Artists: Justin Hartman
What year did you start tattooing?
I think I started tattooing out of my apprenticeship in ’07.
How did you get into tattooing?
I was going to school for animation, and shortly in, I realized it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I was serving at a restaurant in Arizona called Mimi’s Cafe. Occasionally I would serve Darren Yeisley. One day in conversation it came up that Darren was a tattooer, and I mentioned to him being an artist myself. One day I showed up with a portfolio full of my realistic pencil drawings. Darren, being the nice guy that he is, took the time to look through it for me. He said he had a buddy up the street named Sage, who tattooed a lot of black-and-gray and portrait work. So I went up the street to Urban Art with my portfolio. Sage came out, and I handed him my book. He flipped through a few pages without saying anything, and the piercer, Head, came up and looked as well. Sage said to Head, “What do you think?” and Head replied, “I think we need to cut off his hands.” Sage flipped through the rest and said, “I’m gonna have a smoke. Come outside.” I went outside with him, he lit up a cigarette, inhaled, and said the price of an apprenticeship. I told him I’d hit him up as soon as I got the money. I went to get a loan, but I had no credit at the time, so I put my car up for collateral, and still didn’t have enough. I told him what I could gather, and he was like, “That’s cool. We can start.” I remember that experience very clearly. He had a lot of confidence in me.
Do you have any special training?
Not really. While studying animation I had to do a ton of line work, making sure each drawing was traced exactly the same so the lines wouldn’t move around from frame to frame on film, so that definitely helped me with my line drawings. I took some figure drawing weekly as well at the time.
What conventions have you done recently or are planning to do this year?
The last show I did was Boston. I did the Mesa show here at home, which I always do. I did shows in Reno, Miami, California, and Philly. All I have planned for 2014 so far is the Star of Texas Tattoo Art Revival in Austin in January, and probably Philly right after.
Your style seems very rooted in traditional style, but with a spin. How do you describe your style?
I guess most people would call it neo-traditional. I started drawing photorealistic pencil drawings when I was 10. I would draw from photographs and get it as close as I could to the photo. I would also re-create comic book images. That’s what I drew up until my apprenticeship. When I started learning from the guys at the shop, I started exploring different styles and creating my own images, which were awful. Traditional was so hard for me at first. I realized I was ignoring my strong points. I didn’t want to be traditional; however, I didn’t want to do realism. I tried to find a way to incorporate both. I enjoy illustrative types of art and comic book art quite a bit, so all of those things helped develop my style.
What inspires you as an artist?
Other artists, mostly. Everything is so easily accessible now with social media. Most tattooers and artists use it as an online portfolio. There are so many amazing artists popping up all the time. I’m always trying to outdo myself as well. It’s like being in competition with yourself. Always trying to find a new and better way to do things.
What other mediums do you work in?
Mostly liquid acrylic. I’m trying to get more into regular acrylic because I feel it would be a better fit for me.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do? I think it’s a problem to never stop. All artists want to make a different thing every time; it’s our signal to know we are growing as artists. My next project would be a full arm with statues of Miguel Ángel Buonarroti [Michelangelo], and I’m looking forward to starting it—but I am sure that when it’s complete, I will want to do another tattoo that I’ve not done yet.