- Posted by Carl Hallowell
- On March 8, 2018
Criticism Is Necessary For A Tattoo Artist
Is it weak to define yourself by saying what it is that you are not? Is it negative, in its very essence, to explain things this way? Probably so. Probably weak. Definitely negative. But here it goes anyway!
Constructive criticism is needed in the tattoo world right now, from any voice. A small voice, a green voice, a journeyman, or a master’s voice.
“Will you critique my portfolio?” I’m unsure if this is still a process, but it used to be, and still should be. This was a trial by fire and not for the faint of heart, nor for the excuse oriented individual. This was a dance that demanded so much from both parties. On one side you had the elder who had to wield a critical eye, find and expose every flaw, and yet he should be able to find a positive here and there in the dung pile. On the other side, trying not to melt into a corner or to shrink away into oblivion, you have the seeker. The seeker thinks he wants to know how to improve his work but can he really handle it? Does he really want to know? Usually he thinks the elder will be blown away by his cleverness and dexterity in the work but that, of course, is never the case. Should I tell you how you should respond? Unfortunately no, I can’t. Like dying, you have to do it yourself on your own. You cannot fake your way through it, lie your way through it, or bullshit a bullshitter. Now, “Wash your hands neat as a pin, circus clowns are marching in.” Do you know the word “koan”? I’m not sure- maybe that was one. As a side note, I think you should have an interest in, if not a basic understanding of, cultural terms like this when you reach out to practice Japanese work such as the great tradition of Irezumi, alternately called Horimono, Wabori…
I dont know if I completed the above thought or not, however the critique was a way to pass on knowledge. This knowledge was gained by tears almost shed over mistakes by the tattooists were loathe to forget- mistakes they had to live with, and correct next time if possible. In other words, through trial and error, through experience. Getting the critique was no easy task in and of itself. It was definitely not your right. It was a privilege! Would you learn from it, would you progress? That was up to you.
I will not be offering a critique here, I may not be qualified to do that. I will be offering a critical look tonight, at the tattoos types and tattoos I will pull up on the explore page of instagram- I love this idea! It will be anonymous. No one will get roasted. No names, no pictures. I can look at the piece and describe what I see. Here is a spoiler alert: The news will mostly be bad. Why, you ask? Have I moved away from my community, or has it moved away from me? Do I not like tattoos anymore? But how can that be? I’ll tell you that chest eagle on the military woman by Scott Sterling he posted the other day just made my jaw hit the floor. You know how Instagram will tell you “so and so also commented” on your notifications? Well, I noticed Mister Bob Roberts commented on Mr. Sterling’s post as well. And looking At Bob’s work, your jaw just stays on the floor. Power, man. This ain’t tiptoeing through the tulips, this is tattooing. Beauty, too. The beauty of simplicity, of down to earth art, similar, in my opinion, to folk art. You dont need a degree to feel it when you look at it. We all get it. Unless we are the type to underestimate the understated, which usually ends up with you getting your ass kicked. In a figurative sort of way of course.
Flashback To A Young Tattoo Artist’s Influences
Flash back to 1996. I’m in a neighborhood park drinking kahlua and coffee with my girlfriend in the afternoon and it’s sunny, beautiful, it’s August in San Francisco. We have a room in the Tenderloin, we are young, and not to mention, broke. My boss gave me a hundred dollar bill to bring home a set of flash. This isnt the point of the story but where did I get it? Down in the Mission, it was so different then, any major dude will tell you. Yeah, The mission? ’96? Only one man was brave enough to try that” – Eddy Deutsche and of course we are talking about the historic 222 tattoo. I got to meet Eddy, he was tattooing Jon Monk. He was super cool. It looked like he was tattooing slow, but when he wiped, all this progress was there. It was incredible, a chest piece, one side of it anyways, a dragon if memory serves correct. Eddy was totally gracious. The security guard was posted up in there on this weird platform above the lobby and there were families outside selling raggedy old clothes on the sidewalk. I wait until Eddy takes a break and he sells me a set of flash. A split set he did with – do you know already? No, not Hardy, I couldn’t afford that one, but Higgs! Oh man! One of my reasons for tattooing, for being tattooed! For digging poetry, and music that never changes like “Rainbows from atoms”, Higgs wrote that buddy. Oh man I ran home and got a tattoo off that set right off the bat. Ben Howe did it. Stell had tattooed a Frankenstein having a picnic with a little girl on Ben’s back. I could only sit for the outline and told Ben it hurt too bad to go on. He said, “good” and threw down his national swing gate on the speckled green formica station countertop and went to the back room where he could have more fun. He was a punk rock wild man and I miss him to this day. A chain of events occurred that seem like a movie. Looking back everything kind of just fell apart in time, entropy. He was survived by his wife and family. They had a strong bond and I wish the best for them. One thing they have for sure is many memories of this hilarious, talented dude. He owes me one when I see him again in heaven. He called me from Nebraska near the end and asked me to tattoo a customer of his. This customer was a total handful and Ben was laughing. One time he had, for some reason – I’m cracking up writing this – stolen a 12 inch tall King Kong from a toy store in the mall and gave it to me. I was having woman trouble at the time and he showed it to me. He said “look at that little chick, she’s in King Kong’s palm man”. I still dont understand exactly what he was trying to say, but he was trying to help me out, and dammit, it did.
This part of the story was supposed to be a nod to Sterling, who I mentioned earlier. The tangents have run downhill and I found myself in older times, younger days. My girlfriend and I are getting drunk, laying in the grass, while I smoke filterless cigarettes and she smoked Camel Lights. I would just tear the filter off of her Camel Lights if I ran out of Chesterfields. It is time to go visit another tattoo shop and I am ignorant of the amazing place that we are about to enter on accident. I mean this is like stumbling onto El Dorado by accident, only you dont get to take home the gold. You can only look at the art and pray you remember it. We are walking up a staircase or down a long hallway and there are huge tattoo designs painted on the walls like graffiti of koi and roses. We get to the studio and the whole thing is plastered with the flash of Guy and Pat Martynuik, and here we are by happy accident smack dab in none other than Picture Machine Tattoo. You just look around the room and one design leads to another and another and you sit there and think “I would love to wear any one of these tattoos”. Unfortunately though, you look in your pocket and dont find much more than a cigarette butt and a return Greyhound ticket home. I always was a dollar short, but man, I wasn’t a day short! I was right on time, just never could muster up the admission price. I was always listening from outside, but believe me, I could hear more than many who were lucky enough to be in the front row.
Meeting Karen Rose In The Bay
It was an earlier trip to the Bay Area and had hitchhiked there with a couple of friends. We went down to Gilman street, Jawbreaker was playing, and I was sick as a dog. I layed on the sidewalk and shivered in the night listening through the open door to “Want”, as a girl I had fallen for in the city brought me out cups of water every third or fourth song and checked on me.
Anyways, it was none other than Karen Rose who was up there in Picture Machine tattooing, alongside a guy I don’t remember. She was so great to meet! As we solidified our friendship many years later I would tell her this story and she would show me Picture Machine flash and let me trace it, learn from it. What a tattoo artist and a true people person she is. Many years later she invited Joe Haasch, Jean Chen, and I, over for dinner. Karen showed us a favorite painting of hers and I want to talk about it so bad, but I wont, not because it is personal, but because it is too special. Karen told me around this time that Martynuik actually died doing a reaper tattoo, or maybe it was the last tattoo he did. At least thats what I remember but it was my birthday and I may have been under the influence. Anyhow, back in ’96, Im up in the Picture machine with my girlfriend, hanging on the rail, watching Karen work. Karen is outlining a tiger tattoo on this cool cat’s upper arm and I cant hear the machine! I mean, it’s not loud, it’s just a couple of us there. You can barely hear the machine purring, purring like a kitty cat as Karen etches this tattoo so cleanly into this guys skin. This machine is running so smooth. Good god, no spark, just butter, just so smooth. “Wow, That is a finely tuned machine”, I say. “Oh yeah!”, Says Karen, “it’s a Scott Sterling”.
Hunger Helps Drive A Tattoo Artist
So much for the critical review of the explore page of instagram tattoos! Maybe another time. I guess I didnt explain my work by saying how it differs from most all the other work you see out there nowadays. I guess I defined my work through my own story, or a part of it. The miles I put into every piece. The shops I’ve been blessed to have stepped inside. The tattoos I am lucky to have gotten, and maybe more importantly, the ones I couldn’t get. The ones that were just out of reach. Hunger. Desire. Respect. Experience. The ingredients I use to create my work.