Have you inked any cute college girls recently?
Yes, I tattoo cute college girls too, but the cutest woman I’ve tattooed has been my wife, Kat Miller. I just recently finished her back piece [above left]. I made it a point to freehand the whole tattoo with no stencils at all. It was definitely a heavy tattoo for me. ...
How did freehand affect body placement?
Drawing on the body helps everything for me—placement, composition, movement in the tattoo. … It also magnifies the unforgiving process that is tattooing.
Would you say it’s the culmination of your more than 20 years in the business?
Sure. I think my freehand work is something that has developed over the years. The TV audience finds my freehand interesting but I really like to get down for the tattoo community by doing my best. Through TV I feel like I’m in the spotlight, so I have a certain responsibility to stay sharp and creative, for them and myself.
Does another one of your creative outlets—your band, Powerflex 5—influence your tattooing?
Music has always been an influence. I’ve played drums longer than I’ve been tattooing, and Powerflex 5 is a great outlet for me. Steve Alba, our guitar player and a skateboard legend in his own right, and I have been friends since we were kids. We’ve been playing this instrumental, spaghetti western surf music for quite a few years now. You know, freehand tattooing can be like punk rock or jazz—it just flows.
Did LA Ink foster or impede the creative environment?
At first it was great. Working with artists like Kat [Von D], Kim [Saigh], and Hannah [Aitchison] was definitely inspiring, but then the hectic schedule of TV production got in the way. Doing just one tattoo a day because of filming constraints was hard, and it did impact my tattoo work. I made it a point to constantly sketch between shots to stay polished.
Did the time constraints hurt your wallet?
I was booked for a few months before the show, and I did have to put a lot of my clients on hold. I might have more business from the show, but I can still only do one tattoo at a time.
How’s Six Feet Under?
My shop is going great. We just celebrated 13 years at our current location. I got to give credit to my crew of artists for keeping it going. I’ve got some great guys, like Henry Powell and Larry Garcia, who have been with me for more than 13 years. They held down the fort when I’ve been gone. It’s funny when tourists come to my shop and think I went to Hollywood and now I’ve got my own place—that’s definitely backwards.
What do your mentors think of the show?
I was really surprised at the support I got from a lot of the old blood in the business. I’ve had numerous quality tattooers reach out and tell me that they think I’m doing a good job, and that really means a lot to me. Some young guys in the scene look at [us older tattooers] and want to glorify us as shamans. But I’m just a carny.
Do you think the people who only know you through the show really know you?
I hope so. I really do try to be myself, but with the editing process, it can be hard. Just like with the whole drama between Aubry [Fisher] and I. She might not have come into the shop as a “real” helper, but that’s the way I had to treat her, as a real shop hand. So when she acted like an ass, I treated her like one. It was the only way to keep my integrity. It was hard when they brought her in. I was mad about the decision to get rid of Kim and Hannah, and I really wanted to leave at that point, but ultimately decided to ride it out and see what came next.