Artists: Sean Herman
Royal Street Tattoo
28850 US Highway 98
Daphne, AL 36526
What year did you start tattooing?
I started tattooing in 2003.
How did you get into tattooing?
I was one of those kids that grew up skateboarding and listening to punk rock. All the older kids in this culture were covered in tattoos, so it was always something that was around. I remember counting down the days until I could get tattooed. I first got tattooed when I was 16 by my friend Jason Cline. He was really my introduction
into tattooing. I would go over to his house all the time and just hang out and talk about tattoos. Tattooing was this amazing, mystical thing to me that I knew I wanted to be a part of, but I just didn’t know how. My life was in a very different place at that point. I was on the road to being a evangelical minister, and that’s where all of my focus was. I know that sounds contradictory, but in reality, there is a huge Christian punk rock–hardcore scene, and it was something I was very much a part of. So I kept my focus on getting into college, and the ministry, while still being head over heels in love with tattooing.
Where did you apprentice?
I apprenticed at Aerochild Tattoos in Birmingham, AL. You might ask yourself, “Well, Sean, how did you
go from the ministry to tattooing?” and I would tell ya, it’s a long story, but here’s the long of
the short. I graduated high school and moved away the next day to start doing mission work in Memphis, TN. I did inner city missions there, saw some crazy stuff that I really could never fully explain or describe, and then moved to Birmingham for college. I was going to Samford there, majoring in religion and theater. I had serious struggles with that specific belief system, and after two years I left. And when I left, I left everything. During those two years at Samford I started to get tattooed heavily, almost every day for a while. It was a release for me, from everything. After I left, I ended up being homeless, with no belief system, no money, and a complete blank slate. So I started over. I lived in Mississippi for a while, right by the crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. One day I got a phone call from the guy who always tattooed me in Birmingham,
Kele Idol. I had begged Kele every day for a while to teach me how to tattoo, but he was always kind and said that it wasn’t time. Kele offered me an apprenticeship if I came back to Birmingham, which amazed me. So I moved back to Birmingham. I was extremely lucky that he was willing to teach me, and that the owner of the shop, Justin Kontzen, was willing to let me learn there. They gave me a career that I am always eternally grateful for.
Do you have any special training?
Nothing that I am allowed to talk about.
What conventions have you worked at?
My good friend Josh Woods and I spent a few years out on the road constantly, so we have worked more conventions than I can remember. I think we worked something like 18 in one summer—it was crazy. As of lately, I’ve really trimmed down my travel schedule to only four conventions a year. I usually do the two Hell City conventions that Durb puts on every year, and then the two Eternal conventions that Tramp puts together,
Motor City and Dallas. Hopefully soon I will start traveling again.
How do you describe your style?
Honestly, I don’t think I have a specific style—it’s really always changing. I am always trying to learn and grow—stagnation is death, you know. I am lucky to work with some amazing artists at Royal Street Tattoo that constantly teach me something new that I can add into my work. Constant change, but if I did have to have one thing to describe what I do, I guess the main thing that is in all of my work is contrast. I want everything to be bold and readable, now and forever.
What inspires you as an artist?
I think my real inspiration comes from living. Living life is really the true inspiration for everything. We all yearn to live, we fight for it every day—with every breath we are fighting to stay alive. The life we live is truly the source of all inspiration, so I guess that leads us to wonder what kind of life do we live, and where does our inspiration take us? For me, I find inspiration in every experience I am lucky enough to partake in, from watering my gardening, to gliding above the Gulf of Mexico on a parachute, to watching a child draw. It’s all something to learn from and take to tattooing. Tattooing is an amazing experience because it’s just as much connecting with a client as it is creating a tattoo for the client; it’s a full, rounded thing, so everything you do every day can be brought to the table and help in the tattoo experience.
What other media do you work in?
I don’t really do much art outside of tattooing. I have done a little bit of painting here and there, and I really enjoy building pieces with mixed media, but none of it is like tattooing—nothing compares to it. I try to explain it to people, about how it’s addicting. The pop of the skin when you make that first line, pulling the liner toward you, feeling the skin open up and take the ink in, wiping it away, and doing it all over again. No art can compare to the constant recreating and reinventing we do with tattooing. We destroy and re-create with every stroke of the machine, with every puncture of the needle. We wipe away the blood to see the new life that we have created. No art can compare to the life that is tattooing: It’s a passionate love affair, a demon that haunts you, it’s magical, it’s anything and everything. For me, it’s the only medium I truly feel gratified using.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
I work with some amazing artists at Royal Street who inspire me every day. Cw, Pete, Pony, and the whole crew at Royal Street always do things completely different than I would think to, and I feel like working there the past two years has helped me grow tenfold as a tattooer. I also find inspirations in other tattooer friends and family, like the guys at Black 13, my family at Hula Moon, and other friends like Nate Kostechko and Justin Weatherholtz. There are so many truly amazing tattooers out there, all doing things that I never imagined. I think we can learn from everyone, and it’s key to be open and honest enough to do that.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
Any. I just love tattooing, and I’m amazed that I get to do it every day. I love every tattoo that I get the opportunity to do—it’s all a chance to get to make something new for someone.
Is there anyone that you would like to tattoo?
Anyone who will love their tattoo. That is my main concern; I just want to make sure that they love the tattoo that they are going to have on their body for the rest of this ride of life, because life is just a ride. Those are my favorite clients, the ones who look in the mirror after we are finished and say, “I love it, it’s perfect,” and then they tell me the same thing about the piece years later. That is really all you could ask for.