Artists: Stacey Martin
staceymartin.com | dovetailtattoo.com | etsy.com/shop/whimfactory
310 W. 17th Street
Austin, Texas 78701
FRESHLY INKED: What year did you start tattooing?
STACEY MARTIN: I started tattooing in 2005, the year after my father passed away. The shop where I started my apprenticeship was actually one of two shops at the time in Rome, NY. The other shop, Illustrated Lady, was owned by a woman named Doreen and had been established and in service to a big biker community—that included my uncle—for several years. The shop that I was accepted to was brand-new. There was the owner, who no one seemed to know anything about, two other apprentices, and a piercer. In a little less than a year’s time, myself and the other apprentices realized that we had been duped. The owner of the shop had lied to all of us about his experience, where he had worked, and where he was from. We all immediately left the shop and the owner and went our separate ways.
How did you get into tattooing?
Honestly, I started tattooing out of necessity. I knew very little about tattooing; the media wasn’t overrun with TV shows and tattooed characters when I started my apprenticeship. I moved to New York City the summer after I graduated from college with the intent of pursuing a career in freelance illustration. I illustrated for the New York Press part-time while working full-time at Pearl Paint on Canal and Broadway. I worked as a sales associate until I was promoted to visual merchandiser—I created completely unique window displays from scratch and signage throughout the store. It was one of the coolest jobs that I’ve ever had. I was in charge of myself, deadlines, and the outcome. I decided to move back home to central New York in 2003 after my father informed me that he had lung cancer. I wasn’t sure how things were going to pan out, and I wanted to be there for him and my mom. My job options were limited. I took several semi-creative positions designing ads for a new art and culture paper that closed its doors within a year. I substitute taught art at an elementary school for five weeks and was lucky enough to be hired by a local printer to retouch and make politically correct a health magazine founded in the 1980s for elementary school children. In the meantime, on lunch breaks, I would head over to the tattoo shop where I would eventually start apprenticing and bring the guys lunch if they needed it, hang out, and shoot the shit for about an hour until I headed back to work at the printer. I eventually got my first tattoo from the owner. I drew a spark plug with wings that said “Dad” and insisted that the drawing remain as is. I remember loving the smell of green soap, and asking a lot of questions—one of which was, How do I get into this? After my father passed away in the spring of 2004, my mother and sister and I were each left a small amount of money. I took that money and invested it in the supplies and equipment that the shop owner suggested that I get, quit my graphic design job, and started my apprenticeship full-time.
Where did you apprentice?
The shop where I started my apprenticeship is not the shop that I’d like to give credit to. I consider the first “stage” of my apprenticeship a big fat lesson in watching my back and [learning] that naïveté? has no place in the business of tattooing. Shortly after jumping ship, I was hired by Michael Davidson at Apocalypse Tattoo in Utica, NY. He taught me the ropes, whether he will admit it or not, via tough love, firecrackers, and long hours. He knew how to run a shop, turn a profit, and take care of his employees. I went from tattooing three times a week to tattooing five times a day. I was taught to be efficient, to cut the bullshit, and to always run credit cards before starting the tattoo. Best boss ever.
Do you have any special training?
My background in graphic design has been an asset for me at the shops I’ve worked at. I’ve reworked shop logos, consent forms, built professional websites, designed business cards, and painted outdoor signs. Shop owners appreciate the fact that I want the business to succeed and look good as much as they do—that way we all win.
How do you describe your style?
I’m an illustrator at heart, and my pieces are dependent on black line, varying line weights, and contrast. I love the look that traditional tattoos achieve, and I tend to borrow basics from that school of thought for the foundation of almost every piece. Although I’m influenced by modern pop culture and lowbrow art and artists as well. I’m like a tattoo mutt, I guess. As soon as I think I’m settled, I’m influenced by something new and it eventually finds a way to reflect in my artwork.
What inspires you as an artist?
I am influenced by so much. Anything from the excitement that my client brings to the table to a new color. Vintage advertising illustrations are a huge turn-on, and so is Bill Wray’s artwork from Ren & Stimpy. My brain is just open.
What other mediums do you work in?
Well, I haven’t used pastels in a hot second. When I illustrated for the New York Press, I worked exclusively in black and white for their inner pages. I became accustomed to pen and ink and making it dynamic with the minimum. Almost everything I do starts out with that, whether it eventually becomes an acrylic piece or if I’m scanning it in to digitally render it. Since working with coquille paper a few years back for the Coquille or Be Killed compilation, I’ve been digging going back to a minimal approach and letting the stipple effect do the talking instead of relying on too many colors or grays.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
I’ve recently introduced a line of vintage-inspired jewelry featuring tiny versions of my prints sealed in vintage bronze and brass bezels. It’s so nice to have something that still keeps me creative and that takes my mind off of the pressure to constantly produce new artwork. I think having outlets that are completely separate of tattooing and drawing is really important. It keeps me from burning out and it keeps me busy.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
This is so dorky because it has creepy fan-girl potential depending on how I answer. So I apologize if I make anyone uncomfortable. When I first started apprenticing and inevitably, obsessively started collecting tattoo magazines, I ran across an article about Holly Ellis, current owner of Idle Hand Tattoo in San Francisco. Her artwork stood out like a sore thumb, in a good way. She stands out to me as one of the most well-rounded, clean, and matter-of-fact tattooers. All I could think at that time, five years ago, is that I wanted to be, at the least, half as good as her. I’m still shooting for that, but she keeps getting better!