Artists: Winson Tsai
FRESHLY INKED: What year did you start tattooing?
WINSON TSAI: I started right after high school. That was 2010. I bought my first tattoo machine and I did one tattoo but I didn’t end up continuing it. I did a couple dragons for my friend and learned I needed to learn a lot more.
How did you get into tattooing?
I saw how all my friends had tattoos. I got interested, so I came to Chronic Ink and asked if I could just sketch in front of the shop. They said no because they said I was going to steal their drawings and go somewhere else. I went to another shop and they let me sketch there and eventually offered me a job. This was back in 2007. After, I went back to Chronic Ink and saw one of my friends getting a tattoo from Tristen, the head artist. I talked to him and then learned from both him and Tony, also of Chronic Ink.
Where did you apprentice?
It was basically from another guy who worked at Chronic Ink. His name is Big Mike. He taught me everything. It was outside of the shop, though. He took me to his house, gave me a couple machines, and sat down and showed me everything I needed to know about tattooing. But also, Tony was another guy who really helped me.
Do you have any special training?
I graduated with a bachelor of graphic design. I used to airbrush and do murals. I started with graffiti, doing a few tags on walls, but then I learned about airbrushing. It’s commercial. It’s like graffiti but more fine-point, so you can be more accurate with portraits, for example. I was selling those airbrush Tupac shirts but then that era kind of ended.
What conventions have you worked at? Have you won any awards? What are some of your best convention memories?
The first time I went to the convention was more of an excitement of just being there. After one year of tattooing on my own, I ended up at the convention with Chronic Ink. Tristen was winning all these awards so it showed me that someone I know is doing well. That was probably the greatest experience, seeing someone I admire win all these awards for the shop I work for.
How do you describe your style?
It started out with the Chicano style, working in the basement. A lot of it would be lettering, script, clouds, doves, roses, stuff like that. It’s very Chicano style because most of my friends like it. I personally like working with Japanese- and Asian-style tattoos, which is why I like Chronic Ink, because they allow me to do that.
What sets you apart from other artists?
I really like to do custom tattooing. I like to talk with my clients and figure out exactly what they want. I do it more when I know who I’m working with. At the shop, it’s harder because I don’t really meet people because it’s so busy. But when I tattoo at home on the side, I read e-mails, call people, and do consultations with them. I customize it, measure their bodies, and sketch so it fits their body perfectly. They show me what they want and I show them what I think looks best. Once we reach an agreement, I start sketching so there’s no guessing.
What other mediums do you work in?
My main thing is drawing and sketching. I love doing airbrushing but haven’t had much time to do it lately. If I ever get big enough to the point where I can turn down small tattoo jobs, then I’ll start doing more painting and airbrushing. I used to paint a lot but haven’t really done it in a long time.
How have you branched out from tattooing?
With my graphic design background, I’ve done websites for people. Making a website for Chronic Ink is one of the ways I originally got hired by them. I made the original Chronic Ink website four generations ago. I make logos for my friends and anyone who asks me. I also like to do T-shirt designs, poster designs, etc.
What tattoo artists do you admire most?
I’m heavily inspired by Shige, Little Dragon, Jeff Gogue, Jun Cha, Mister Cartoon, and Jose Lopez. I was especially inspired by Mister Cartoon at first because I saw his work on celebs, and then I go to New York and I see his murals on the walls. I go to L.A. and you can’t even find his shop.
What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
I like doing koi fishes. I eventually want the koi fishes to turn into dragons and phoenixes, tigers, and foo dogs. I enjoy doing kois, phoenixes, and foo dogs the most. I like to do dragons, but I don’t feel like they’re up to par with everything else. I want to get to doing Tony’s beast dragons. His are massive and huge, so I want to get to that skill level.
Before someone gets a tattoo what advice do you give them?
Make sure you know what you want, and do your research. Also, make sure you’re not on drugs, I guess.
Is there a tattoo that you haven’t done yet that you are dying to do?
I’m dying to do a Jeff Gogue skull piece, Chicano-style portraits, and guns and roses sleeves. I would like to take it step by step. So I would want to get the skull pieces down first before I start doing any portraits.