What got you into restorative tattooing [for breast-cancer survivors and transgender people]? How much of what you do now consists of these types of tattoos?
I had been approached in the past to re-create nipples for a couple of post-mastectomy women, but they had no experience whatsoever with the tattoo world. So my not having photos of previous nipples I had done was, I'm sure, less than reassuring. I never worked with them and had sort of forgotten about it. Years later, I met my girlfriend, who had just gone through a double mastectomy and reconstruction. She'd had her nipples re-created by a tattoo artist on the East Coast. When she described the huge difference it had made in making her feel like these were now a part of her body instead of the result of a surgical procedure, I knew I had to pursue this. I already had the skill, and there is a tremendous need for this type of work. Since I started doing restorative tattoo work last fall, my clientele in that area has steadily increased. I'm still mostly doing the standard type of tattoo work, but I do at least a few of the restorative clients per week.
What makes this work so fulfilling?
It's seeing my clients' faces when they first look in the mirror after the tattoo is finished. These are mostly people who have never set foot in a tattoo shop before. They are generally pretty nervous about even being there at all, not to mention the added anxiety of trusting me to make something permanent on their body. It's always extremely gratifying to have a client be happy with their new tattoo—but with the restorative tattoos, it is of a whole different order. It's been described to me as getting back to feeling whole again. And when I get an e-mail from someone weeks later saying that it has had a transformative effect on them, that is extremely fulfilling.
How does 27 years of tattooing experience (and specializing in realistic portraiture and textural work) inform what you do in restorative cosmetic tattoos?
I've always been drawn to realistic portraiture in all forms of art. When I started tattooing, this was something that was a fairly new thing in the medium. You just didn't see much of that at all before the ‘90s, so it was pretty exciting to see how far that style could be taken within the skin. I've always had that as a style that was within my skill set and when I first found out that there was a need for this, for recreating nipples for folks after surgery, I knew that I would be perfectly suited for that type of work. It's a very specialized type of work and I already had many years of experience doing this so I was fully confident that I could do this for people.
What are some of your favorite ink projects outside of restorative tattoos?
One of the things that I love most about tattooing is that the landscape is always changing. Even within the stylistic trends that come and go, there are always new ways to approach the art and techniques. It's never dull and if you stay in the business long enough you will be tasked with learning more styles of art than you probably imagined would fit within the tattoo world. So really, my favorite projects are the new ones that make me stretch as an artist. The way that I handle even my realistic and portrait work has changed dramatically based on other styles that I have incorporated over the years. Even some of the styles and trends that I really didn't like much.
The shop you work out of is located on Capitol Hill—what are a few of your favorite haunts?
Well, I love to go see live music, so I seem to end up at the Highline and Neumos quite a bit. Plus, we have great record stores like Wall of Sound and Zion's Gate. Other than that, it's mostly just places that have excellent cookies: Pettirosso, Bakery Nouveau, the Wandering Goose, Oddfellows... Yeah, just music and cookies, really.