Dictionary of Occupational Titles

1946 edition
TATTOO ARTIST (PER.SER.) 0-44.91
(TATTOOER, TATTOOIST)

Marks or colors the skin of patron to form decorative designs by pricking in coloring matter, usually indelible ink or paint, with an electric needle. 
Usually offers a wide assortment of designs and patterns from which the patron may choose. 
Either traces pattern on patron's skin before inserting pigment, or copies design by freehand drawing. 
Mixes inks and paints. 
Adjusts and repairs electric needle machine. 
May remove or cover tattoo designs on patron, the method used depending on his ability and ingenuity. 

 

 

I've decided a logical way to structure a page of links might be to list all the tattoo artists who have tattooed me. Spending time with each of them has been an education in style and technique, and I carry the memory of that time in my life every time I see the tattoos. Where possible I have provided a url for more information, but several have died and some seem to have no web presence. They are listed in the chronological order as they added skin art to my collection, with the exception of Lyle Tuttle who has not tattooed me (although I have tattooed him!) who comes first because he did the first tattoo I ever saw being done and the spark was lit. 

Tattoo Icon Lyle Tuttle
Once upon a time when I was just a kid I stumbled into Sunset Strip Tattoo and watched Lyle Tuttle doing a tattoo. He made it seem like the coolest thing I'd ever seen. Right then and there I put it on my list of possible ways I might want to make a living when I grew up. Fast forward many years and now I KNOW it is a great occupation, and Lyle is still the mythic creature, larger than life, whose career bridges the "bucket of blood era" and the modern jet-set world of conventions. I'm proud to call him my friend, and when everyone else at a tattoo expo has faded away to their rooms it'll be the two of us you'll find still chatting into the wee hours, both of us genetically gifted with full tilt blarney and never at a loss for words. 

My Tattoo Mentor: Cliff Raven
Perhaps you wonder how one learns to tattoo. I was remarkably fortunate to get the attitude adjustment and technical grounding that set me on my way in this career in 1984 from Cliff Raven, who gave me just the image of what I wanted to grow up to be like. His guidance and advice was always pertinent, direct to the point, accurate, and while unfailingly kind was often more true than I was prepared to hear. His death on my birthday leaves a void in my life that can never be filled; he was my spiritual mentor and artistic avatar. If my work ever approaches his level of craft it honors his memory, and I work hard to live up to the faith he placed in me by welcoming me into this ancient tradition.   Doing my first tattoos, a koi and a Celtic anklet, and then being willing to teach me, he changed my life forever. 
After Cliff retired from tattooing he spent the last years of his life running Raven's Bookshop in 29 Palms, California. 

Tattoo Ambassador Don Ed Hardy
The Don did my right arm in a sleeve that starts with a Hopi rain band, then a bracelet of reverse waves from Pompeii's House of the Fishes, then incorporates the Aberlemno stone circle into a spiral of flames, eventually becoming flaming monarch butterflies. I cringe now to think that I approached him saying I wanted a flaming arm to balance a water arm on the other side, how very trite that "concept" must have seemed to him. But he did a superb job, and I deeply appreciate his role as Ambassador for the tattoo world in the "fine art" world of galleries and exhibitions and publications. He has retired from tattooing now, and he has many thousands of people grateful for his beautiful transformative art.

Foremost Japanese Tattoo Master Horiyoshi III
HORIYOSHI III is considered by many the greatest living master of the Japanese tattoo tradition. On his first trip to the USA I was fortunate enough to be able to have him put a koi on my right foot. He did the outline with a machine and then did incredibly fast subtle shading for the scales by hand. The process of having the needles poke into the skin and rake in the ink was shocking, the rythm is so fast that it almost feels like a machine. His prodigious output of full body tattoos has been archived in numerous books, and his designs are now an inspiration for anyone seeking to work in the Japanese style. He does not seem to have a web presence, nor a link for his Tattoo Museumin Yokohama, but the link above is a colorful account by my pal Vince Hemingson of visiting him in Japan. 

Samoan Tattoo Master Paulo Suluape
I have a small hand-whacked anklet done by the late Paulo Suluape that gets my vote for the most painful of all my skin art. It was done during one of the Amsterdam tattoo conventions. First I spent several hours "stretching skin" for his early clients, and then took my place on the mat. As Captain Don Leslie performed on stage I experienced tatau, and it felt like with every hit the boar tusk implement was struck so hard it went to the bone and bounced back out. The precision was astonishing, and the result charming. 

Eccentric and Adroit English Tattooist Alex Binnie
Alex Binnie in the UK is a master of so many styles that he defies categorization. I asked him to tattoo my very complex forearm-covering Celtic half-sleeve because I just couldn't think of anyone else in the tattoo world who could do it. His tattoos fit the body so well, and work with the musculature in such an organic way, that they have a sense of synthesis with the sculptural form that very few tattoo artists achieve. 

Tribal Tattoo Pioneer Leo Zulueta
I once had the mistaken opinion that an injury to my leg that had caused a "numb" area made it the perfect spot to locate a big tribal tattoo. So I went to the man whose design sense exploded the concept of "tribal" into the tattoo scene, and had him do a large flowing piece on my right thigh. Numbness did not make it hurt less, I found out, but by then I was committed. Leo's ability to design for and on the body, working with the musculature and enhancing it, is absolutely without equal. For many years he was the most influential tattoo artist in the world, inspiring legions of imitators and a generation of sheeple who felt that "tribal" was their new identity. 

British Tattoo Icon Ian Barfoot,
known as Ian of Reading, of the UK, did a splendid lion-fish of the family Scorpionidae on my calf. We both kept them in our studios so we dithered over the exact shades of brown to use to make it completely realistic. He is a true gentleman, a great craftsman, and it was through his annual conventions at Dunstable that I received my introduction to the European tattoo world. I will always be grateful for the inspiration I got through seeing so much splendid work at those shows, and for the good times spent listening to the old timers reminisce over pints about the real "old school" days. 

New Zealand Tattoo Expert Trevor Marshall
The first time I saw the double spiral patterns that the Maori do I knew they were the perfect expression of the Celtic spiral form in tattoo. So I asked Trevor Marshall to work his geometric magic for me, and read out loud from Milton's Paradise Lost for hours and hours while he arduously filled in the black. His design sense and ability to incorporate authentic Maori elements in his work set it apart from all others, a synthesis of the ancient and the new. 

Borneo Style Tattoo Reviver Ernesto Kalum
Ernesto Kalum from Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia works in the traditional manner with ancient style hand tools, and put an "eggplant" spiraling design on my leg. It was the least painful tattoo I have ever had done, and didn't seem to need to heal, it was just immediately a part of me. He is personally responsible for a renewed interest and revival of tattoo culture in his country, and has been an ambassador for the beauty of their art all over the world. The tremendous contemporary enthusiasm for "tribal" designs truly has its root in the blackwork tattoos of Borneo. The meaning of the pattern I chose is: "Egg plant flower (Bungai Terung) 'Bungai Terung' is 1st tattoo an Iban individual will get to mark the beginning of his 'Bejalai' journey. The spiral is the symbol of your life line, inspired from the intestine of a tadpole (baby frog) which symbolize new life, each and every petal represent the one level of patience."

Prince of Pointillist Tattooing Cory Ferguson
Cory Ferguson from Canada is able to achieve such precision and dimensionality with dots that it takes my breath away. His designs flow over the skin and move with it like an animal's patterned fur, and he is pushing the boundaries of what using solely black ink can create. As soon as we met I immediately wanted to have him tattoo me, and months later he did a superb job adding a Single Julia Set crop circle pattern to a pre-existing unfinished tattoo. He is a true craftsman, a careful detail oriented designer, and brings to life an inner vision instantly recognizable as his unique style. 

Dot Lord of Nordic Tattooing Colin Dale
Colin Dale, a Canadian now living in Denmark, did a an entirely hand-poked tattoo on my calf of a circular geometric pattern taken from an ancient carved stone. His style of pointilist rendering absolutely inspires me, so much so that it has greatly influenced the style I have worked in for the past several years. Much of his work depicts the ancient religious iconography of Scandinavia, which he renders in such way as to make the tattoo look carved into rock. The depth he can achieve using just dots mirrors the techniques of the ancient sculptors pecking their images into the stones thousands of years ago. 
He also hand-poked a "Helm of Awe" across the top of my left foot, a magical power symbol installed in the Shaman way. 

Godfather of Pointilist Sacred Geometry Xed LeHead
Xed LeHead used his amazingly delicate and precise hand poking technique to install a seven-pointed star on the top of my right foot. His work with geometric patterns and his eye for placement and detail have been an inspiration for me and so many others. He is universally credited with a quantum shift in tattooing, a fusing of the religious, scientific and aesthetic power of symbols. 

And who will be the next to tattoo me, and be added to this wall of honor? Time will tell !!!