Artists: Matt Brotka
819 West Cary Street
Richmond, Virginia 23220
FRESHLY INKED: What year did you start tattooing?
MATT BROTKA: I started tattooing in 1997.
>> How did you get into tattooing?
The popular answer these days is “tattooing found me.” It holds true for so many of us. Being involved in the punk rock scene in the early ’90s, I had been interested in tattoos from seeing various work on people at shows, but tattooing wasn’t like it is today. Most mid- to larger-sized cities only had two or three shops, if lucky. Maybe three or four national tattoo magazines. No internet. You just had to be the kind of person who would seek it out on your own. Whereas today, it’s thrown in your face. Tattooing is the only thing in my life that makes sense.
>> Where did you apprentice?
In 1994, there was a tattoo shop that happened to be on my way home from school. Most days, I would stop in and peek around, annoy all the tattooers and ask about trading art for tattoos. One thing led to another and I was off and running. A good friend of mine at the time was really encouraging me to get involved so he could get free tattoos. He helped me build my first crappy homemade “guns” and let me mess his arms and legs up. I got a few false starts with a few different shops along the way, but it was more abuse and misinformation than anything, so I skip mentioning them and go right to a fellow named Mike Beauchesne in Rhode Island who REALLY showed me the way. He had to cure me of a lot of the bad habits I had picked up prior. He was hard on me, but a wonderful teacher. Credit also goes to a coworker at the time, Rob Young. Together, he and Mike really helped me iron out the kinks and taught me how to put on solid tattoos and set me straight in proper ethics of tattooing.
>> Do you have any special training? I have no formal art training besides a few high school art classes.
I feel as though I learned to draw from comic books in the late ’80s and early ’90s the most. Wendy Pini, Bob McLeod, Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes all were large influences on my own drawing.
>> What conventions have you worked at? Have you won any awards? What are some of your best convention memories?
I’ve worked a lot of conventions, so listing them all would just be dull. I’ve tended to stray away from conventions recently, as they all are seeming to become increasingly obscene. The focus now seems to be on “satellite” personalities that really don’t contribute to the tattoo world other than gaining them- selves more 15-minute fame from vapid and destructive tattoo television shows. Promoters are packing a convention center with 300 automaton tattoo droids that have the same outfits, personalities, and identical portfolios. So, yeah, I don’t even bother, for the most part. One of my favorite convention memories recently was the 2010 Baltimore show. A huge blizzard hit that weekend, covering most of the East Coast in four feet of snow. We were basically stuck in the hotel for three days and although it made for some slow work days, it was the most fun I’ve ever had at a convention.
>> How do you describe your style?
I’m not really sure what my style would be. I like tattoos that lean toward the traditional, with clean, simple lines and heavy shading, but have a bit more illustrative flair. Traditional American and Japanese with a modern twist, perhaps? I like to try and make strong compositions with lots of layers.
>> What inspires you as an artist?
I can find inspiration from just about any aspect of life. Traveling, books, music, art. The more I paint or draw, the more I feel inspired for new projects.
>> What sets you apart from other artists?
After a customer called me “the tape jerk,” I have been much more thoughtful about placing tape for a bandage. I think I have been getting pretty awesome at taping. It sets me apart from the crowd.
>> What other mediums do you work in?
I mostly work in watercolor, liquid acrylic, pen and ink.
>> How have you branched out from tattooing?
I have a few very non-tattoo-related paintings in the works. I’ve also been working on a small autobiographical comic book for a few years now.
>> What tattoo artists do you admire most?
Ed Hardy, Bob Shaw, Chris Trevino, Theo Mindell, Filip Leu, Timothy Hoyer. Also my coworkers Katie Davis and Fred Pinckard.
>> What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
No specific subject matter, I suppose. I enjoy doing more layered, large-scale work. I like tattoos that tell a story without using hundreds of words.
>> Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you give them?
You need to put more trust in your tattooer! If you’ve researched someone’s work, taken the time to meet with them, etc., etc., just listen to what they have to say. If a tattooer has a portfolio full of beautiful tattoos that you love, believe them when they say, “Hmm, this might not work so great because ….” Stop micromanaging your tattoos to the point of ruining them. Tattooing is not a Google image search, nor is it a re-blogged photo on Tumblr. They are made by human hands, and they look the best when you can see that.
>> Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
Not in particular. I’d love to do more pretty ladies with fancy hair, more dark and emotional imagery. I love nautical themes.