Artists: Josh Payne
How did you get into tattooing?
I’ve been tattooing since I was 16. I started out of my house; I bought equipment off the Internet and I pretty much did everything wrong in the beginning. I worked my way to pay through college and I fell in love with it. By the time I was 18 I found a real studio and pretty much had to restart everything.
Your online bio says you originally wanted to go to school for special effects.
Yeah, I’ve always just been interested in art in general. I thought special effects was where I wanted to be. I wanted to be a stunt man. I don’t know why, but I just thought jumping out of a building would be cool.
Have you ever jumped out of a building?
I have, but it wasn’t necessarily the right way to do it.
What was your first shop experience was like?
My first shop experience was pretty much terrible. I worked at a garage that had a Harley Davidson mechanic in it and they decided that they wanted to add a tattooer. I was 18 years old and they hired me. All I did were eagles and Harley Davidson bar and shields all day long. It was awful.
Yet now you own your own studio, Ascend Gallery.
I opened it about three years ago. I spent three months on the road by myself just driving, thinking about life, and doing guest spots around the country. When I got back, I just felt like the studio I was at wasn’t right for me to grow. I had a good opportunity so I was able to move home by my family and start up my new path.
Can you describe Ascend Gallery in one word?
I think the name does it: ascending. It’s just always forward progression.
Are there any artists that you look up to?
Oh, there are plenty of people. You’ve got guys like Dave Tevenal, whose work ethic is through the roof, and Timmy B who literally has changed the way that people perceive what you can do with tattoos. It’s just amazing to see people take something that you thought couldn’t grow and find ways for it to get bigger and better.
Is there anyone that you would like to tattoo?
Honestly, I’m waiting for my dad to tell me that I’m good enough to tattoo him. He keeps telling me that the day I get good enough I’ll get to add a piece to him.
What tattoo artists have tattooed you?
I’ve been tattooed by some phenomenal people: Jonathan Penchoff, Nathan Evans, Neil England, Russ Abbott, Shane O’Neill, Scotty Munster…I’m in the works of getting some work by Timmy B. Paul Acker and Chase Tafoya have tattooed me. Kyle Proia has done a lot of work on me. John Williams, Rodney Raines, there’s too many people. It keeps going.
And you have had multiple layers of tattoos over the years.
Oh goodness, yeah. I’ve had two sleeves lasered off of my right arm and I’m working on my third. My left arm, this is my second sleeve. My chest has been redone three times. I’m in the process of doing my stomach for the third time. I’m probably going to laser my ribs. I was pretty much body suited before I was 21.
What made you want to continuously start over?
I think I have commitment issues. I always seem to change and find new things to add. Like anything else, it’s art that can be ever evolving. There’s no need to ever call it done.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re working on?
I have three or four clients that are in the process of letting me start sculpting out their body suits, so I’m really excited to take on a lot of large projects. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of two-day appointments with clients. It’s just super fun to get way deeper involved into work and things like that.
Do you have any current apprentices?
We do have an apprentice. He’s more of a studio apprentice underneath all of us here at the shop. His name is Christopher MacDonald and he’s come a long way. He’s actually a traditional style tattooer, which is about the one style I don’t really delve into. It’s actually quite interesting and comical trying to teach him how to do traditional, but I think he’s going to come out very good at the end of this. And obviously having the other five guys in the studio right at the helm really helps a lot.
What do you look for in an apprentice?
With both my apprentice and my employees, I would take a desire and a passion first. The right attitude and right drive will carry you way farther than a natural ability. If you have that drive, that fire and that passion in you, you can learn to go beyond your means, but if you just have a natural ability a lot of times people burn out on that or they never really push themselves. So I would much rather take on a young guy that really wants it.
Is there a certain style of tattooing that you would want to branch out to?
Well, the one thing that I don’t really show very often, but I really enjoy, is traditional Japanese. I really like the elegance, flow and timelessness of it. I do enjoy it a lot, so I really tend to not show it too much so I never get bored of it.
Is traditional Japanese something that influenced you to start taking on these large-scale pieces?
Absolutely. I mean just the elegance and the dynamic nature, it’s just so beautiful to see images fit a human body so naturally and so nicely. You actually almost lose the look of a person and just see a wall of art. I feel it’s no longer a tattoo on a person, it’s just a gorgeous piece of artwork.
If you could do any tattoo that you want, what would it be?
Right now, I really want to try to do a large-scale evolution, to transpose from single-celled organisms to essentially trying to figure out what the next thing beyond us would be and to tell a chronological story involving all of that. I love that imagery; I love the ideology and I think that would be a super fun piece to take on.
How would you say the reputation of tattoos has changed since you’ve been in the industry?
You can’t compare what it is today to what it was 20 years ago. You did have more of a family camaraderie in the past, but I also feel that there were a lot of negatives to the way that they did things back then. I think it was really shut in and secretive when, nowadays, it’s kind of an open book, which is bad because it spawns so many potential new artists. On the other end it has created such a wealth of knowledge and just a growth explosion in the talent pool that it has taken tattooing somewhere that was never believed to be possible.
Do you think that the tattoo industry is currently being portrayed well in the modern world?
I think that tattooing is a great thing right now. The knowledge is awesome; the way in which certain means and media are portraying it is negative. I think that the industry as a whole, and the community involved in it, is educated enough to be able to look past some of the absurdities that are attached to it at the moment.