Justin, the man behind @americanatattoos Instagram page, asked me to stay semi-anonymous in this interview, and these questions are about his life choices but mostly about what we call ‘tattoo magic’. He is a family man who believes in hard work, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is what he shared with me. I feel very honoured to have him on IamNotATattooBlog.com.
How did you fall in love with tattoo art?
Growing up, tattoos were tough and rebellious. I always knew I’d have them but thankfully I actually waited a long time before getting them because I’m an over thinker and I’m glad I don’t have a ton of shitty tattoos to cover up. Well, even if I do want to cover some fairly large ones I have. I guess my dad’s uncle had influenced me the most by being a rebel, living life his own way. Smoking, drinking, gambling and making his own rules after retiring from the merchant marines.
He had a tattoo on his forearm and he taught me how to play poker when I was 7 or 8. The tattoos were an eagle and an anchor below it: classic Americana! At some point I asked him where he got it and when and he just said “in the 50’s when I was young and dumb..” He didn’t want to influence me into getting any.
How did the need of creating @americanatattoos come out? Who were the first artists that supported you?
I have a brain that’s fixated on things I love. Some time in 1996 I became fixated on tattoos. I bought every magazine I could find and it got to a point where I could name most tattooers only by looking at the tattoo. Sometime in 2003 I had a chat with Don Ed Hardy. I wanted him to know I had knowledge about tattoos, ahah! Yes I was an idiot and I failed horribly at making a positive impression! Then, he asked me why I know so much about current tattooers but nothing about Tattoo History. He suggested me to get my hands on Tattoo Time and also look into studying the pioneers of tattooing. I took his advice.. the fact that Ed was so kind and humble amazed me.
After compiling hundreds of magazines and books along with thousands of images from the internet I had a small database of tattoo history. Eventually, 10 years later I talked aloud about putting my passion to work. One night I was watching “Ed Hardy: tattoo the world” and in it he said the phrase “americana tattoos”. A lightbulb went off in my head and I immediately looked to see if anyone had that handle on Instagram. I couldn’t believe it was there so I went and grabbed it and I posted about 50 photos from my computer.
For the first five months I had 7 loyal followers, all were my friends. Since I had some cool photos posted I decided to tag some of my tattoo acquaintances to see if they enjoyed the page. They did and somehow it kinda slowly spread until one day out of the blue, I had 300 followers. It was all because Justin Shaw (Faith Tattoo, Santa Rosa Ca.) reposted my page saying that “he didn’t know whose page this was but you should check it out. ” Strangely, I had taken a photo of Justin Shaw talking to Don Yarian at Bay Area Tattoo Convention a few years earlier so I immediately posted it. That was it: day one of things to come. I think the next shout out was from Cory Rogers. It really just grew organically from there.
How did it become a real thing and how do you manage it now?
I was talking to my friend Alex Trufant while he was tattooing me and I told him I would have run out of old historical photos very soon and that I would probably have to come up with another plan to keep this thing going. Sitting under the 222 sign at Temple Tattoo 13 I decided that tattoo history should be told from the mouths of the people that lived it. I asked Deb Yarian to do the first take over and followed that up with Nick Colella. The page is conduit , I believe in Tattoos, I respect tattoos, I’m a fanatic and I run Americana tattoos like my radio station or my own magazine. I go with the flow and have been able to talk to some of my greatest influences through this page.
What do you love the most about tattoo history?
I like that this need to be marked and claim our vessels as our own has been ingrained in the human psyche forever. The fact that this craft has historically been swept under the rug drives me crazy. I love to research the craftsman of the trade who kept “americana tattoos” alive. The folks getting and applying these tattoos were living mostly outside the box, giving the big middle finger to society as a whole, and I like that! I owe most of my knowledge to Mr Eldridge (Tattoo Archive). His website was and still is the starting point for most of my research. I bet there are many tattooers from the early 1900’s, across the world, that are completely unknown and lost forever. That irks me, so I talk to the wearer and photograph every single vintage tattoo I see. I always ask them their story. I feel a need to keep their history alive.
Who are your biggest inspirations?
My biggest inspiration is my 92 year old grandfather. WWII vet with a purple heart. Family man, bowler. I’m mostly inspired by the free thinkers of the earth, but tattoo related I would say Don Ed Hardy is my main inspiration for all the obvious reasons. Chuck Eldridge, Paul Rogers, Lyle Tuttle, Hank Schiffmacher, Mike Malone, Mr. Bob Roberts, Freddy Corbin, The Picture Machine Pat Martynuik. The folks @yellowbeakpress, Nick Ackman and @blueletterbooks. I love people who find their passion and put their life’s work into it. Also there are too many tattooers to list them all but if you follow the page you can guess who they are. I’d like to add that Sean Perkinson and Jason Phillips at FTW Tattoo Parlor are at the top of my list. They allowed me to loiter in their shop and ask stupid questions. I can only assume they were both too kind to kick me out, ah.
Can you tell me who are your favourite historical figures and why?
Henry David Thoreau said “rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth “. That’s why I got the word ‘truth’ tattooed on me for my second tattoo. Bigfoot is also pretty deep in my blood. I used to write about the Sasquatch for school papers anytime I could because the truth is out there. Tattoo wise my favorite without any doubt is Ed Hardy, the living legend. Because I’m always amazed by those who have known what they were born to be for their entire life and then they achieve it. It’s extremely inspiring to know that, if you never give up, effort is equal to success, 100% of the time.
Who did you get tattooed by? Would you define yourself a tattoo collector?
In order: by myself , Circle in Maui , Dawei Zhang (Santa Clara), Sean Perkinson (4 in a row), then a few more later on in life, Filthy Bill Henderson, Troy Denning, Mike Devries, Myke Chambers, some dude I honestly forgot his name (probably on purpose) and Jason Phillips, Deno, Bert Krak, Alex Trufant, Paco Excel. And my next one is coming from Big Frank.
I do consider myself a collector, just a broke one. Champagne taste on a beer budget! So I get at least a couple tattoos a year.. Hopefully I will live a long life so I can get fully tattooed by the time I die. I have a lengthy bucket list of tattooers I want to get tattooed by. I missed my chance with Ed so now I want to make sure I will get one from Mr. Bob Roberts, I’m aiming for 2016 so within the next 12 months I have to make it happen.
How do you see the modern tattoo society we are living in?
Well I got caught in it for a while. It can definitely steer you in the wrong direction. I started out and my tattoo path was solid due to luck perhaps.. It got shaky in the middle there but luckily tattooers I respected set me straight. I’ll name them: Troy Denning, Jason Phillips, Ed Hardy, Luke Stewart, Jason Kundell. They all gave me some harsh pills to swallow. I highly doubt any of them would remember what they said to me but I do. I truly thank them for it.
That’s what I love about tattooing. The real tattooers protect this craft with their life. That’s why I TRY to show nothing but solid tattoos and tattoo history on @americanatattoos. I’m trying to do what I can to protect what I love.
So there’s good and bad with the tattoo world we live in. There are too many tattooers, too few intelligent collectors.. Egotistical rock star tattooers that want the fame and fortune are not for me. I love tattoos, the entire process is more important to me than anything. If you are smart you can find the perfect tattoo from the perfect tattoo artist, made to order for you. And for that, it’s a great time to be alive.
I think you are a true lover of tattoo art, you dedicate yourself to this amazing page everyday and you are always sharing right values. Define what ‘passion’ means to you.
First of all thank you! To me, passion is when you’re locked in and focused on one thing. Nothing can stop you from attaining it because it’s what you are. It’s what you were meant to be. It’s effortless, yet it takes up all your time and energy. You sacrifice and you pay any and all dues necessary to achieve your dream.
Any future project about your Instagram page? Maybe a book?
Yes there are many plans in the works for the page. We are going to end this year with a bang for sure with as many tattoo history takeovers as I can line up. They are great!! And yes, I have a concept for a book. I’m doing research and collecting original paintings for it. It’s completely separate from the page but at the same time it has everything to do with it, because without the page I could have never even dreamed of it as a possibility. As far as the page goes, I want to travel to different shops in 2016 and I have some new ideas I’m working on.. 🙂