Artists: Joey Ortega
Triple Crown Tattoo
1157 Chicon St.
Austin, TX 78702
What year did you start tattooing?
I started tattooing in 2003. I was 19 and was working as a piercer/ counter guy at a tattoo shop.
How did you get into tattooing?
I really started getting more into tattoos id say when I was in jr. high. A friends mom used to work at a 7-eleven and she would bring home magazines for us to look at like Tattoo. I would draw like everything that I could out of them. I was skating a lot at the time as well. It was like my only mode of transportation, and all the pro skaters,and the musicians that I liked had tattoos. I really thought that that the more taboo side of being tattooed was pretty cool. as little punk skater kids running around, we were already planning what we wanted to get tattooed later on in life. im glad i didnt get a lot of that stuff.. Haha cause man I’d have some dumb tattoos now. There was also the Mexican art influence with friends I had in school. Being of Mexican decent myself that was of course, part of the culture. a lot of my young friends were getting tattooed in houses by “so and so” or some other relative or friend. I remember when a friend of mine got a stomach rocker of his last name, and he spent the whole week after trying to convince me to get “ORTEGA” tattooed on mine just like his in Old English. Luckily, the whole house tattooing thing weirded me out, so i never did it. But I cant tell you how many tattoos i drew for my friends back then.
Where did you apprentice?
I started as a piercer in Copperas Cove, TX, just by the army base Ft. Hood – I didn’t come looking for it though. It fell in my lap. I was asked to paint a mural for the piercing room of a tattoo shop when I was 17. a friend of mine was apprenticing there and thats how I got the commission. After spending a few days in the shop painting, and helping the piercer with customers and jewelry stuff when she was busy, she asked if I wanted to learn to pierce. I said sure why not. Due to my fathers health conditions I didn’t go to college so I figure why not give it a try. While piercing, I of course was still drawing and creating all the time. So one of the artist there had me start drawing tattoos for him when it was too busy for him to get to them quickly. For extra cash he paid me to scrub his tubes too, so that started getting my feet wet with some tattoo duties… cleaning tubes, make needles,tracing line drawings and so on. Though he never took the time to teach me to tattoo. Due to the owners separation, the shop closed, and I just so happened to move to a different shop just before the shit hit the fan there. So I started working at a place called Voodoo Tattoos with Chris Arredondo and Ian Jones. They both took an interest to my drawing abilities, and were like ” dude you should learn to tattoo” Neither of them had been tattooing very long at the time. I think Chris was the Senior artist with about 2-1/2 years under his belt. He was pretty much my teacher in the beginning. He made me build a machine out of an old national swing gate frame and a cup of parts… of course it didnt work, and he was like” well figure it out” I eventually found out that I left out an insulating washer…I watched him as often as I could, and he taught me to make needles, and kind of how to tune a machine. We were all kind of learning as we went. I remember my first tattoo was a chaos symbol the size of a baseball, and man.. that poor friend of mine. It took like 3+hours and now its a good scar. Haha trial and error for sure. After a few tattoos Chris went out of town for a week, and while he was gone I tried to takle a lower leg sleeve… that was a baaaadddd idea! I learned from that to not bite off more than I could chew. Shortly after we all moved to a new shop our friend opened called Kingpin Tattoos in Harker Heights, TX. We were the new kids on the block were from one stop light to the next there was 4 other tattoo shops..We worked hard to build up the name, and all the while I was still kind of learning via the trial and error method. Chris and Ian would critique me and lend advice when they could. Over the next 5 years I was able to work with good artist and guest artist that come in from time to time, and learned what I could here and there. Chris and Ian both moved away and I was tattooing and piercing double duty. I did my first convention when I was 2-1/2 years in, man I was nervous as hell, but came out and made a good impression. Since then I’ve been traveling quite often. I love it. And its been inspiring. After a while I felt that my traveling was what I was doing to find out where I wanted to move to. I felt like I need to get out of Harker Heights so I could grow, and man was I right. Scott Ellis and I worked a couple of conventions together, and he offered me a spot to come work at Triple Crown Tattoo in Austin,TX with himself, Zach Nelligan, and Ezra Haidet. I’ve been here since Aug 2008, and im really happy to work with all of these guys. As of this year we have also added Adam Walsh and Mo Malone to out crew. Its a really rad shop located on the east side of Austin, and its mostly appointment only. When I moved down I had to find my own clients, or I couldn’t pay the bills. It was hard, but now I’m really busy working on a lot of really fun pieces.
What conventions have you worked at? Have you won any awards?
I have worked a lot of conventions since I started traveling in 2005, that would be a long list for sure, but I have been to shows all over the West Coast and middle America. Also a good number of shows in Europe. One of my favorite conventions that I still attend is the Paris Tattoo Art Fest. I have such a great time! Also Ink and Iron has always been a great show and a blast with everyone there. I’d say the most random place I’ve worked a convention is Omaha, Nebraska in 2006. I was pretty surprised to be as busy as I was… Haha, when I first started going to conventions I would enter a lot of work, and I have won multiple awards at many different conventions. Everything from Best of Day, Best Color, Best Traditional, Best in Show, ummmm oh and Strangest Tattoo, hahah. Winning awards is cool, but honestly it doesn’t really mean that much to me. Having support from my peers in the industry and the tattooers that I look up to, is really what makes me feel good about the work I am producing. That’s the best award I can receive.
How do you describe your style?
Style of work is really hard for me to explain sometimes, because it keeps evolving. I’d like to say that its rooted in traditional American style tattooing with a whole lot of art nouveau and Japanese influences. My style has a range that differs from piece to piece, because I do my best to cater to my clients wants in their tattoo… I feel a tattooer should be versatile, and not just tied to one particular style…. traveling has really helped shape the way I tattoo. Being around so many different styles is really inspiring. So I mean it the best description my work is “nouveau traditionalism.” I try to create work with a very readable look that will last for the life of the tattoo, fit the persons body and accent their particular shape, and have a very technical application… clean lines and solid bold color. Something that catches your eye from across the room…
What inspires you as an artist?
I’m interested in many different styles of art, and try to incorporate these inspirations into my tattooing. If I’m on a trip and see some really cool art, or get a photo of some kind of statue or architecture that I’m into, you may just find a piece of it in a future tattoo. I’m constantly looking at the world around me, and trying to figure out how I can get it all into my tattooing.
What other mediums do you work in?
I try to work in a variety of many different mediums. I feel that doing so help keep me from getting burned out and also keeps my ideas fresh and interesting. Mostly I work with liquid acrylic on paper. I also do sign painting, poster and flyer designs, custom car car building and jewelry making from time to time.
What tattoo artist’s do you admire most?
I honestly admire many tattooers. A tattooer that is really applying his skill to his or her particular style. Presently there are so many great tattooers in the world. I’m blown away by so many of them every time I open my face book or even browse the internet. Mostly I’d like to say that I have always really admired the work of Adam Barton, Grime, Phil Holt, Filip Leu, and Sabine Gaffron. Recently I have seen some amazing work coming from a number of artist in Europe and the US.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
I look forward to doing any tattoo where a customer comes to me with an idea and let me run with it. I feel really lucky because I have had so many awesome clients over the past few years, and many of them have had cool ideas for me to bring to life as a tattoo for them. If a tattoo that I do makes my client happy, then thats a tattoo I will look forward to. Its a life changing experience for so many people.
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you give them?
Well tattoos are forever, so I like to make sure that a client is prepared for the tattoo which they are asking for. Depending on placement, subject matter and size of a tattoo, a tattoo can change a person life and or career. I try to make sure that clients don’t make stupid decisions. Like the 18 yr old who comes in with no tattoos and wants his whole throat tattooed… I’m not their parent, but its just not a wise decision so young. Also, I tell clients to find artist that have a style they are really looking for in their tattoo. As well as make sure they are comfortable with the shop and environment.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
I get to do work that im dying to do all the time. My clients really do give me a lot of freedom with what I design for them, and to me that makes me feel quite lucky to be given an idea and allowed to run with it as I please. Its awesome!