Artists: Megan Jean Morris
Megan Jean Morris
How did you first get into tattooing?
At 3 years old they gave me face paint at day care. I got naked and painted my entire body like a skunk. At 5 years old my best friend and I were stripped down and washed with a garden hose; I had gotten hold of a large black stamp and covered her entire body with the wonderful black Talens ink! In seventh grade I was drawing full sleeves and back pieces on my friends with Sharpies … during class. In college I met a boy tattooing his friends out of his house. I paid attention and as soon as I graduated I moved home and got myself an apprenticeship. Mom cried. I’ve been coloring all over children and making mothers mad ever since I held my first marker.
What was your first shop experience like?
Old school. I am so fortunate to have had the apprenticeship that I did. It was tough in every way. They didn’t want me there at first, but I just kept coming around with coffee asking if I could clean the floor or bathroom. One day Adam Gordon, the owner and the artist who trained me, wanted to show me how to make needles and asked me to come back the next day! It was glorious. I lived for nothing but that shop; it was all I had. I lived in a single room and shared a bathroom with some other apartment; I ate leftovers that my friends gave me; and I showed up every day eager and excited to clean motorcycles, draw pictures, and study my Huck Spaulding tattooing book.
What brought you to open your shop, Painted Soul Tattoo?
Opening my shop was not really a plan. I had moved to a new area and didn’t know anyone. I just wanted a little hole in the wall where I could tattoo. The smallest place I could find to rent was too expensive for one person, so I found someone to share it with and it turned into a shop.
What qualities do you look for in an artist to hire at your shop?
I need to see that someone is committed to their artwork and to growing and improving as an artist, and that they are interested in understanding what their client is looking for. Also, I am a straight shooter, so they can’t be a crybaby or I will hurt their feelings—not a quality, just a fact.
You work mainly in realism/surrealism. What led you in that direction?
Surrealism is simply an expression of how my mind works. One thought or feeling is always twisted right into another. Realism … I’m not sure why I’m a realist. When I picture things in my mind it’s with real lighting and textures. When I am beginning to imagine a piece of work it’s sort of like how my dreams are: real images but in an unrealistic setting or context.
You work closely with Nikko Hurtado, the tattoo artist who did your back piece. What was the idea behind that?
Three years deep, I finally attended my first convention as a guest. It was Hell City Arizona. I saw Nikko Hurtado’s work and my whole outlook on tattooing changed! I think his work sculpted an entire shift in thinking throughout our industry. So as you can imagine, it is beyond an honor to have him now as a friend, mentor, and artist working on my back! We’ve all seen Nikko do portraits, but I wanted to set him loose on a composition, something larger. When I told him my idea was a Little Red Riding Hood and Big Bad Wolf back piece, his eyes lit up! The idea behind the fairy tale is that we all have demons or a dark side. I think Little Red is facing a demon and she is trying not to be fooled by it. It’s all a metaphor. Nikko puts his whole heart into his work. I tried painting him in my own heart in return to say thank you. My painting The Apology was a gift to him. It’s the same subject as my back piece, just expressed by different subject matter. For example, in my back piece the wolf is wearing a costume and in my painting the jewelry box is full of costume jewelry. The only thing of value in that box is my heart. This is a lesson Nikko has actually taught me. He is one of the kindest, most humble and caring people I have known. So need – less to say, working closely with Nikko to create this piece has been my honor and an experience of a lifetime.
You were recently featured on Tattoo Titans. How was that experience?
It was crazy and fun. Kind of ridiculous circumstances to really do my best work, but I was relieved when I saw the show. My tattoos looked good, my clients were happy, and I felt the network did a great job presenting me the way I really am. I was nervous they would edit material to try and create a character. I guess I was character enough, though [laughs], ’cause they pretty much just let me be me.
You went to school in Syracuse in order to study design and fine arts. How has that particular background helped you in your current tattoo work?
My background in design plays a fundamental role in how I approach projects. Even the fact that I call every tattoo a project sets a different tone. Instead of “getting a tattoo” my clients experience creating art. It’s a thoughtful process full of brainstorming. As a designer, I was trained to back up and play around a bit before deciding what product actually would meet a user’s need. Usually people come to me and say what they’d like to have tattooed on them. I usually ask them to back up and start with what inspired them to get this tattoo. I try to listen to the things left unsaid, not just the part they know how to express. Then I ask them to allow me to brainstorm some subject matter that might express the picture as a whole for them. This process allows for originality, artwork that I am excited about making, and a product that is more uniquely theirs than anything they ever pictured.
What artists do you admire in the current tattoo world?
Nikko Hurtado, Rember [Orellana], Dmitriy Samohin, Kelly Doty, Liz Cook, Christian Perez, Paul Acker, Carlos Torres, Josh Duffy, Stefano Alcantara, Jose Perez Jr., Bob Tyrrell, Paul Booth, Carl Grace, Tommy Lee Wendtner, Robert Hernandez, Toxyc, Jeff Gogue, Tofi, Teresa Sharpe, Sarah Miller, David Corden, and Benjamin Laukis. There is also a group of painters associated with our industry that I am influenced or inspired by: Michael Hussar, Kevin Llewellyn, Shawn Barber, Camila Rocha, and Sergio Sanchez.
How do you think the reputation of tattooing has changed since you’ve been involved in the industry?
Well, I think one of the coolest things has been the emergence of the “collector,” a client who is dedicated and intentionally collecting works of art by amazing artists. As the artwork that our industry is producing becomes more sophisticated, so do our clients. The reputation of tattooing continues to grow and expand, challenging the accepted rule that fine art hangs on museum walls.
If you could tattoo anyone with any design, what would it be?
I’d like to tattoo a chest piece on the President of the United States, a piece that describes his job. Doesn’t matter who the president is at the time—it just would be a really intense piece of art, and I’d love to see a president with a big old chest piece!