Artists: Ron Henry Wells
Brooklyn, New York
Congress Street Tattoo
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Broad Street Tattoo
FRESHLY INKED: What year did you start tattooing?
RON HENRY WELLS: I haven’t been tattooing long—March 10, 2007. Why anyone would want to read an interview with a tattooer who’s only five and a half years in is beyond me. The hell do I know?
How did you get into tattooing?
Probably the same as everyone else, for the most part. Had a few older cousins with tattoos that I was kind of taken with when I was younger. But mostly it was due to going to hardcore and punk shows when I was a teenager in the ’90s, which is where my unabashed love of tribal comes from. Seemed like everyone had that Borneo scorpion design. To this day it’s probably one of my top 10 favorite designs.
Where did you apprentice?
I was fortunate enough to have apprenticed at Anonymous Tattoo in Savannah, GA, under Ricky McGee and Clay McCay. It was a truly great experience for me. Both of those guys have been tattooing a good long while and had some seriously amazing information to pass on. They both kind of tattoo in opposite ways, so at first it was difficult to figure out how to deal with that, but I eventually picked the stuff from each one that worked best for me. I still set up exactly like Ricky sets up, but I run my machines closer to how Clay runs his. I learned so much at that shop, and not just from those two guys. I also worked with Zack Spurlock and Kim Reed. Zack is a truly amazing tattooer that totally didn’t need to show me or tell me anything—he wasn’t one of the dudes apprenticing me, but he showed me a lot and I’m eternally grateful for it. Even Kim—I don’t tattoo anything at all like her, but I learned a bunch from her. And I thank her for it. I feel like I got a very balanced apprenticeship that’s been invaluable to me. Anonymous is primarily a custom shop, but it has a large walk-in contingent due to being right on one of the main tourist streets in Savannah. So I had a bit of street shop in there right along with the custom stuff, which lasted throughout my time at that shop. Good mix of walk-ins and custom stuff, plus the runoff from other dudes who were booked up. It was a lot of pressure every day with the quality of work going out of that shop. Trying to live up to that and not let bad tattoos walk out the door that would make the shop look bad. I mean, the amount of Tums I ate every day just to calm my stomach from stress is unbelievable, ha ha ha. So yeah. That’s where I broke in.
Do you have any special training?
Well, I mean, I drew my whole life. Not really much formal training. I actually wish I had more of that. I drew my whole life, wrote graffiti from the time I was 9 ’til pretty much the day I started tattooing, and did a fairly steady amount of gallery shows of my paintings in the years before I started tattooing. I fully believe those all helped me out, but yeah, I wish I had way more formal art training. I went to The Colorado Institute of Art for about a quarter and a half. Money I didn’t have. Oh well.
How do you describe your style?
I don’t know. Answering questions like this always makes me feel douchey no matter what I say. I get inspired by traditional, but on the heavier side? I like black, but that’s not special. Everyone likes black. I guess I try to combine how heavy tribal looks on the skin with the designs rooted in the architecture of traditional, mixed with all the other non-tattoo shit I like? Fuck, who cares? I try to make clients happy while not getting an ulcer.
What inspires you as an artist?
Twin Peaks, New England—especially in the fall—Tom Waits. Clowns. Other artists. I try to look at other tattooers less and less, but that’s difficult since some of my favorite people and favorite artists are tattooers themselves.
What sets you apart from other artists?
I don’t know that much actually does. I could say the amount of black, but there are tons of people out there doing extra heavy, extra black tattoos, and I certainly wasn’t anywhere near first in that line. I’m probably near the back. I got it from the guys who taught me. I don’t know. I hope it does stand out, but to be honest I’m still trying to figure out my voice. I’m confident that search will never end, but I’m still so green that I can’t really claim too much as my own. I try real hard to keep my drawings honest, but I’m not sure that makes anything special either.
What other mediums do you work in?
Eh, I used to work in a bunch of other crap, but I’m still so concerned with learning as much as I can tattoo-wise, I pretty much keep most of my artwork tattoo-oriented. Mostly just watercolor at this point, but I’ve been itching to mess around with other mediums again.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
Clowns. Fuck you, I love them. My granddad and great-granddad were both part-time circus clowns. I love that shit. Big tribal. I know it’s the cool thing nowadays to talk about how much you love tribal and script and kanji so you don’t sound like an egomaniacal art douche, but I fucking love huge, heavy tribal. That panther that Thomas Hooper did? HOLY SHIT. I wish I got to do shit like that. Just giant black shapes that fit the body. I love it. I also like doing lady heads. Yeah, yeah. So trendy. Fuck off, I don’t care. I like pretty girls. Who the shit doesn’t? How could anyone be too cool to make a drawing of a pretty lady? The fuck is wrong with you? I love tattooing ships also. I grew up on the water. My dad built boats.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
I mean, I’m pretty lucky. I get great clients with great ideas and similar interests, so I’m not complaining about not getting to do certain shit, but if you’re fishing I’ve always wanted to do a Calvin and Hobbes sleeve. All the snowmen and hidden in there Calvin getting ready to pelt the living shit out of an unsuspecting Susie Derkins. Also, I’ve never done a goddamned Playboy bunny logo, but this isn’t 1986, so I guess I’m fucked.