Artists: Myke Chambers
Northern Liberty Tattoo
823 N. 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Shop Website: NLibertyTattoo.net
Artist Website: mykechambers.com
Photographer: David Yellen
How have you been since Freshly Inked last spoke with you?
I’ve been great. Life has its ups and downs, but that’s life, right? It’s been a little over two years since the last time you guys interviewed me. So much has happened since then. The most major thing would probably be that I got married to an amazing woman, and that I’m now based in Philadelphia full-time.
You’ve been really busy with all the conventions and seminars you’ve done this year. Can you tell us about some of your favorite shows?
Well, I recently cut back on a lot of conventions. I was doing as many as four a month, at least seven months a year. It just got to be too much. I needed some time in one place to focus on painting more and some large-scale tattoos. Some of my favorite shows are Hell City (Columbus and Phoenix), Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, Ink-N-Iron, Evian (France), Hampton Roads (Virginia), Asheville Tattoo Fest, Portland (Oregon), São Paulo (Brazil), Athens (Greece), and Paradise Tattoo Gathering. I’ll be spending more time traveling abroad in 2014, so I’ll be working a few shows I’ve never been to.
Your seminars typically focus on watercolors. How does your painting translate to or influence your tattooing? And vice versa?
I definitely feel watercolor translates to tattooing and vice versa, especially with a traditional-influenced style. With oil or acrylics, you can cover mistakes and move on. That’s not the case with watercolor or tattooing for the most part. When a mistake is made with watercolor, you have to try and make it appear deliberate. I’m not knocking any other mediums, it’s just what I enjoy doing and I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from my workshops.
You started your career traveling the country via freight train. Have your travels influenced your art?
I did. I traveled the States by freight train from a really young age. It was during that time that I really started getting into tattooing. I was very drawn to simple, native-type tribal tattoos in the beginning. Not the ’90s “tribal,” but the real stuff. I was part of a very close-knit punk counterculture. I was totally against any type of conformity. That’s when I got my face tattooed. While travel- ing with nothing but my backpack, my little brother, and my dog, I ended up falling in love with America. Not the country or the government, but the people that make it up and their diverse culture throughout each region. So yeah, my early travels definitely influenced my art. That’s probably why I love traditional Americana tattoos so much.
You apprenticed in New Orleans. How is the tattoo scene there different from your current location at Northern Liberty Tattoo in Philadelphia?
I did—however, it wasn’t your typical apprenticeship. I had already been tattooing on my own—which I don’t recommend to any-one—when a friend of mine agreed to show me a few things and took me under him. At the time I was seriously anti-government/ establishment, so we opened a completely illegal shop in the Sixth Ward of New Orleans. When we woke up, there was a line at the door every day. The clients mostly wanted names and tribal designs, which was great for me. I wasn’t very good, and it was great practice. [Laughs.] The difference between there and Philly? I don’t even know where to start with that one. It’s a world of difference from a Sixth Ward underground shop in the mid-’90s compared with 20 years later.
Are there any up-and-coming tattoo artists that you think the industry should look out for?
Hell, everywhere I look I see new, amazing tattooers coming out of the woodwork! It’s insane. It’s taken me 20 years to get to where I am, but I see kids in their second year that are blowing my mind.
What do you think takes a tattoo from good to great?
I guess that depends on what style we’re talking about. If you’re talking about traditional-influenced tattoos, most people will say clean line work and solid color saturation. A lot of people think that traditional is easy, but every time I try to explain it, I realize it’s actually quite complex. The main thing is to make it look as simple and easy as possible, when it’s actually anything but that. Just look around online at traditional tattoos and you’ll quickly see the difference in a very well-designed and well-executed tattoo versus a poorly done one, although to the untrained eye it might not be so easy to tell the difference. Then there’s a fresh tattoo versus a healed one. Most of the tattoos you see pictures of are fresh, and a lot can change with healing if it’s not applied properly.
What machines and inks do you prefer to use?
I use a few different machines. I always line with coil machines: liners by Keith B Machineworks, Soba, Cory Rogers, Mike Pike, and Chris DeWitt (Amoeba Designs). I use rotaries for shading and color, usually Chris DeWitt (Amoeba Designs) and NeoTat. As far as inks go, I only use Eternal Ink. I’ve been using it for a number of years now. I tried a lot of others but nothing compared. I love seeing a 4- or 5-year-old tattoo that looks just as bright and solid as the day I did it. That’s a great feeling.
What have been some of your favorite pieces to tattoo?
While I have a lot of favorites, I don’t think it’s necessarily the tattoo but more the experience I had with the client at the time it was done. I have so many amazing clients, and the relationship that’s built during the process is usually pretty amazing. I’m constantly blown away by the trust people give me to bring their vision into reality. I think a lot of tattooers downplay the significance tattoos hold for each client. That’s a serious disservice. Even if the tattoo has no real meaning, just a fun tattoo, the client will still remember the experience for the rest of their life, and it’s our duty [as tattoo artists] to give them the best experience we can.
How has the reputation of tattooing changed since you’ve been involved in the industry?
When I got into tattooing, it was still very edgy and on the darker fringe of mainstream society. That’s actually what drew me to it. It’s a completely different story today, especially with the myriad of TV shows and celebrities displaying tattoos. It’s become widely accepted, and it’s even starting to be considered a fine art, to an extent.
Who has tattooed you?
Dave “Resp” Cheplivousa, Russ Abbott, Timmy B., Bowery Stan, Jason Kelly, David Bruehl, Nick Colella, Josh Richey, Jack Hinton, Eva Huber, Bunny (Rising Tide Tattoo), Kim Marks, Clint Kephart, Glenn Vail, and Franz Stefanik. I apologize if I missed anyone.
What led you to start up the Eternally Bound Sketchbook Series? Do you have any plans for future sketchbooks in the near future?
Around five years ago, people kept asking if I’d do one, so I said, “What the hell?” Kingpin Tattoo Supply asked to put it out. Evidently people liked it, so I did another a few years later, and then one more. There are three volumes total. The art inside isn’t meant to tattoo, but people do. On the first page I ask people not to, stating that it’s for reference only. I’m not sure if I’ll be putting out anymore of those or not. I’m planning on putting out a book of flash/paintings in late 2014 that is 100 percent for tattooing. I’m also part of a flash book being put together by my friend John Collins in collaboration with a few other tattooers: Paul Nycz, Bill Conner, Michael Broussard, and AJ Lingerfeldt. The release date is early 2014.