When it comes to tattoo artists who have made a significant and altering impact on the industry over the last several years, NYC’s JonBoy must be named. Known for inking elite celebrity clientele such as Kendall Jenner, Halsey and Justin Bieber—JonBoy has helped propel fine-line, micro tattooing into mainstream culture. But despite being a major face in the industry at large, JonBoy almost went down a very different path to become a youth minister. However, through the grace of God and plenty of Cherry Creek flash later, he’s become one of the leading innovators in the global tattoo scene.
How did art play a role in childhood and what made you decide to pursue tattooing as a career? I loved doodling when I was a kid, you know, just drawing cartoons and comic books. That was my way to get away from life and family problems. It's something that I enjoyed doing to tune the world out.
How did you go about getting an apprenticeship and what was your first shop experience like? My apprenticeship was really hard to get. I just started getting tattooed when I was 19 and this was the late '90s, where there was only a handful of tattooers. I remember getting tattooed by like Cleen Rock One, Chucho and all of these new school tattoo artists. I asked them,“How can I learn how to do this?” It was just such a magical thing. And they basically discouraged me by being like “You don't want to do this, it's going to cost you all this money to do an apprenticeship. It was very discouraging. So, I kind of let go of the dream of ever even getting into tattooing and pursued seminary. I wanted to become a youth pastor and I did two years of Bible college. I ended up in Iowa and started out at the local tattoo parlor. It was a very Norwegian town and I met this guy named Kevin Fitzgerald, an old biker dude. He became a born-again Christian and said ,“Hey man, you're kind of like an answer to prayer when I need help in this journey.” And then one day he's like, “Do you want me to teach you how to tattoo and pierce?” I put in my time with a formal apprenticeship and did things that I thought had nothing to do with tattooing. I wanted to quit, but he was teaching me how to develop tough skin. That was in 2000, 18 years ago, and I haven’t put down the machine since.
In 2015, you did a tattoo on Kendall Jenner that helped take your career to another level. How were you able to turn one tiny little dot into the JonBoy brand we know today? I never would have thought that a small tattoo would turn into this. I think I found a niche and the right clientele.
Speaking of your clients, how does your consultation process work and what does your waitlist look like at the moment? I feel for the rest of the year, I'm pretty booked out and I'm in the works of opening my own store at the beginning of the year. But I never wanted to be that guy that’s like “Nope, you can't get in,” because for me, it's an honor if someone comes up to me on the street and says, “Oh man, I'm a fan. I'd love to get tattooed by you.” For me, it's an honor that you would even consider me of the hundreds of tattooers here in New York City, tattooers that are way better than me and they want to get tattooed by me. It's surreal, you know, and I don't take it lightly. I always make sure that I give you the tattoo that you deserve and it's tailored to your liking. I care about what you're going to be, what it looks like on you and what your experience is. I want to make sure that you have the best experience.
Speaking of taking care, you're known as one of the most well known fine-line tattooers in your genre. What is your process for creating a fine-line tattoo? There are so many variables to making sure that you're applying a technically sound tattoo and that it's going to heal properly. You might think that these little tattoos take no time, but you have to finesse it in. For me, when your stencil is super thick and you can't really like see your line, I like to break the skin a little first and then wipe it down. Then I've got my bloodline and I can work off of that. I think precision is key when it comes to these fine-line tattoos, especially when you're not seeing a lot of shading. My tattoos are sometimes just outlines, so the one thing that stuck with me when I was learning how to tattoo is to make sure your outlines are crisp and clean. Because with shading, you can mess and you know that's something you can shade out.
When someone says the phrase, “the future of tattooing”, what comes to mind for you? I think we're living in the future of tattooing. Social media has brought tattooing to a level where I never thought it could be, I never would have thought that I'd be sitting in Mexico City at the President's house tattooing. I never thought I'd be in Barney's tattooing. I never thought I'd be doing these partnerships with brands and I'd be tattooing models, actors and musicians that normally wouldn't ever get a tattoo. Tattooing has been around for a long time, it's not going anywhere. It’s important to just keep raising the standard, reinventing yourself and be open-minded. I think it's easy for people to be stuck in their old ways, but you have to be open-minded with where tattooing is taking us.
You’ve mentioned that spiritual faith plays big role in your life. How has God helped your career? I’m a vessel and I wanted to do something to give back and show love. I feel like if God is love and if I'm full of love, then I'm worshiping. When I first started tattooing, I remember before every tattoo, I would go in the bathroom and pray because I was scared. I was like, “Oh man, don't mess this up.” But, I don't ever want to lose that. I want to always rely on him and everything is only by God's grace.
Where do you hope to be in one year, five years and 10 years from now? I would love to have my own shop, my own baby, something to call my own. I would love to hire artists that are passionate about their art, their tattoos and people. And if I can somehow help the industry with building a better reputation. I want to get involved in fashion more, I love just seeing what people are wearing in New York City. I think it's important to stay relevant. I'm not getting any younger, but I want to keep doing what I'm doing. In five,10 years from now I'm still going to be tattooing. I mean, at the end of the day, I'm a tattoo artist. Even if nothing else works out, I'm going to continue to tattoo. I'm where I am today because I never put that machine down, I never gave up.