Artists: Paul Acker
Deep Six Laboratory
2483 Grant Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19114
What year did you start tattooing?
December of 2000. I was 18.
How did you get into tattooing?
I was getting tattooed in a local shop and they were pretty impressed with the drawings I was bringing in for my tattoos, so they offered me a job. They basically showed me all the fundamentals of tattooing, and I started tattooing friends and family within two weeks. After a month of practice I was tattooing full-time.
Do you have any special training?
I went to an art high school where I learned a lot about drawing, painting, and sculpting while also having the normal school classes. I’ve been drawing since I can remember, though. After high school I briefly went to college for fine art before I started tattooing.
What inspires you as an artist?
Well, clearly I’m greatly inspired by horror movies. They’re a huge part of my life, so it’s something that has always translated into my art. As a kid, I would read a lot of magazines and comics like Fangoria and Tales From the Crypt, which I think really embedded something
in my brain. The artist Basil Gogos has also been a huge inspiration for me. I learned a lot about lighting and color technique from studying his paintings.
How has the tattoo scene in northeast Philly inspired you or influenced your style?
Philly has a lot of great tattoo history as well as some amazing tattooers. While there aren’t too many artists in my area that are doing my style of tattooing, there are a lot that do some amazing traditional-style tattoos. I don’t do much traditional work, but I’ve always loved and appreciated it. It’s also helped shape my style by making sure I keep my tattoos clean-looking, while also having enough black and contrast to make it a long-lasting tattoo that will hold up over time.
When did you know you were ready to open your own shop?
I think my reason for opening the shop was because I didn’t feel like I fit in at any of the shops in the area. I didn’t do the normal style stuff, so I didn’t feel right working at a normal street shop. I wanted a place I could concentrate on doing what I really wanted to do. So opening a shop of my own seemed the only logical choice. It wasn’t easy opening a new tattoo shop in a city with so much tattoo history. I fought for about two years with the city, but it finally paid off in the end.
How did you decide who would work in the shop with you?
I didn’t want to hire just anyone based on their portfolio alone. I wanted to hire people I knew I would love to work with and be around every day. I also wanted to have a diverse group of artists all under one roof. I didn’t want a bunch of guys that all do the same thing. Everyone at the shop has a really unique style, and we feed off of each other because of that. I’m pretty lucky—I get to work with my best friends every day.
There are a number of artists out there who focus on horror tattoos. How do you set yourself apart from them, and how do you continue to improve?
The funny thing is, when I started tattooing, there weren’t really many artists doing the horror thing, especially not in color. I really only saw a few guys doing horror stuff, but I knew immediately that was the direction I wanted to go in. At first I was interested in doing all black-and-from seeing what Shane O’Neill, Paul Booth, and Bob Tyrrell were doing. But later, after I saw Cory Cudney’s work, I discovered how real you can make things look in color. From there I just worked hard on developing an original style to my work. I think I’m slightly responsible for the popularity of horror tattoos in more recent years. So it makes me more conscious of trying to set my work apart from the rest of the crowd.
What other mediums do you work in?
I love to paint, draw, and sometimes sculpt. I’ve been doing a lot more color pencil stuff lately because it’s a little quicker than painting, and my style translates nicely.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
I’ve tried my hand at a few other endeavors outside of tattooing, like a clothing company, album art, and even an independent film company. But my true love is tattooing, so that’s what I stick with.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
Some artists I admire most are also some of my closest friends in tattooing, like Bob Tyrrell, Tommy Lee Wendtner, Ron Russo, Megan Massacre, and Timmy B. Not only do I admire them for the amazing artwork they produce, I admire them for how amazing they are as people.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
I’ve had the luxury of being able to pick and choose what clients and projects I take on. I know what I’m best at and what I love doing, so I try my best to stick to those boundaries. I really love when clients give me an idea and let me have some artistic freedom with the piece.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do? I’ve basically done almost everything from a movie, so I always try and do freehand work whenever possible. I love getting the opportunity to create my own monsters
and see what just comes out of my head.
What are the biggest benefits of being able to freehand your tattoos instead of stenciling them?
You can specifically shape them to the body part you’re working on, and use the natural muscle structure to create depth. You’re also giving the client something truly unique that you’ve created specifically for them and their body. There’s something special about that.
What techniques do you use to make a realistic horror tattoo the most successful it can be?
I think the things that make a successful horror tattoo are also the same fundamentals that make a great horror movie: lighting, atmosphere, and a great character. Dramatic lighting can change everything about a character. If you look at some classic horror movies, like the ones done by Argento and Carpenter, you’ll notice the beautiful atmospheric lighting they use. I try and emulate that in my tattoos. If it’s not there in the reference, I’ll create it myself to try and keep it from being too flat-looking.