Skip to main content

Hitting the Road with Kyle Dunbar Part 3

Former Ink Mastercontestant Kyle Dunbar has packed up his tattoo equipment and hit the road looking for adventure. With his family in tow, Dunbar will be traveling the country and trying to make a living as a roving tattoo artist. Over the coming months Dunbar will share his tales of the road with us here on Part 1.Part 2. 

I woke up this morning in the parking lot of 12 Tattoos in Groton, Conn. 12 Tattoos is owned by our friend and winner of Ink Master season 2 Steve Tefft. I brewed a pot of coffee and started the morning routine; caffeine, workout, shower, breakfast, all before waking my son to get his day started. In a little bit I'll start his school and later on his mom will take over while I tattoo. Our days have been similar to this since we bought "Berniece" a little over two weeks ago.

Berniece is our new-to-us 33ft, Southwinds Fleetwood motor home. Berniece has everything we could need for comfortable living and a 454 big block Chevy engine to keeps us on the road. We took the name Berniece from the airbrushed license plate that was on the front that read Harold and Berneice. We purchased the motor home from a guy named John. I imagined the name was far enough removed from the motor home’s recent history so it was fair game. I like to think John was moved by our story and wanted our family to find the adventures we were looking for in the motor home he and his wife once vacationed in, but in all honesty he was probably more moved by the cash in our hands. Either way, he gave us the briefest of rundowns on most of the systems, told us we had a lot to learn and left us to figure this beautiful beast out.

And he was right. We ARE still learning. Here are a few of the things we have learned so far; there may be no better way to test one’s relationship with your spouse than by backing into a campsite at night, motor homes don’t break—they just didn't get the needed maintenance in time, WD40 is crucial, 33 feet is pretty big, people don't mind you owning a motor home but they hate you driving it, and in a motor home reverse is spelled S-L-O-W. Trust me the list could go on and on.

Home sweet home

Home sweet home

So we put new wheels on her and found that the brakes also needed to be replaced.... about seven years ago. Now the brakes, the lines and the calipers all need to be replaced. Damn. Not everybody works on these land yachts so we had look around and found American RV in Genessee, Mich. They said it would take two weeks to get us in for an oil change, let alone the brakes but when they found out we were living in it they helped us out and got us in the next morning. They even let us stay overnight in their parking lot and ran a cord so we had power.

They helped to get us out that same day but we spent everything we had on the repairs so we couldn't make it to Tommy's Tattoo Supplies’ convention in Hartford, Conn. Candy drummed up some tats I could do locally to get us traveling money. And I broke my general policy of not tattooing script because of the emergency. In a situation like this you don’t really get to be picky about the tattoos you're going to do.

To me, a tattoo has an important job of sharing the passion you have with the people you choose to show that canvas or piece of skin to and that person that you’re sharing it with DOESNT WANNA READ YOUR FAVORITE LYRICS. For real. Please understand that aspect before you take something you've found beautifully crafted in word and you want to share it on your body. It deserves your creative thought to personalize it through your interpretation of an image. Lettering robs a tattoo of its duplicity. Art is supposed to be interpretive so that the viewer can internalize it. What may mean one thing to one person can mean something else to another, and neither may be the intention of the artist.

Chilling in "Berniece."

Chilling in "Berniece."

This gets a little deep here so forgive me as I explain how I've come to understand the purpose of tattoos. And keep in mind I'm often wrong, this is simply what I've observed in almost 20 years of tattooing. Tattoos have a purpose. When done right they act as a positive feng shui for the body; they are a conversation you and the artist have with the viewer. Does the feng shui sound like a bunch a heuwy? Ever seen somebody with a shitty tattoo? Have you ever seen how that tattoo affects their life negatively? They may have a hard time finding work or a worthy mate and friends. Their whole life will be affected by this crappy tattoo until it's covered properly. That's where I and many other artists have seen the result of a properly done cover up positively change someone’s life. So, armed with this knowledge of the negative, we can imagine the opposite to be true as well and should use that to plan our tattoos to bring positive influences to us.

How do we do that? Our tattoos carry a conversation that is open so that others with similar passions are drawn into the conversation. This is why vocational tattoos should go on the canvas we share with the majority of the world—upper arms and forearms, and sometimes neck and hands. While tattoos that hold more personal meanings should go in places where we can choose who to share them with. For example, I tattooed the forearm of a man who works as a hunting guide with a tattoo of several deer antlers. And only a week later he had booked two different hunts with random strangers because of the conversation that they started up with him after seeing his passion for hunting in the tattoo on his arm. They shared the same passion but may never have known how they could enrich each other's lives if the tattoo hadn't inspired a conversation.

I know that was long but bear with me a little longer. OK, so lettering takes that same tattoo, that same conversation and puts punctuation on it. By leaving nothing to interpretation the script tattoo leaves no room for the questions that conversation springs from. Instead the viewer quietly judges the written meaning for truth through the filter of their perception and understanding. Usually this just leaves them quietly pondering the statement until they get around someone safe to either laugh about you or attempt to make sense of your statement. Since questioning the statement could show their ignorance of a subject very few will feel comfortable addressing you with that fear present. As my friend Chris Tomas says, "A picture is worth a thousand words; you don't need a thousand words around a picture."

Going nuts in the arcade at the Foxwoods Casino.

Going nuts in the arcade at the Foxwoods Casino.

Don't get me wrong, I've seen beautiful lettering in tattoos that are definitely what I would consider art, but I don't see these tattoos becoming a conversation. I just see them as statements. Closed-minded, one sided statements. Then there are the lyrics and poems; l can't understand these at all. To me it's like trying to prove you’re smart or artistic by putting someone else's thought on you. Here's the kicker—no one cares. The most common thing heard after someone shows off their script tattoo is "What's it say?" Proving they don't want to read it. An opportunity for communication lost replaced by judgment. One of the funniest to me is when people get tattoos saying, "Only God can judge me." Wrong. Everyone can and will judge you, you can't stop it with a tattoo. I use the tattoo to judge you. For instance, I imagine you’re too foolish to realize that you mean only God's judgment of you matters. Or I imagine that you want to be associated with the ignorant thugs who believe this tattoo proves society’s judgment of them doesn't matter but fail to see that society’s judgment of them is usually based on what they perceive to be their God's judgment of them as well.

I’m not saying that I’m right about this, but I believe that anything that is as long lasting as a tattoo should be tested. You have to put it in the fire and see if it burns. What's left is tested. It's proved. It will last. But if it fails you should rethink your idea and find a better way to convey its meaning to the viewer.

I recently ran into a girl who was about to make a major script mistake by putting "always love yourself" backwards on her chest. She wanted to see it in the mirror when she saw herself. She made the common mistake that this tattoo was strictly for her. No such tattoo exists. Tattoos are for the purpose of sharing with the people who you choose to show it to. She might as well put "I suffer from self esteem issues" on her chest because that's what people will think. And that can't help ones self-esteem. Imagine if what I've been lecturing about is true. She wears some clothing that it can be seen in but it's backwards so it's not easily legible. Some one asks what does it say? And she has to share her low self-esteem with a complete stranger. Or even if she keeps it covered with clothes she eventually shares it with her lover. And he gets a view inside her broken esteem. Confidence is sexy, not that.

But enough of my preaching for now. I promise we will discuss the mother of all script mistakes "NAMES!" soon but that's gonna take some time. ‘Til then know that we are loving Berniece (the motor home). The benefits keep surprising us, and we are getting closer as a family. More soon.

As a side note: thanks for the support of this blog. We love all the positive feedback, and secretly I love the haters (both of you) as well. Keep it coming. I'm trying to answer the questions as I can fit them in so keep reading and I'm sure I'll answer them all in time. So comment here or continue to comment me on Twitter @Inkbykyledunbar #TravelTattooFamily