Artists: Vince Villalvazo
vincevillalvazo.com | mysticowltattoo.com
Mystic Owl Tattoo
44 North Fairground Street NE
Marietta, GA 30060
FRESHLY INKED: What year did you start tattooing?
VINCE VILLALVAZO: I started my apprenticeship in late December 2005. I started tattooing professionally in 2006 so I have been tattooing for six years now.
How did you get into tattooing?
It all started when I looked at a tattoo magazine at a young age. At the time I didn’t know how much of an impact that had on me. I got my first tattoo when I was 15 years old by a friend that was really into tattoos; he was covered in them and I thought that it was the coolest thing. He had this home- made tattoo machine, it was something incredible to me. I decided to make one and I tattooed myself and a couple of friends that allowed me to. Obviously that did not work out that well and it was short-lived, although my love for tattoos remained. I stopped trying to tattoo as I could not comprehend how all these beautiful tattoos from magazines were done, and also at the time I needed to grow up and mature a bit more. Years later I reconnected with one of my old friends that I tattooed almost 19 years ago. He still had that shitty tattoo I did on him. He said there were good memories behind it—we did have great times back then. In 2004 he was getting this awesome back piece in Detroit and introduced me to his artist. We began talking about art, and the fact that I tattooed my buddy many years back came up. The artist said, “That is not too bad.” I showed him some of my drawings and he said I had potential; that definitely sparked something. I asked him all about apprenticeships and started to get fired up. My good friend was very supportive. He said, “I have always known you can do something with art.” I was determined to find an apprenticeship. Shortly after that, my friend was moving out of the country—he did one of the nicest things that someone has ever done for me. He said, “These are the keys to my old truck, you can have it.” I told him that I didn’t need another vehicle, and he said, “I know. I want you to promise me that you will sell this car and you will buy tattoo equipment with the money you gather from it.” He always had faith in me, even more than I had in myself. That was an inspiration in many ways—I’m glad I listened to him. To this day I still have my first tattoo machines that I bought with the money that I got for selling his truck. They will always have a special place in my drawer.
Where did you apprentice?
I apprenticed at Fat Brothers Tattoos—owned by Mark Madigan, a great guy I’ll always be grateful to—in Highland, MI, a small shop in a relatively small town north of Detroit. I studied under John Madigan at the time. We became great friends and we always keep in touch. I do guest spots at his shop, Gypsy Kings in Commerce, MI, every time I go back to do the Motor City Tattoo Expo.
What conventions have you worked at? Have you won any awards?
I have worked the Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Scranton, Orlando, Miami, Asheville, Nashville, and Chattanooga conventions, to name a few. We keep adding to our list and stick with the ones we like the most. This year we have added Paradise Tattoo Gathering and the Visionary show, and they look awesome!
How do you describe your style?
I would say it is a fusion of neo-traditional and illustrative, with a touch of realism.
What inspires you as an artist?
I find that nature is very inspiring to me. There are so many beautiful things that often get overlooked that can be used for inspiration. Just taking a trip somewhere can be really good to clear my head and recharge. Also working alongside awesome artists and people that have the drive, the fire, and the desire to do something with their time here. I think drive is one of most inspiring things for me. No matter what you do, if you love it you will pursue it and succeed.
What sets you apart from other artists?
That is kind of a hard question to answer. Let’s see: When my clients request tattoos and try to show me photos of other tattoos because they really want them, I really don’t look at them so I’m not influenced by the particular piece. I’m not saying that I never look at anyone’s work—I do it all the time because I love seeing all different styles of tattooing—but when I’m trying to draw some- thing specific for someone, I’ll use photographic reference of real objects. For a while I had this wave of people wanting the same phoenix that I drew for one of my clients. They brought me the same reference of my own tattoo. I told them that I couldn’t do it because it was drawn for some- one else. My approach to things is simple, since I had a client that wanted a phoenix every week for five weeks straight. I took one at the time, and the day of the appointment I gathered photos of eagles and random birds in different poses, and I drew the phoenix with Sharpie markers and went at it. I don’t over stress about drawing everything ahead of time because I like to keep a fresh mind for each piece. I go about it day by day. I don’t know if this would set me apart from others but by doing this I avoid worrying if my tattoo will be as good or have the same look of other artists’ work. I concentrate on doing the best tattoo I can do with my own ideas, and people seem to respond well to that. I guess my clients would be able to answer the question better than I could.
What other mediums do you work in?
I love oils, pastels, and charcoal, and I have done some airbrushing. I have yet to venture into doing watercolors.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
It has been a wonderful trip. Switching jobs from painting homes to getting my apprenticeship and getting hired as a tattoo artist back in Michigan to venturing away from home trying to get better. I have worked really hard to establish a clientele, and having the dream of opening a studio was strong in my head, but I took it day by day just as I do with tattooing. Now Mystic Owl Tattoo has been opened for six months and we love it. It is tons of work, even more than before, and I haven’t been able to take many days off, but that’s part of it. If we do the things we need to do when we need to do them, then one day we will do things we want to do when we want to do them.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
Man, it is such a long list, but I can tell you right off the bat that what I admire most about these people is not only their wonderful skills and talent but also their determination, their hard work, their principles, their drive, their selflessness and talent. Jace Masula, John Madigan, Chris Bird- song, Ron Russo, Matthew Clarke, Jeremy Miller, Thomas Page, Dave Lukeson, Billy Beans, Timmy B, Russ Abbott, Steve Webster, Sean Herman, Tim Orth, Matt Dunlap, our wonderful apprentice Taylor (watch out for her—she will be good), just to name a very few.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
The ones that allow lots of artistic freedom. I look forward to doing nature-inspired tattoos with an illustrative organic and eerie feel; something that has continuity. Maybe things including fire, wind, water, earth, and maybe leaves, mineral stones, animals, insects—you name it. Overall I like to have fun when I tattoo, and having freedom to create makes me happy and I have fun doing it.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
Actually, yes, there is something that I would like to do, but it is not something specific as to subject matter. It is more of a project I’d love to do—tattoo collaborations with all my friends, making it a collective effort. Of course, this is not something new, as collaborative tattooing has been around for awhile, but when you do it with people you admire and love it creates a whole new level. I have done collaborative work with a bunch of people and I would like to continue doing it. My great friend Jace Masula and I did a conspiracy sleeve on a good client and friend. That was such a cool experience and I look forward to doing more.