you as an artist?
I try to be open to inspiration from anything, really—you never know.
What sets you apart from other artists?
I don’t know—I really try not to compare myself with other artists, I just try to do the best possible tattoo I can tattoo every time, and keep moving forward with my work.
What other mediums do you work in?
I also work with watercolor.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
I don’t think I’ve really branched out from tattooing. At this point in my career everything I do artistically is related to tattooing and/or motivated by my desire to get better at tattooing.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
I admire all the classic tattooers who came before me and made what I do possible. A few of my personal favorites are Sailor Jerry, Owen Jensen, Bob Wicks, Bert Grimm, Cap Coleman, and Ben Corday.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
Some of my favorite things to do are girls, flowers, and almost any animal, especially tigers, wolves, snakes, eagles, panthers, etc.
Before someone gets a tattoo, what advice do you give them?
I like to tell people the part of the process they have complete control over is choosing the artist they want to
tattoo them. Once they’ve made that choice they should give that artist their idea and then let them do their thing with it. That’s how you’ll end up with the best tattoo, and get a tattoo that has the qualities that attracted you to that artist in the first place.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
My ultimate fantasy is to find a client with no tattoos that would let me do a bodysuit of traditional