Artists: Josh Stephens
Hold it Down Tattoo
302 N. Goshen St. Ste. #100
What year did you start tattooing?
I started my apprenticeship in 2005 and didn’t start tattooing until 2007.
How did you get into tattooing?
I always liked tattoos growing up, so I started getting tattooed pretty much right away. The more I got tattooed, the more I had this feeling that it was what I wanted to do. Although I never drew and felt like I wasn’t very artistic, for some reason I really thought I could do it.
Where did you apprentice?
I apprenticed at a shop called Marc’s Tattooing in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, PA.
Do you have any special training?
Not really—I never drew growing up, and in terms of art all I care about is tattoos. Whenever I paint I still look at it from a tattooing view. Everything I paint is translatable to tattoos.
What conventions have you worked? Have you won any awards? What are some of your best convention memories?
I’ve worked Philly for three years—it’s insane how many people are there. I’ve also worked Boston, Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, and the Baltimore convention. As far as most memorable, definitely the Baltimore convention. It was my first convention outside of PA, and it was the year of the huge snowstorm that dumped three feet of snow on Baltimore. Everyone was snowed in—it was kinda cool. I haven’t won any awards because I don’t like to enter competitions. I don’t believe in them.
How do you describe your style?
Definitely American traditional-based—bold, clean lines; limited color palette; lots of black. Lately I’ve been sort of experimenting with weirder stuff, definitely Daniel Higgs-influenced. I really try as hard as I can to make a tattoo that’s going to last forever, simple and bold.
What inspires you as an artist?
I don’t really consider myself an artist. I feel more like a technician than an artist. I really enjoy Pennsylvania Dutch art—specifically barn hex signs—Daniel Higgs, Native American artwork, geometry, bridge architecture, and anything that’s more structure-based. Then of course there are all of my favorite tattooers, past and present. To name a couple, Tom Berg, George Burchett, Amund Dietzel, Joe Lieber, Mike Adams (my BFF), Daryl Rodriguez (who I work with), all of the tattooers at Smith Street, Marina Inoue. Matt Bivetto is doing some of the coolest stuff ever right now, paintings and tattoos! There are so many more tattooers that I love, but there isn’t enough time or room.
What sets you apart from other artists?
Honestly, nothing. There are so many great tattooers out there doing great tattoos in a similar vein as I am. I’m not doing anything new or different. My whole goal in tattooing is to just do good, solid, clean tattoos. I hope that I’m doing a good job at that. [Laughs]
What other mediums do you work in?
I do watercolor paintings, but I really don’t enjoy painting. When I paint, it’s usually just to try an idea for something I want to tattoo or for a trade or commission. My main focus is tattoos.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
Like I said, I do commissioned artwork for friends, bands, for shirts and stuff, but I really only care about tattoos.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
My BFF Mike Adams does the cleanest and most perfect tattoos I’ve ever seen. My friend Matt Bivetto is doing the most mind-blowing paintings and tattoos I’ve ever seen—his stuff really inspires me to move away from the strict American traditional and get into a more experimental subject matter, but the execution is still done in a traditional way. And of course all of the tattooers from Smith Street have huge influences on me. I’ve been tattooed by Steve Boltz, Eli Quinters, and Bert Krak, and every time I go there I feel so inspired to work and just be better at what I’ve dedicated my whole life to.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
I would really like to do weirder stuff, like sea creatures and bugs. I’ve done a few, and I always really enjoy doing stuff where I get to design something completely from scratch with no structural limitation. It’s interesting to see what images the mind makes when you just do whatever you want.
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you give them?
Do your research! Make sure the person you want to tattoo you does exactly what you want. You wouldn’t ask Picasso to paint a Rembrandt, so you shouldn’t ask Bert Krak to do a color portrait of Leatherface!
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
Not really—I’m so fortunate to get to do everything that I want to do. I would really like to do more bugs and sea creatures, but I do get to do a bunch already so it’s not like I don’t ever get to do them.