Artists: Ryan Needles
1117 South Pacific Avenue
San Pedro, California 90731
FRESHLY INKED: What year did you start tattooing?
RYAN NEEDLES: Late 1998, 1999. I was more of a hang-around at the local shop, but I knew I wanted to pursue this. I started to tattoo friends on the side; I wasn’t allowed to tattoo at the shop yet, so it was more of a discreet thing at first.
How did you get into tattooing?
I was always doing art as a kid but I never really considered tattooing as something I could do, definitely not as a profession. I think my interests toward tattooing were really sparked by my last name, Needles. A good friend said one day, “Your last name is Needles and you always draw—why don’t you tattoo?” I think that was the moment that changed my look on tattooing as a profession.
Where did you apprentice?
Modern Ink, Inglewood, CA. Never did a formal apprenticeship, at least as far as being tormented and hazed like lots of other guys got. I definitely was taught all the ropes by some good friends along the way.
Do you have any special training?
No special art schools, just lots of studying artists who inspired me—and lots of practice. The best training for me has always been to study and try to channel artists who I wanted to be like, taking tattoo seminars as well as paint workshops, life drawing, whatever it takes to keep that drive under you.
What conventions have you worked at? Have you won any awards? What are some of your best convention memories?
I’ve worked not too many—the Pomona and L.A. shows at first, San Francisco, mostly local or California stuff. I recently started doing the Hell City shows, which I really enjoy. They are an awesome gathering of amazing artists—most of them inspire me—so it’s a really positive experience. I did the Boston show also last year—that was an awesome city. One of the best things about conventions is traveling and experiencing different cities and people. I’ve never won an award before. I haven’t really done tons of shows and have entered even less contests, so I’m sure the awards will come one day and be that much sweeter when they do, I guess. Some of my best convention memories are probably lost with the blackouts after too much alcohol. Awesome parties and people I’ve met, inspiring artists, cities, places, and restaurants. The Paradise convention was a big one for me. I didn’t work that one in particular, but it was probably one of the best times I’ve ever had at a show. There were tons of artists I looked up to that I am able to call my friends now. I also took some seminars, which really helped me progress to a new level. That’s really what it’s all about.
How do you describe your style?
Dark, realistic, detail-oriented, capable, and progressing.
What inspires you as an artist?
Other people, other artists, painters, sculptors, architecture, even things like the ocean, nature, darker emotional things like homeless people, sick children, war, violence, speed. Just about anything can inspire me. I think that’s what it takes for any artist, to find inspiration where others can’t.
What sets you apart from other artists?
I think we are all set apart with individuality. I have a strong will to succeed and progress; I constantly fight to be a better artist and tattooer. I’m not nor have ever been in this business for the money—it was always about the art. But I think that most tattooers in my position or better positions have all had a strong will to succeed and a good work ethic. I’ve found you can’t get anything worth having in life without hard work.
What other mediums do you work in?
Acrylic and oil paint—only the last two years properly, at least. I still just love to draw with number 2 pencils and ballpoint pens sometimes. I sketch with pastel pencils—really whatever I’m feeling at the time. I’ve also just got into the digital world a bit with the Intuos drawing tablet.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
Painting for sure, but I think tattooing really drove me to be a better artist all around. I guess smaller jobs for friends, designing things like logos for their company t-shirts, stickers, things like that. I was offered a thing at a Nike event once; it never panned out. I still really enjoy tattooing so I haven’t tried much to branch out. Maybe more in the future.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
There are many tattooists I admire, mostly the ones who are humble. Arrogance is, in my opinion, a horrible trait for a tattooist. I can’t admire people who are too good for everyone else. It’s sad to see all the artists who have become mainstream by doing TV shows lose their senses and forget that talent is more important than a paycheck from dramatized TV shows. These are some of the people who could have the biggest influence on our industry but are too taken by TV fame.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
I always look forward to tattooing things that are original and unrestricted, even if it’s a little out of my typical genre. Anything evil, no color, and freehand are a plus. Things like tribal or script are boring and un-artistic. There are always exceptions but I think for the most part they’re a horrible task and only done for the money.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
I’m sure there is; I just don’t really focus on particular images. I take each day fresh, not knowing most of the time what I’m tattooing for the day. That way there’s more feeling put into it instead of over- thinking things, which takes the art away from things. Anything different is always good.