"Sky" tattooing his old art teacher, Raul.
SC: How long have you been trying to open your own tattoo business?
JSW: I've been tattooing now for like four years and this is the first shop that, well, it's not exactly mine. Me and Victor kind of share it. But it's the first time that IM not working for anybody else.
How did you get started doing tattoos?
It was kind of a fluke. I was in a shop with a girl who was getting a tattoo and I was talking to the guy about what it takes and he told me to come back after I graduated from high school. I never really did. Then I was in Europe drinking with a bunch of people and they wanted me to draw all over them and then I thought, "Well hell, I can make money doing this," so when I came back, I went back to that shop. I asked the guy and he remembered me and I became his apprentice.
Do you have any major goals with your tattooing?
Not really. I don't know how I feel about it. It's a lot of work. I took a break from it for a while because it really got to me because everything that I was doing was real commercial art. I didn't have any time for my own expression. I kind of tried to quit for a little while, but the clientele wouldn't let me, so I had to get back into it.
Would you rather do anything else, or what would you rather do?
I don't know. It's a day to day kind of thing. Right now I'm working two jobs. I work at a frame shop during the day and then I come here in the evenings. Some of it's really good. I like when I have friends that want work and I can get really involved with it and take time with it. The commercial side of it's kind of a drag. I really don't like doing tribal.
Kind of like doing Tasmanian Devils...
Do you get a lot of those?
Or, how many Tasmanian Devils have you done?
Too many. I get a lot of requests for that stuff and lately I've been...since I HAVE another job and this isn't my only income, I've been being more selective and trying to talk people into something with a little more meaning and depth to it. You know, they're not decals, they're for life. A lot of people don't understand that. Especially in a small town, it's really hard.
Do you have like a dream tattoo that you'd love to cover somebody's body
I don't know. Everybody's always telling me, "do whatever, do whatever," and I have a hard time with that too because it's not my choice to decide what they're going to wear for the rest of their lives, or I have that hang-up, you know? I really enjoy it when people have an idea with some depth to it and then I just get to work with that and make my interpretation. There's not like a style that I love. I do like classic things, like Japanese.
What do you think about the tattoo industry overall?
It's pretty rock star now. It's so mainstream. I don't think that it could get any more popular. There's the artists that are established and everybody knows their names and I used to think that that was where I wanted to go with it, but I'm not so sure anymore. I'm just not big for the limelight. I enjoy it, you know. It does bring pleasure more often than pain, I guess. Sometimes it's really difficult, too.
So what about the business end of it?
There's all of the headaches with keeping up with the law and stuff like that. We don't exactly do much with the business. I just don't know how really at this point Ð I've got to take some classes. It's cool to have our own shop and this is the nicest place that I've been in...hot water, air-conditioning. I'm really proud of how clean it is. I like showing people around; showing them our autoclaves and our equipment and things like that. I do really try to be professional about it.
Orien: I'm curious, what DOES it take?
It just takes practice. It's kind of awkward at first. It's like the difference between a pencil and a paintbrush. It's changing mediums. Once you get the hang of it, it's kind of second nature. You just have to draw a lot. I say that because I don't use flash or anything like that. I don't like to do repetitive designs and so everybody's getting an original piece and I put a lot of time into that piece because I have to be happy with it before I'll even show it to THEM.
Are you ever afraid that you're going to mess up this thing that's going
to be on this person for the rest of their life?
Originally I did a lot. Since then I've kind of chilled out a lot. There's ways to cover your mistakes and as long as you don't go "OH FUCK!," they'll never notice. But, yeah, I get kind of tense sometimes. I was really tense about doing this one on Raul just because I have to credit him with a lot of what made this possible because he gave me all of the push, all of the incentive that made me stick with it. When it came time to mark him for life, I was a little nervous. I took my time with the drawing, you know he was coming by every week going, "did you do anything, did you do anything?," and I was like, "no, I didn't do shit, man!" So, I finally got something out and he was really happy with it and I was like, "cool then, let's do it."
It's a really nice design.
Yeah, I keep expanding. I understand what it is to be in a flash shop and I understand what it is to do custom work and I'm just always trying to experiment with different things.
The design of the tattoo Sky was working on.
Do you ever plan on moving out of Cruces and getting in a bigger place
where maybe there would be more clientele interested in art versus flash?
Yeah, that would be nice. I think that I'm just kind of afraid of that, I mean, it's easy here and I grew up here and I know everybody, but yeah, I would love to. That's definitely a dream.
Where do you think that you'd want to go?
Um...I don't really have any ideas. I guess there's a lot of larger cities that have a scene. I guess any one of them would do.
Who would you say are your favorite tattoo artists...you know, people
that you look up to?
There's so many of them...I like, of course the big names that are really taking it in a new direction...Guy Atchison...
Where is he?
Oh uh, I think in Chicago; somewhere up north. And he's got a girl that works with him, Kim Saigh, she's really good. Patrick Conlan. We were just at a convention in San Francisco last year and there's a lot of amazing artists there. It is kind of glutted over there, though, and if you're not cream of the crop then you shouldn't even bother. There's an abundance of street shops and then there's at least half a dozen full custom Ð great places to go.
Have you ever done any portraiture?
Yeah. I did portraits of the midget in Twin Peaks on Paul (friend of his). I really like to experiment with different things. I was into really bold line, bold color and now I'm experimenting a lot with blood line and gray line and less of that solid look and more line bearing; and just using chiaroscuro to make value and depth. I keep wanting to attempt something painterly like Egon Schiele is my all-time favorite and I would really like to attempt something as drawing or painter oriented as that, you know, where it's not real refined; but I'm kind of scared to.
The finished outline of Raul's tattoo.
You have to do a lot of practice and experimentation before you get it?
Yeah well, I think I've got a handle on what might work, but I'm just scared to try it. If it doesn't work then it's going to look trashy.
What advice would you give to some other young person who would like
to start their own tattoo place?
Draw a whole lot.