INKED: You are known for your colorful Japanese work, but your black and grey tattoos are as good as some of the artists who specialize in that style, your smooth shades, use of light and shadow, volume, contrast, etc. are just great. How did you become as well-rounded to master art this way?
Mike Rubendall: I was in many ways fortunate enough to grow up tattooing in a street shop in the '90s, where you basically did anything that walked through the door. In those days you didn't know when the next tattoo was going to walk in so you needed to be willing to take on any style and, more or less, any subject that was thrown at you. You didn't have the option to pick and choose tattoos. There wasn't an abundance of work and Frank (Romano) didn't allow that "prima donna shit." This was pre-Internet days, referencing was difficult. When a tattoo came in, no matter what tattoo it was, I tried to research and reference as much material as I could get my hands on just to make that particular piece as good as I possibly could. I would go to the library for reference, take photos of real life for reference and sometimes scour the newsstands for tat mags to understand and really grasp the visual vocabulary of a desired style. See, back then I didn't have a style yet. I wasn't sure what I liked or what direction I wanted to take my art in. People came to me with ideas, “Oh you want a Paul Booth styled demon?, Sure, no problem.” I referenced a bunch of Paul Booth demons and drew my own version. “You want a Marcus Pacheco heart or Dave Waugh hot rod? Let me grab my reference folders. No problem,” and from there I drew my own versions. That's how I did it back then. My style developed over the years and eventually became my own but that's how I really learned how to draw tattoos.
I enjoyed then and still do, the challenge of being diverse. Trying the things that I don't do regularly and being comfortable knowing if I had to, I'm fully capable of doing almost anything. I think it's so important for an artist to be versatile, especially in this field. There is so much more room to grow as an artist when you have different directions to grow in. When you practice different styles, it's hard to avoid growth and you would be surprised how styles will influence other styles. Then quite often you will open up new possibilities to explore because you're now open to different styles/genres that you weren’t exploring before.