World-renowned tattoo artist, Josh Bodwell, specializes in galaxy tattoos and pop-culture-themed designs. The lifelong Star Wars fan, and trivia master on A&E’s hit original series Epic Ink, tells INKED about the time pop-culture tattoos exploded, where he gets his constant inspiration for his galaxy tattoos, and how he celebrates May 4th.
When did you start tattooing and how did you get into it?
I started tattooing around 2001. I had always loved tattoos and tattoo art since my teenage years, reading any tattoo magazines I could get my hands on. I don't want to say it's "easier" to learn to tattoo in 2019, but resources were limited back then, and living in a small town, opportunities are scarce. I was a graphic designer for a few years until I finally had the offer to apprentice under Mike Ruocco at Funhouse Tattooing, and finally start applying my art to this craft that had fascinated me for so long.
Where does your passion for sci-fi and pop culture stem from?
Since childhood, it seems as though it has always been a part of my life from comic books and cartoons, to films. As a child of the 80s/90's it was a great time period for all of that. My earliest memories of being interested in art was through fantasy painters like Frazetta, Hildebrandt, and Struzan. And as a young kid I had asperations of being a comic book artist. Sci-fi, pop-culture, and art were just deeply ingrained in me.
When did your focus shift from earlier tattooing to more sci-fi & pop-culture focused?
Starting to tattoo in the early 2000's I didn't have many opportunities to do pop-culture pieces. I cut my teeth on all the classic requests from that era... that means plenty of tramp stamps and tribal armbands; and I learned quickly to be well rounded in a lot of different styles. This was a necessity at the time to stay busy. It wasn't until about 2010 that I started pushing my work towards what I truly enjoyed, both imagery and style wise. There was always some Star Wars tattoo fans out there, you'd see the occasional comic book character, but it really seemed to explode around that time.
Favorite Star Wars movie?
I have two favorites actually, and for different reasons. As an adult fan, Empire still holds the top spot and has become a benchmark for all other Star Wars films. It's damn near perfect. As a kid, however, my favorite was Return Of The Jedi with all of its colorful aliens and puppets. I wore that VHS out!
Favorite Star Wars character to tattoo?
I love tattooing characters with a lot of texture, so Yoda, Obi Wan Kenobi, and the Emperor. Wrinkly old faces like that are a lot of fun to work with. But on the opposite side of that, I never pass up an opportunity to tattoo Princess Leia, trying to capture both her beauty and strength.
What’s the secret to killer galaxy art?
I do a lot of outer space backgrounds and imagery, and I think for me personally, I draw constant inspiration from the best source possible... our own universe! I'm equally a big fan of real life space and science, and I watch a ton of programs on the universe and spend a lot of time looking through space photography.
Favorite kind client and session?
Nothing is better then a client that knows – and is a fan – of the work I produce. One that has the trust and faith in me to simply give me their loose idea, or often just their pop-culture character "wish list," and let me run with it. The less constraints the client puts on me for the design, the more I can push myself, and my art, further; and give them the best work I can give them. I feel very lucky to have a lot of this type of clientele now.
Do you celebrate May 4th? If so, how?
Every day for me is Star Wars day! *laughs.* The last few years it fell on the same weekend as the Liverpool Tattoo Convention, which I would regularly attend, and they'd have some of the local 501st Legion costume group show up in full gear. Was always fun to tattoo a Star Wars piece while being watched by Darth Vader or a Stormtrooper.
What tattoos do you have for your love of Star wars? For general pop culture /and or sci-fi love?
One of my earliest tattoos was a Rebel Alliance symbol but that's in the area of my arm being covered with larger, newer tattoos. I have a Yoda by Mike Devries, Darth Vader by Chad Chase, and my knuckles say JEDI/SITH, done by Niorks. I also have a T-Rex skull from Nick Keiser and a "Clever Girl" Raptor by Ash Davies for my love of Jurassic Park, and a Nosferatu/Count Orlok from Bill Atkinson. I still need to get something in the future for my love of comic books, specifically my favorite, X-Men!
You have said your time on Epic Ink has allowed people to see “a fun, lighthearted, and nerdy side” to the industry. Do you mind speaking on this?
The majority of tattoo reality television focuses on either competition and conflict, or on cover-ups, which tends to spend a lot of the time on the clients past "mistakes." I feel very lucky to have been a part of a program, even if for just the single season that it ran on A&E, that focused on clients getting fun and interesting pieces because of their fandoms. Or simply for the love of the artwork. No sob stories, no drama, no fighting amongst artists, and staff working together at a shop which is more aligned with the "reality" of tattooing. It's an honor when I have folks tell me that watching it and seeing people getting "nerdy" tattoos helped them decide to finally break out of their shell, and take the leap to start getting their first tattoos.
You collect Star Wars sideshow statues! Will you tell us more about this?
My collecting of Star Wars memorabilia has really been a life long quest. I had heavily collected action figures since the 90's, but about 10 years ago, my collection shifted over to statues, helmets, and prop replicas. One of my grail pieces is a life sized bust of Darth Vader with a removable helmet revealing his face. Some of these statues and busts are so detailed and life-like that I've used them as photo references in my tattoos!
I'm starting to run out of room to display all these, so I've slowed down a little, becoming pickier which characters to collect, but with all the new movies coming out there is always so much cool new stuff being released. And for that matter, so many cool new images and characters to tattoo on future clients!