Artists: Nick Baxter
What year did you start tattooing?
Conveniently, I did my first tattoo on New Year’s Day of 2000.
How did you get into tattooing?
I was an artistic child, always encouraged to create by my parents, and by the time I was a teenager I was certain I wanted to make art for a living. During that time I became fascinated by the rebellion and expressive power of tattoos, and vowed to find a way to do them myself. A few years later, after enrolling in art college, I finally found an apprenticeship at a local shop, Tattoo Inter- national in Wallingford, CT, under owner Mark Savaikis.
What was your first shop experience like?
My first tattoo shop experience was terrifying and intriguing. I grew up a very sheltered suburbanite, and the whole lifestyle and attitude on display in the cliché dodgy street shop I first visited was enough to simultaneously make me really nervous, and really curious to experience more.
Do you have any special training?
I completed three semesters of art college, where I learned the basics of traditional sharp-focus still life painting and drawing, as well as some color and design theory. This path has shown me that you don’t need a formal college degree to have knowledge, be successful, or go beyond what’s expected of you. You simply need the internal motivation, discipline, and desire to seek out the knowledge you want, and apply it to your life.
What are some of your best convention memories?
At my first-ever convention in 2002, I won best of show for some pixelized tattoos I had just done. I was a wide-eyed, naive nervous wreck for that whole weekend, and winning that award right at the end practically gave me an anxiety attack from excitement and all the new attention that I was completely emotionally unprepared for. More recently, I’ve participated in an event called the Worldwide Tattoo Conference, which is sort of like TED Talks for tattooers. Another inspiring event that recently grew out of the tattoo convention format has been the Paradise Artist Retreat, which is an intensive four-day art camp for tattooers that’s taken place in serene nature resorts, featuring seminars and creative camaraderie.
How do you describe your style?
I think my tattoos could be described as color surrealism. I enjoy blending special effects and optical illusions with highly rendered, dynamic, and dimensional forms. I think the genre of “biomech” or “bio-organic,” which I’ve done a lot of in recent years, falls under this description.
What inspires you as an artist?
I’ve always been inspired by any artistic movement that involves careful craftsmanship, refined technique, or deep philosophy, such as the art of the Renaissance, surrealism, photo-realism, and photography. My focus on art forms and intellectual discourse outside of—and often completely unrelated to—tattooing is what may set me apart from many other tattooers.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
My biggest foray outside of tattooing has been oil painting, which I was actually doing before tattooing. In recent years I’ve started to show my paintings in galleries around the country, and have had paintings featured in some books, print catalogs, and juried competitions. In 2010 I channeled my love for painting into an instructional book called Sharp-Focus Realism In Oil, which is intended for tattooers looking to learn the oil painting discipline of realism. Tattooer Guy Aitchison published the book under his label, Proton Press. I’ve also been an avid reader of books and philosophy, and perhaps not surprisingly, I love to write, which has been a great outlet for all the ideas I can’t express visually. I’ve found a different kind of fulfillment in sharing knowledge with others through the written word, so I’ve been trying to do more of that lately. In the past few years, in addition to my instructional painting book, I’ve been writing articles for the Tattoo Artist Magazine blog, as well as their new project, Tattoo Culture Magazine.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
Throughout my career I’ve admired the innovative and visionary tattooing of Guy Aitchison, as well as his paintings and huge teaching contributions to our craft and profession. I’ve also had a chance to spend time working alongside friends like Jeff Gogue, Adrian Dominic, and Jeff Ensminger, among others, and have always admired the creative energy of my friends, tattooers and non-tattooers alike.
What kind of tattoos do you most look forward to doing?
I just want to keep producing inspired tattoos, to the best of my ability. I really can have fun doing almost any style of tattoo, as long as the client and I have a solid respect and understanding of each other, and an interaction that produces a positive energy to create from. The longer I pursue tattooing, the more I want to avoid being a factory, merely churning out predict- able and expected work, day after day. So I tattoo a lot less nowadays, and try to select the most interesting projects with the right set of circumstances and the right vibe surrounding them. I’m also a big fan of barter- ing and the practice of creating mutually beneficial, non-hierarchical relationships with people outside of the capitalist economy, which I see as oppressive and destructive to human happiness. Many tattoos have happened in my career because the client has had something more valuable than money to offer for my work. I’ve traded tattoos for all kinds of inspirational experiences, travel adventures, and life needs—like healthcare and food—and many of these have ended up being the most rewarding tattoo proposals I’ve accepted.