John Dole (photographer),
Marisa Kakoulas (writer)
Did working with Henning also influence your Japanese work?
Oh yeah. Henning was killing it. This was about 15 years ago and he was doing shit no one was doing in Scandinavia. Henning’s work is always big and clear and bold and beautiful. It’s remarkable, actually. He doesn’t overdo it and his designs hold up over time.
Any other tattoo influences?
Filip Leu is one of my biggest tattoo heroes. I went to Filip’s in Switzerland to get tattooed; he did a big cobra on my leg. That changed everything for me. I watched him work all day and got a better understanding of doing things on a larger scale; how to lay things out on the body to fit in a way that looks natural. From Filip, I learned how to really see things, and I’m still learning. So that’s when it all started for me to go toward the more Japanese style in tattooing.
What’s your approach to Japanese tattooing? What do you bring to it? Can I think about it for two days? Huh. I would say, first, that my work is not really Japanese tattooing but mostly Japanese subjects—Japanese imagery on some level. I don’t want to do something I’m not. I’m from Los Angeles, born and raised here, and I’m not trying to do a tattoo that looks like a Japanese guy did it.
Where do you draw inspiration, then?
The Hokusai Sketch-Books have been a huge influence for me. It’s sort of been my bible, a springboard for me in the beginning. But nowadays I try not to be too influenced. After years of doing similar imagery over and over, I try not to do the same thing.
How do you keep it fresh?
My clients keep me on my toes. I will break out photos of what I’ve done so I don’t repeat myself too much. You can tell it’s from the same hand but I don’t want my clients to think their work is similar to another client’s. I try to keep mixing things up and use new combinations of a very small vocabulary of imagery. I believe in the “less is more” thing. I try to do things in a way that you will know what it is from 10 feet away.
Your clients seem to trust you with a lot of their skin. You’ve done a lot of huge back pieces.
I’ve done about 35 to 40 back pieces in the past eight years. Large-scale tattoo work is a luxury, for sure. Any time you see someone with large work you know they paid for it. It’s like wearing a Rolex or driving a nice car. It’s luxury lifestyle shit, but it’s not something you can just go buy. You have to deal with a motherfucker like me, show up for your appointments, pay a bunch of money, and get it done.
And it hurts.
It hurts in more ways than one—it’s painful and it’s expensive.
There are a number of tattoo artists these days offering numbing creams and sprays that make the tattoo process hurt less. Do you offer those to your clients?
I keep a thing of spray for a few guys—not for someone who’s going to sit for two hours, but for someone who will come in from out of town and wants to sit there and get four to five hours done. It makes it easier on him and easier for me. If people come in after wrapping themselves in Emla cream [to numb the area], I’m cool with it, but I’m not gonna say, “I have this cream and for 50 bucks extra I’ll numb you up.” I used it myself for the last sitting I had with Filip and it fucking helped, man.