In many cases, talent runs in the family. You’ve got the Baldwins, the Wahlbergs and even the Cyrus crew. Ryan K. Severe and his brother Caskey have both attained success in the art world—as a tattooer and rapper respectively. They’ve built their brands off of each other, with Severe decorating his brother’s skull with one of the most striking tattoos hip-hop has ever seen. We caught up with Severe to learn more about his family dynamic, to understand what attracted him to sacred geometry and to hear his philosophy on job stoppers.
Take us through your upbringing and how you got into art.
I was the kid who got into trouble in class for drawing when I was supposed to be doing classwork. I had an amazing art teacher in school, Mrs. Gilbert, who supported me all the way through. I think she knew my potential better than I did. Music was also a huge influencer for me. I remember watching MTV music videos at 6 a.m. while I was getting ready for school and almost every artist I liked had some kind of art on them. Art and creating was always kind of my thing, it just seems to come naturally to me.
What made you decide to become a tattooer and how did you go about starting your career?
I think it was my friends and their older siblings who gave me a first-hand look at tattoos. I dabbled with silly self-taught methods and homemade shit when I was younger, then the day I turned 18, I was in a shop getting my ribcage blasted. I went to college for about two years and worked at GM painting trucks, but I was tired of the 9-to-5 monotony. One day in 2010, I literally dropped everything and decided I wanted to be a real tattoo artist, but I knew I had to go about it the right way. I dropped out of school, quit my job, packed my shit and drove straight to Tampa in search of a solid, legit apprenticeship. I went to the first reputable shop I could find. Unfortunately, the owner, Randy Miller, gave me a solid “no” for about two weeks. But “no” wasn’t an option for me. I kept showing up and finally, he gave me a shot at one of the best apprenticeships I could’ve found.
When did your signature style begin to form?
Thinking about it now, finding a style was one of the most difficult parts of my career. Honestly, I still don’t consider myself being within a specific style category. I remember being so fascinated with learning the actual service and trade of tattooing that I never really tried to adopt a specific style or direction for my art. My mentor was a killer at traditional tattoos. I had love and respect for them, but I didn’t think that was the route I wanted to take. One thing that helped me establish the direction I wanted to go in was someone finally kicking me in the ass and saying stop worrying about this shit. They told me to do what’s different, continue with what I’m good at and push limits. I started pushing my linework in every direction that I could and eventually, I discovered the world of sacred geometry.
What goes into your design process and where do you find inspiration?
I always speak with the client first. I literally pick their entire brain about what appeals to them and what they want incorporated into the piece. It becomes really fun for me once I understand their preferences.
Take me through how you began tattooing your brother Caskey and the first piece you did on him.
We’ve both always wanted to be heavily tattooed. Turns out, he had a different definition of “heavily.” My brother went and got his first tattoo done on his ribs in a trailer. It sat right under his armpit and went down to the top of his hip. When we started working together, the first thing we did was fix that rib piece and bring it back to life. Ever since then, we’ve been bouncing ideas off each other and shooting for things that we haven’t seen anywhere else. He always comes to me with some wild ideas for tattoos and every time it pushes the envelope a little farther. I think we both learn a handful of things with every tattoo we’ve done and we’ve both grown artistically.
What was the process of creating Caskey’s head tattoo?
For the longest time, all Caskey talked about was that piece. At first, I told him he was out of his mind. We talked about the movie “Apocalypto” and how one of the main characters had a headdress with an upper and lower animal jaw. The process consisted of taking many different head shots showing all different angles of Caskey’s head. On those photos, I drew every angle of how we wanted the piece to lay. We shot ideas back and forth for several months until we were happy with the idea. Once it was game time, I stenciled on the technical parts and freehanded the rest with a Sharpie all the way up to the top of his head.
When do you think someone is ready to tattoo their head and face? Do you ever turn people down?
I’ve definitely turned people down. I was brought up with very traditional fundamentals. You shouldn’t just step into the game with nothing and go get your face blasted. You need to have the rest of your body tattooed before it’s OK to do your head, face, neck or hands. It’s called earning it.