Artists: Luke Wessman
Wooster Street Social Club
43 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10013
What year did you start tattooing?
I started kind of un-professionally tattooing in ‘98 and then a little more professionally, as in actually in a shop, around 2000.
How did you get into tattooing?
I got into tattooing basically because of the area I grew up in. Every neighborhood was a different gang neighborhood and all the gangsters had tattoos. I was the little skinny white kid growing up in between all of that. As a young little guy who was just trying to build the toughest look you can so people didn’t mess with you, I started getting tattooed at 15 from my older brother’s friend. He was doing it out of his house and then eventually got a job at a shop in the neighborhood. I started going there to get tattooed and ended up becoming friends with different tattooers and eventually one of the other guys ended up asking me if I wanted to tattoo. at that time I had been a pretty serious collector and even as a young kid, by 18, I had almost full sleeves and pieces all over my body. But I had never thought about tattooing. at that time you didn’t see it on TV and the internet wasn’t really popping. It almost just kind of found me in the neighborhood I grew up in. One of the guys just asked me if I wanted to learn and I thought about it for a week and then decided to go for it.
Were you always interested in art?
Yeah. yeah. my parents were and still are kind of hippies and really creative people. My dad is a musician and an artist so as a young kid I grew up just around a lot of creativity and art.
Do you have any particular artists that influenced you?
There are so many. I’m always influenced by—just to name a few—Tim Hendricks and Chris Garver, but there are just so many. I am influenced by so many great friends and great tattooers around me.
Do you work in any other mediums?
When I first started tattooing I kind of learned how to paint with watercolor almost at the same time. During my half-assed apprenticeship that I had, this guy that owned the shop, Dave Gibson, was a painter. Originally a signed (what’s signed?) painter, I think, before he tattooed. So he had a lot of painting skills and part of my apprenticeship was just learning how to watercolor and paint flash seemed to go hand in hand. And I’ve never stopped doing that. I’ve always done liquid acrylic, watercolor, and just mixed mediums throughout the years. I work about five days a week right now at the shop and I work about seven days a week (huh?) when I am not working at home on artwork and projects and painting. I try not to ever stop really.
What inspires you as an artist?
I’m inspired right now just to not be broke. As you get older, you know, passion is great, and it’s something I love that we have, but have to start thinking about how you’re going to make a living and support your family as you get older. I am inspired by the idea of being broke and how I don’t want to be, so I work extra hard.
Do you have any imagery or themes that you like to work or incorporate into your work or tattoos?
You know. It’s funny, being involved in tattooing you kind of get overwhelmed with the real classic imagery. When you start tattooing you see everything. You see skulls, roses, daggers, snakes on everything. And then you might have to do weird stuff that is a little bit off, like maybe isn’t super normal as far as imagery. I do my best to think a little bit outside of the classic imagery but do it in that classic style that I love.
Do you have any tattoos that you are looking forward to doing or one’s that you haven’t done yet that you would love to do?
No, I mean after over a decade of tattooing stuff and drawing stuff, I really look to the client to give me that new inspiration. And I have some people who come in with some weird ideas that are kind of fun and cool. I don’t have anything sitting just waiting to be done.
You mentioned weird tattoos. What are some of the strangest tattoo requests you have ever received?
I’ve had a few here and there. I recently just did a really weird, creepy Pikachu Pokemon right on some guy’s lowest point on his pelvis. There’s just always random weird stuff.
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you give them?
It seems these days I just tell them to research the artist. Get a feel of the artist and their style. I just tell people not to rush into it. Back when we were first starting out we were definitely a couple of people more into getting tattooed at the moment back at the shop. I don’t want to say I don’t need the business—because you do always need the business—but we have a little more discretion and I tell people to have a little more discretion themselves and to really become more intelligent about their choices about the tattoos they are getting.
Your style is categorized as “Gangster Traditional,” (by whom?) could you tell us a little about that?
Literally someone said that once and I just thought it was really cool. I grew up tattooing and getting tattooed in really street neighborhood garages. Black and grey, gang related styled stuff and so when I actually got, well kind of half got, the apprenticeship, I ended up apprenticing at a really famous traditional tattoo shop. What I liked was the neighborhood stuff but then I learned how to tattoo with that pure classic Traditional style. So it kind of emerged between the two so that “Gangster Traditional” drew from a lot of Traditional but I always have a little bit of gangster flare.