Archive for the Tattoo shops in New York Category

Rotary Motor + Guitar String + Baby Oil = Tattoo Gun

Posted in Designer Interviews, Tattoo Artist Interviews, Tattoo shops in New York with tags , , , , on January 27, 2010 by metalinkshop

Only 4 days left to rate our luscious January Maidens! Rate their photo sets and decide who will win $700 cash, $300 store credit, professional photo shoots, the title of January Maiden of the Month, and of course, bragging rights!


Tattoo Heaven
98 Christopher Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 645-1893

 Ray Trzaska, tattoo artist

Ray Trzaska, tattoo artist

Ray Trzaska
Tattoo Artist

MI: Tell us about how you became a tattooer.

Ray: Every since I was a little kid, I liked to draw, work with modeling clay and things like that. I was always creative, always building or making stuff, with wood or whatever I could find. Then in my teenage years, I partied and got away from my artistic side. As young adult, I was incarcerated. That’s where I picked it up again.

MI: Your artistic side? Is that where you learned how to tattoo?

Ray: Yeah. I used to draw a lot when I first got incarcerated. People saw my artwork and they said, “you should start tattooing.” There, you make everything yourself. You make the machine out of any kind of motor, a cd player, tape cassette player, hair trimmers, any rotary machine or motor we could get our hands on. You use guitar string, peel the coil off the guitar string, for different gauges for whatever kind of needle you need to make. Prison is like everywhere else—you can get whatever you need, and there are people who specialize in everything. We’d get gloves from boxes they had for when they do shakedowns. So it was able to be done in a sterile manner. You make a new tube, make a new needle, wear gloves…

MI: What about the ink?

Ray: Well you make a baby oil candle—you put a wick in there and it makes a black soot. You catch it and scrape it off. You mix some mouthwash and alcohol and you boil it. It’s actually some pretty black ink. Some of the best work I’ve ever seen was done in prison.

MI: What’s your tattooing style?

Ray: I guess I’m pretty versatile, not stuck on one specific form of tattooing. I’m not totally into the whole Asian/Japanese thing, what I prefer to do is big pieces like sleeves or back pieces, black and gray custom work.

MI: Influenced by the how and where you learned to tattoo?

Ray: Yeah I think that has a lot to do with it. I like black and gray, but I have my own style. There’s movement, flow in my tattoos. I like to have movement in any kind of work, especially the filler work.
To be honest, I don’t get to do much of my own work. Sometimes it’s just a job. People are stubborn and they don’t take your advice, they don’t listen to what you have to say. It’s not so artistic, and that’s when it becomes a job. I like original custom work, when people bring me ideas.

MI: Your artistic purity gets compromised.

Ray: You have to, to survive in New York with all the competition. If you’re not Paul Booth here, you gotta do whatever comes through the door. If someone comes in and says they want a little kanji, you have to do it. At least until you build your reputation and then you can say fuck off.

MI: Tell us about the design you submitted to our contest, “One.”

Ray: Basically the design is an image of me and my kid’s mother. It’s based on a picture of us. She’s actually an artist and she takes a lot of images and does drawings from those images. She would send tons and tons of images to me when I was incarcerated and I would look for something to spark my creative interest.

"One" by hostileink

The actual drawing is 4 feet by 2 feet. It’s charcoal done on vellum and basically it’s what I want to get tattooed on my back. The drawing was a gift for her. I also made a sculpture from the same image. It’s two people becoming one.

MI: Hence the title. The sculpture is really beautiful. How did you make it?

Ray: The sculpture is made of soap. I shaped it down then watered it and turn it into clay. It’s the same way you would work with clay, build upon it and shape it, carve it.

MI: How did you get the color?

Ray: I stained it with coffee, buffed it out with a damp cloth and polyurethane.

MI: Thanks for sharing your story and best of luck in Metal Ink’s design contest!

“Fable” by Jason D’Aquino

Posted in Tattoo shops in New York with tags , on July 2, 2009 by metalinkshop

Following up from our interview with Jason D’Aquino, tattoo artist, miniaturist, and one of the newest members of the Metal Ink community.

In this entry, Jason D’Aquino explains his allegorical work, “Fable.” Enjoy!

"Fable" by Jason D'Aquino


This drawing was on the larger side. It was a commissioned piece for Chi Cheng, which I drew on the back of a child’s instructional paint by number. The image is fairly loaded with meaning and symbols, hence the title.

I guess we could start with the obvious question…what does the banner say? The translation of the Latin text inside the banner is, (top) “It doesn’t matter whether or not they are real” (bottom banner) “what matters is what they mean.” This inscription referred originally to mythological creatures…the sea serpents who dwelled in the uncharted oceans (terra incognita) , the unicorns, dragons, and beasts of the forests.

The creature in the center of the drawing is one such creature, the elusive “manticore” often rendered as a lion with a human head and the tail of a scorpion (sometimes the tail terminated in a fearsome ball of spikes, but I had to forgo that detail for the sake of the birdcage). The manticore’s grin exposes several rows of sharp, angry teeth. The skeleton astride the manticore’s back wears a pointed cap…a magician perhaps, or a dunce. Not much difference really between the highly enlightened and the innocent fool. Both have access to a certain undeniable truth. The lower portion of the skeleton’s body is meant to be a distraction from the game board. She is playing a one-sided game of chess. There are only half as many squares as a typical chessboard, and only white pieces are in play–a game you cannot win. Such is life. Death always wins in the end, so maybe it’s about how you play the game. The birdcage in the lion’s tail is holding a fish. This symbol for me is about religion. The fish in the gilded cage seems ludicrous, as of course, it would suffocate and die. A fish would be far more healthy and comfortable in the deep, dark and secretive embrace of the ocean’s depths, but if it’s down there, no one can see it… This is how most treat their religious convictions. They are merely for show, so that others can see them, but true convictions (in my opinion) should be kept secret, kept safe, deep inside.

The Bee is a symbol of hard work. It is drawn to the flower at the left side of the image. (Fans of the surrealists will recognize this particular flower as a sketch by Breton’s Nadja -“the lover’s flower.”) It sprouts from a pool of blood, pouring from the manticore’s pierced heart. The flower is not real–not in any tangible sense, just as love is not real or tangible. But to toil and spend your life and effort in pursuit of an ideal or an esthetic…is that not noble? Such is art, the only thing I have ever felt was truly worth my effort, and yet to most, a complete waste of time. To each his own, I suppose.

Interview with Jason D’Aquino

Posted in Tattoo shops in New York with tags , on June 26, 2009 by metalinkshop

Metal Ink welcomes Jason D’Aquino as one of the latest designers to submit tattoo-inspired artwork for our ongoing t-shirt design contest. As one of the first tattoo artists to join Metal Ink, we’d like to shine the spotlight on Jason and ask him about his craft. You can vote for Jason’s designs, “Faith” and “Beauty and Beast,” at

"Faith" by matchstickman - Vote on "Beauty and Beast" by matchstickman - Vote on

MI: First off, the standard question so we can get it out of the way: how long have you been tattooing, and how did you start?

Jason: I’ve been tattooing for about 11 years. I was offered an apprenticeship while still in high school, free of charge, but I lived with my grandparents who are traditional Italian. My grandparents said no way, you’re going to college—they were not happy about the idea. I took Visual Arts courses at SUNY and when I graduated, I went right into tattooing. I apprenticed in Kingston, New York. It just seems like tattooing to me is pretty much the only job available to someone who goes out into the world with artistic ability but doesn’t have any gallery credentials to fall back on. It’s the best way to have people come in and pay you on the spot for the trade. With the tattoo business, you’re opening your studio and people are buying daily. It’s a great opportunity for people who want to get started in the arts. Tattooing is not a fringe business. It’s an entry level job into the world of the visual arts.

MI: Who are some other artists who followed a path similar to yours?

Jason: Greg Simkins or “Craola”—he’s also a tattooist but he’s also showing in reputable spots. He’s got a huge following. The lines are becoming blurred between the tattoo artist community and the fine arts community. There’s also Vincent Castiglia. He’s also straddling the line and becoming accomplished in both.

MI: You were talking about the pop-surrealism scene. For those of us, including myself, who are unfamiliar, can tell us how it started, where it’s located?

Jason: It started on the west coast, Robert Williams and the whole California scene. It was bringing hot rod culture, tattoo culture, street art, that sort of thing all together, and it’s turned into a meld of those styles. When Robert Williams started Juxtapoz magazine it sort of solidified around that. The scene moved into New York which used to be a hard nut to crack in terms of the art scene. Now there’s a lot of pop surrealist artists who are being shown. Amanda Wachob is also another…

MI: Right, I interviewed Amanda in New York! She was working at Infinity Tattoo in Hell’s Kitchen. Interestingly, she has a similar trajectory as you do with the family not wanting her to tattoo and being an illustrator before finally going into tattooing.

Jason: I’ve done a lot of commercial illustration gigs. I worked in a few different illustration styles and at one point I was working for a little magazine called Winner. It’s sort of like those Scholastic publications you used to get when you were a kid, but it’s a Christian magazine, and they have messages like don’t do drugs, etc. I was doing what they asked for but finally after a couple years, the editor found my other work, my other art, my own fine arts style, that’s sort of dark and strange, and they released me.

MI: *Laughs* That must have been an awkward conversation! I read in an interview you did previously that you were influenced by your mother, who was also an artist?

Jason: When I was really young, I used to hassle her to draw this, draw that. It amazed me the way she could pull something out of thin air. It was the closest thing I’d ever seen to magic. Pencil instead of a wand but just a few flicks of the wrist and you have something out of nowhere, and it affected me. I wanted to be able to do what she was able to do. I didn’t want to be fireman, policeman like other kids.

MI: I also read that your images tend to have hidden, allegorical meanings. Where do these allegorical images come from? Something you read or saw? What are you alluding to—other works or is it a private language?

Jason: I’m taking thoughts or concepts in my head and I’m turning them into stories but a story without words where the characters and creatures represent parts of a sentence, and what they’re doing and what they’re doing to each other are the adjectives and the verbs. If you can read it, you can make sense of it, but if you can’t, it’s just a jumble of images. Some of them are more involved, some are more simple. You need to be able to translate the words into an image. You need to solidify the thoughts into images. And if someone has the key, they can understand it.

MI: I love your analogy of your work to a sentence with verbs, nouns and adjectives. What would you say is your most dense, intricate, complex piece?

Jason: I did a piece called “Fable” for Chi Cheng from Def Tones. He’s the bass player. He commissioned a piece from me and I made this large intricate drawing called “Fable,” indicating pretty straightforward that it’s a story.

MI: Which you’ve graciously offered to explain for us, detail by detail, in a guest blog entry next week! A preview:

"Fable" by Jason D'Aquino

MI: Let’s talk about how your artwork has affected your tattooing. Are your clients asking for replications of your drawings on their skin?

Jason: Yeah. I wanted to do anything that anyone wanted. I did not want to force my style on someone. I wanted to take each one as a learning experience. I didn’t want to put out a sign saying “capable of:” But now it’s gotten to a point where the clientele are recognizing my fine arts work and coming to me from that angle. Now I can say this is what I want to do and this is how I’ m going to do it. I want to realize their vision. If they come to me through my fine arts then I know that they want to see what I can do.

MI: What do you think of current explosion in tattooing?

Jason: I don’t think of it in those terms. I don’t think of it as a fad—I think the business is going to continue to evolve. It’s like Amanda Wachob: no artist that’s pushing the boundaries is going to be the most popular in their own time. That’s what it means to be an artist. Someone who pushes the boundaries, who tries new techniques in a medium, is an artist, is a pioneer. There’s a big difference between being an artist and being a tattooist. The two are not mutually exclusive but at the same time there are artists working in the tattoo field. But then there are tattooists who don’t do anything else, but as far as expanding the art form, are they contributing? Not necessarily.

What it [the explosion] has done is brought more people with an art background into the field, so the field has improved. As far as the mainstream acceptance thing, I look at shows like Miami Ink and think it’s such a huge misrepresentation of how it works: in 15 mins they have a custom drawing and then soon they have a sleeve. People don’t understand that if something is good, it takes time. Something that’s on television is not necessarily good just because it’s on television.

MI: I’m curious about the image of the smiling face superimposed on suns and clocks.

Jason: You mean the maniacally smiling face on flowers, clocks and suns? That basically is the world, laughing.

MI: *Laughs* What about “Idle hands”? Is that autobiographical?

Jason: Yes. That’s me sitting at the drafting table trying to figure out what to put down, what to do, what to make. Cause I have a struggle inside of myself, that I really want to do children’s books, something that would make people happy. I want to make something happy. But every time I sit down, something sadistic comes out. That’s the devil under the drawing table and the angel trying to stay my hand. What am I supposed to do about it?

"Idle Hands" by Jason D'Aquino

MI: What did you draw when you were a kid?

Jason: When I was little I would copy images from horror movies, sci fi movies. I won a few contests at school in art class. I was usually ruining school desks. Then I went from horror movie things to skulls to album covers. When I went to junior high, the schools were being combined with high schools, so you would wind up alphabetically next to kids who were 5-6 years older than you. They’re talking about drugs and sex and you’re sitting there with your Mickey Mouse back pack. They’d say “I want you to draw Mickey Mouse having sex with Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck smoking a joint.” I had to do it because I would get pounded if I didn’t. But it worked out pretty well, became friends with these guys and they watched out for me.

MI: *Laughs* That’s a great story! Thanks for sharing it. We’ll end on that note and look forward to your explanation of “Fable” next week.


Like artists such as Edward Gorey and writer Lemony Snickett, Jason D’Aquino’s work is clearly influenced by the darker side of childhood, focusing on the wickedly humorous, gleefully gross, and the magically macabre rather than the warm and carefree. D’Aquino’s exceptional drawings have appeared in numerous galleries and influential collections across the United States, and he also has a thriving career as a tattoo artist in New York.

You can visit his website at

Are Tattoo Artists the New Celebrity Chefs?

Posted in Tattoo shops in New York with tags , on June 9, 2009 by metalinkshop

Metal Ink supports the tattoo community. Check out new designs our talented members are posting at This is our final interview in New York, and it couldn’t have ended on a better note. Read on for our first group interview.

Red Rocket Tattoo
46 W 36th St
New York, NY 10018
(212) 736-3001

Mike at Red Rocket Tattoo

Mike at Red Rocket Tattoo

Mike Bellamy
Tattoo Artist/Owner of Red Rocket

Vinny Romanelli
Tattoo Artist

Adam Hays
Tattoo Artist

James Kelly

MI:  Why are we listening to Tchaikovsky?

Mike:  Because it’s amazing, and why shouldn’t you? It’s inspiring, it’s thrilling, it’s romantic.

MI:  I couldn’t agree more!

Vinny:  And it’s better than Slayer.

MI:  Your ipod’s on shuffle?  It’s very eclectic. I’ve visited a bunch of shops in the East Village and Lower East Side and this is the first time I’m listening to classical music.

Mike:  You spent the day where? Go to the doctor afterwards.

MI:  *Laughs.* It’s my old neighborhood. I used to live there for 3 years; I think I’m immune. So why did you set up shop here?

Mike:  We set up 11 years ago because it was away from everybody else. It was away from St Marks and West 4th and all of that stuff. 6th Avenue. Just wanted to get away from all the flash shops and do more custom work. There was nothing here, nothing in the area, so it just seemed perfect. And it just worked out. Everyone comes after work. We get all the secretaries, all the day workers, on their way home after work. It’s been a destination place since it’s close to the subways, there’s Macy’s, there’s hotels, everywhere there’s tourists. It’s a good location. We’re the only ones up here.

MI:  Yeah, that’s different. You don’t have the tattoo iconography on the walls.

Mike:  We have it, but it’s in books. You look around and there are pictures everywhere. We prefer to have artwork. You get inspired by that. We do mostly custom work.

MI:  And everyone has their own style, their own specialty?

Mike:  Everybody has their own style, for sure. Everybody has their own thing they like to do the most.

MI:  It seems that artists have tattoos on themselves of whatever their specialty is.

Vinny:  I don’t have any portraits. I like to do portraits and I don’t have any of them on me. But that’s because I haven’t found a really good local artist to do it.

MI:  Well couldn’t you just do it on yourself, like on your leg?

Vinny:  No. Because it’s not easy to do it and it hurts.

MI:  Seems like a lot of people do it. Or is that a generalization?

Vinny:  It’s not a good idea because you’re dividing your attention between two things. One is being tattooed and handling the experience of it, the pain of it, and the other is being the tattooer and trying to do a good job of it.

MI:  You’ve been here for 11 years. Would you say that tattooing is growing in popularity or have there been fads that come and go, wax and wane?

Mike:  There’s always fads that come and go. Overall it’s grown in popularity. There were a couple TV shows that added to it.

MI:  Why isn’t there a “NY Ink”?

Mike:  It’s a good question, actually. Maybe the formula won’t work here, maybe people turned it down. Maybe artists don’t find it so worthwhile.

Vinny:  I just read something about Kim saying she feels lucky to get out. She and Hannah got out or their contract got terminated because there wasn’t that much in it. There wasn’t enough drama in their lives. They’re actually normal people and good artists.

Mike:  Actually, we got approached to do a show before Miami Ink got out. I’m pretty happy though that we didn’t do it because the idea was to follow us around and what are we going to do? We come here and work, go home, have a beer and walk the dog. Half the time we’re just sitting here doing nothing or watching TV. It’s not super glamorous or dramatic or whatever.

MI:  Did you watch any of those shows?

Vinny:  Those shows are a complete unrealistic portrayal of how everyday tattoo shops work. Most of the people who really work there aren’t on the show.

Mike: I went into the Miami Ink shop once. Not one person looked up at me.

MI:  Kat von D—what do you think about her?

Mike:  It’s like, every reality show is the same. They film for hours and they cut out the moments that are boring.

Adam:  And I don’t want to know what the meaning of the tattoo is, just as long as it’s meaningful to you.

MI:  Okay, reality TV sucks. I love all the masks on your wall. Did you travel around the world and collect them?

Mike:  Yes. Some are gifts, some are collections from travels same with everything in here. I wanted this place to feel like our living room, our collective house. All from our experience living in the world. And it’ carries over; it’s not like a doctor’s office. People come in here and feel comfortable. It feels lived in, it’s cozy, it’s livable and comfortable. It’s not like people waiting outside are tapping their foot because they can relax and watch the fish in the fish tank and listen to the music.

MI:  What about all the crosses on the wall? Same as the masks?

Mike:  With the crosses it’s all about the image. There’s a lot of Catholic imagery in American tattooing so that kind of plays off of it.

MI:  What’s your specialty?

Mike:  I do a lot of Japanese inspired work. A lot of color, a lot of realism. Coy fish, dragons, cherry blossoms, masks…

Adam:  Water, waves, wind.

Mike:  A lot of those turn into bigger pieces, backs, arms, legs, whole bodies.

Vinny:  Do you have a tattoo?

MI:  Another first! None of the artists I interviewed asked me that! Does the henna tattoo I got a couple months ago count?

Mike:  No. No skin got punctured, so that’s not a tattoo.

MI:  So what do you call that?

Mike:  It’s a henna drawing.

MI:  Changing topics. It seems tattoo artists are the new celebrities. More recently it was all about celebrity chefs, now it’s celebrity tattoo artists.

Mike:  We don’t want to be celebrities. All chefs want to be on shows. They want to be celebrities.

Adam:  Those guys are douche bags.

Mike:  The idea that the world is looking at us as the new rock stars or the new chefs or whatever is just not interesting. It’s not interesting to us because we’re just trying to be the best artists we can. We’re not looking to be celebrities.

The crew at Red Rocket Tattoo

The crew at Red Rocket Tattoo

MI:  Where do you see tattooing going?

Mike:  Personally I see it not so far in the future taking a huge popularity crash. Because everybody and their mother has one little one they got somewhere because they thought it was cute and they thought it was trendy. And all of those people are going to regret it. The people who are still seriously interested are still going to be doing it. The people who are doing the research, the people who are still serious about it will still be doing it. I see a lot of places of closing, a lot of places crashing. Everybody who can pick up a crayon thinks they can be a tattoo artist and their shops and clients are regretting it. I started before it was actually legal. So you kind of have to really want to do it. I think it’s going to go back to that. The people who are really interested in it and not for the fame or the glamour, the solid ones—the other ones get the fuck out.

MI:  It’s interesting that there isn’t a school for learning how to tattoo. Most people seem to have started by picking it up and practicing on themselves and their friends.

Mike:  I think somewhere there is a school and it’s probably a joke. When I started out they were selling tattoo kits on the backs of magazines and for 400 bucks you could get all your equipment and a certificate, like getting your diploma through the internet.

All:  *Laugh.*

Mike:  You know the real tried and true way is the old fashioned apprentice way. You find a shop and you try and get in. You have to prove your interest and you have to do all the crap work before you can even start tattooing. This is a craft that will last you a lifetime. This should be your income for the rest of your life. It should be a lifelong commitment. If you think you can pick it up and tattoo someone in 6 months, you will be doing a bad job. You will be doing a disservice. If you think of it as a lifelong goal, you’ll be learning something. When you learn something, you have to protect it, you have to use it well.

MI:  What advice can you offer to young kids out there who want to become a tattoo artist?

Mike:  I was standing next to Jack Rudy, a long time old school tattooer. A young kid comes up to him and asks him, “How do I go about tattooing?” He said, “You don’t. You just quit.” He told him to just quit. That’s the old school way. He was testing him. He was testing his tenacity. If the kid goes yeah okay and quits, then he wasn’t cut out for it anyway. But if he’s like, “Oh, but I will!” then maybe he’s got a shot.

Last Stop on the East Side

Posted in Tattoo shops in New York with tags , on June 9, 2009 by metalinkshop

Lots of buzz about East Side Ink, and we were lucky enough to talk with Bang Bang. Metal Ink shows our love for tattooing. Visit us at

East Side Ink
97 Avenue B
New York, NY 10009
(212) 477-2060

East Side Ink

East Side Ink

Bang Bang
Tattoo Artist
Bang Bang’s tattoos

MI:  Let’s start with the obvious. How did you come to tattoo the guns on Rihanna’s sides?

BB:  She saw a Freddy Kruger tattoo I did about 3 years ago. She tracked me down through one of my friends who’s a piercer. I’ve done about 4-5 tattoos for her. The first one I did was a Sanskrit tattoo on her hip and that same day she had on a little necklace of a gun and I said we should tattoo it.

MI:  I talked to your friend Carlos at Infinity Tattoo in Hell’s Kitchen. He said you got flown out to LA to tattoo Rihanna?

BB:  She flew me out there for one of her friends as a birthday present. And then while I was out there, we did the tattoos.

MI:  You said to her remember that gun three years ago?

BB:  I see her every 6 months, and every time I say, “Let’s do that gun.”

MI:  What other of her tattoos have you done?

BB:  Shush on her finger, her best friend’s birthday on her shoulder, her hip, stars on the back of her neck. Oh, and the guns. And her best friend has the same one. She also has the gun. Nobody asks about her friend though.

MI:  What about all the controversy surrounding those guns?

BB:  It’s just a tattoo. It’s bullshit how people try to find too much meaning. It don’t mean shit. It looks cool.

Bang Bang for Rihanna

Bang Bang for Rihanna

MI:  So it has nothing to do with her relationship with Chris Brown?

BB:  I don’t know anything about her relationship. I know whatever everyone else knows. I know we talked about it [the tattoo] long before they were dating.

MI:  Do you feel like you became an instant celebrity of sorts for doing the guns on Rihanna?

BB:  No, she’s a celebrity. People don’t ask about me.

MI:  But you got media attention, didn’t you?

BB:  3 or 4 different TV shows, People magazine and MTV called me. Life and Style, you know, newspapers from across the world, Australia, New Zealand…

MI:  Your 15 minutes of fame!

BB:  No way! No one cared about me. The thing is, I was the first person to see her after the media bullshit.

MI:  Did you take all the interviews?

BB:  Yeah as many as I could. My phone didn’t stop ringing for 3 days.

MI:  Wasn’t it a rush to get all that attention?

BB:  It would have been if it was from what I was capable of. It [the tattoo] took about 3 minutes to do. And then for a whole month, the whole world is going apeshit over it. Not because of the art aspect of it, but because of the situation. It’s what people wanted to make of it.

MI:  Did you get any new clients because of the media?

BB:  Yeah, I’d get people come in and say, “I read about you in a tabloid.” Cool. *Thumbs up sign.*

MI:  I read that the guns were supposed to go on her shoulders, but they ended up on her sides because Cover Girl wouldn’t approve.

BB:  I said that. I don’t know whether Cover Girl would like it or not, but I wrote it on my Myspace and my quote went everywhere. It’s a cool thing to be a Cover Girl. She’s beautiful, she’s awesome. That’s what they go for, natural beauty.

MI:  And Rihanna sided with your opinion.

BB:  We talked about how it would take away from her face. That’s what you see, face, shoulders.
Tattoos on shoulders would detract from face.

MI:  I see that you have a gun tattoo on your neck.

BB:  I have a couple of them.

MI:  Is that how you got your name?

BB:  Yeah, after I got it done, someone called me Bang Bang just once and it stuck. I got it when I was 18. I’m 23, so 5 years ago.

MI:  How did you start tattooing?

BB:  I was in high school and I could always draw and I was going to go to college for design just like every kid who could draw back in 2004. My dad’s a designer, he worked for Disney and he has his own design company. I come from good stock. *Laughs.* Anyway I had tattoos. I got the equipment and I started tattooing myself and I thought I was good but I wasn’t. I wasn’t the worst in the world, but I was pretty not good. I did friends, cousins, eventually coworkers. I charged them. When you’re in high school and you’re making 150 bucks a day is a tone of money especially when you’re in any other city besides New York. So I quit my job at Red Lobster to tattoo more at my mom’s house. I eventually got a job at a tattoo shop. I quit high school. I wanted to tattoo forever, and I got my neck tattooed so there was no turning back. So I took it seriously and I didn’t give up.

MI:  That’s really inspirational!

Abstractions in Alphabet City

Posted in Tattoo shops in New York with tags , on June 8, 2009 by metalinkshop

A text message past midnight from an unknown number usually means only one thing: a request for an interview from a tattoo artist! If this project interests you, please go to the Metal Ink website at and post your shop’s name and contact info in the forum.

Abstract Black Tattoo
621 E. 11th Street
New York, NY 10009
(347) 351-5223

Byron at Abstract Black
Byron at Abstract Black

Byron Velasquez
Tattoo Artist/Owner of Abstract Black
Byron’s tattoos

MI:  I love your work, it’s so different, so unique from anything else I’ve been seeing. How did you develop your style?

Byron:  I used to work in the Caribbean. I was working out in Puerto Rico for 8 years as my base. I traveled to St. Thomas, St. Martin, St. John, Aruba, Bermuda, all the Virgin Islands. You know people out there have a lot of dark skin so I started doing a lot of darker, black work.

MI:  Looks better on darker skin.

Byron:  Right, then I got a gig with Leo Zulueta. He’s on La Brea, in Los Angeles. After 8 years of being in Puerto Rico, I took one year off and worked in LA. I also worked with Ron Zulu.

MI:  Metal Ink is based in LA! We’re going to do interviews there next month. Tell me more about your time in LA.

Byron:  My year in LA was great. I have family out there, and that led me to LA. I was there with my portfolio looking for a gig. I was looking for an escape from Puerto Rico. I had my shop running by itself so I didn’t really need to be there.

MI:  How did you meet Leo Zulueta?

Byron:  My mentor was shopping the floor of his own shop, and he was about to close the shop but he looked at my stuff. He got me a room on La Brea and Sunset, a total hooker hotel and shit, it was crazy there. But I got the gig and I used to take the bus to the shop at first. Then Draco Rosa got me a car for a tattoo.

MI:  He got you a car in exchange for a tattoo?

Byron:  76 Buick! I had a ton of friends, people who used to get work done by me. It was the whole rock and roll lifestyle. It was a fast and fun lifestyle but it was only for that time. It couldn’t last. I had to go back but I realized I didn’t want to live in Puerto Rico. I realized I needed more. It’s cool but it’s not enough, not fast enough.

MI:  So where do you go next?

Byron:  So I got a gig in New York at Rising Dragon that was in Chelsea Hotel, worked with some really good artists. Moved back to New York, you know.

MI:  You’re from here originally?

Byron:  Born and raised. I was 18 years old when I went to Puerto Rico. I went back to New York in my early 20s. Got the gig at Rising Dragon, amazing adventure, great learning point in my career—spent 9 years there.

MI:  And now you’re doing your own thing.

Byron:  Now I’ve got my own shop and I’m planning on doing custom black work. Everything is going to be creative and custom. Sticking to the culture as well but expanding on it, just breaking it. All original. There’s a lot of followers out there. I want leaders. Eventually I’m going to keep the small shop and expand to the Avenues. But keep the theme black. Everything black. I think Black Wave was one of my inspirations.

MI:  What is Black Wave?

Byron:  Black Wave is Leo Zulueta’s shop or it used to be. Now he tattoos in New Zealand or Hawaii.

Amor Design at Abstract Black
Amor Design at Abstract Black

MI:  You said earlier that you want leaders not followers. Who have you brought on board?

Byron:  I have a tattoo artist named Azi, he’s a Puerto Rican tattoo artist who lived in New Zealand for two years and he came back with the culture of being Puerto Rican, Taino, fusing it with New Zealand, Maori, Polynesian.

MI:  Is that would you would call tribal?

Byron:  Tribal is what you see on The Rock.

MI:  Oh right, he’s part Polynesian. And he’s the one who really shined the spotlight on tribal.

Byron:  Yeah, but way before The Rock came along, people who have a love for tribal tattooing have been using it to adorn the body, taking from the culture, but you know, modifying it into something else.

MI:  Did something get lost in the translation with that adoption?

Byron:  Each line and detail on those Polynesian designs has a meaning, to the family, to Mother Earth, you know, they all have specific meanings. It’s a culture that’s respected, but now it’s been so redesigned that it’s become a tool in designing tattoos.

MI:  Like it’s just a theme.

Byron:  Yeah, it’s like Japanese tattooing. There are so many Americans, Brazilians, all these people who aren’t Japanese, but they use the art. They don’t even know what it means, but they use it, they break the rules.

MI:  Some people would say that Chinese ideographs, kanji, and even tribal, are all fads that came and went, had their heyday.

Byron:  I see each artist who really is a tattoo artist, not someone who does Flash, someone who does custom work—that artist will respect their art and master it. I say that because some people say that tribal has passed but it’s a culture that has existed for many centuries and will continue regardless of tattooing. When you love something, when you love drawing, art, it lives all the way to the end. It’s just your love for it that drives you to master it. Some people specialize and some people just follow lines and color in. They’re like, “Okay there’s your tattoo” and take your money. There are differences in tattoo artists.

MI:  They’re the artists who paint by numbers. By the way, you know I was just playing devil’s advocate about tribal being a fad.

Byron:  Yeah, but I think Chinese characters did have their heyday. The way I see it, if you’re tattoo artist, you’ll die a tattoo artist.

E.vill Monday

Posted in Tattoo shops in New York with tags , on June 8, 2009 by metalinkshop

Walking through East Village, tracking down tattoo artists for the Metal Ink blog. Visit our website at

Addiction Ink
120 Saint Marks Place
New York, NY 10009
(212) 420-1465

Neal at Addiction Ink

Neal at Addiction Ink

Neal Aultman
Tattoo Artist
Neal’s tattoos

MI:  You have a degree in graphic design. Was that your original career path?

Neal:  I went to Pratt in ’98 for Graphic Design. I was just going to be a graphic designer but I wound up getting some tattoo equipment somehow, and I started practicing on my friends. I guess I got good at it. I had a job as a graphic designer. I hated the shit out of it so that’s how I became a tattoo artist.

MI:  You started tattooing while you were working as a graphic designer?

Neal:  I used to tattoo in college too. I didn’t want to work in a cubicle any more. But now I work in a cubicle. *Laughs.* I didn’t want to wear a buttoned shirt.

MI:  Fair enough. That’s a good reason in my book. What was the first tattoo you ever did?

Neal:  It was a snowflake, by request. It was on a girl. I did it in a light blue. I had no idea what I was doing and I scarred her.

MI:  Are you still friends?

Neal:  No, we weren’t friends to begin with. Some girl bought me all this equipment so that I could tattoo her. But she wanted me to do her friend first, and two hours later she was like, that’s good enough and I did her. It was so much better on the second girl. I ended up doing a lot of work on her. I kept getting better, and more people found out. That was 4 and a half years ago.

MI:  Have you only been tattooing in New York?

Neal:  I started out in this little bitty shitty shop on Christopher Street. My clientele was primarily lesbians from New Jersey.

MI:  What kind of designs did they gravitate to?

Neal:  Rainbows, triangles, hearts, stars. Tribal too.

MI:  That must have been tedious.

Neal:  Yeah, it got real old.

MI:  So you don’t really like tribal?

Neal:  It’s mostly gay men, big dues, or chicks who don’t really know what they want. I don’t mind doing Polynesian black work, but that neo tribal crap is overplayed.

MI:  What style do you do?

Neal:  I mostly do portraits and traditional. Or Neo-traditional, new style traditional, still the same hard lines, gradient and colored, but weird stuff. New subject matter. You take a traditional subject and make it weird.

Traditional rose

Traditional rose

Keyhole rose

Keyhole rose

MI:  Where do you get your inspiration?

Neal:  Sometimes it comes to me, sometimes somebody will ask me for something. Ideas build off of other ideas. Sometimes I’ll be looking at a magazine and I’ll draw it in my own way.

MI:  What do you think about the west coast vs. east coast in terms of tattooing?

Neal:  West coast is totally different. New York is more business. There are a lot of shops here but not a lot of the owners care about the art; they’re more about the money. A lot of the shops aren’t even owned by people who have tattoos. Sell some bongs, you do the tattoos, make money. But people on the west coast are really about tattooing, and they’re about doing bigger tattoos. New York is one of the shittiest places to tattoo because you’ve got some of the best people and some of the worst but more of the bad people. Philly has the brotherhood of the world thing. They all know each other and they’re all tightly connected and they’re all good. New York is more cutthroat and shit-talking and being a rock star.

MI:  You could say that about any industry in New York. What city would you work in if you could decide?

Neal:  I’m moving to Seattle in the fall.

MI:  So Seattle’s the place to be?

Neal:  I have a friend who’s from there and he kinda talked it up for me. You know what, I’ve never been there but why not? Move there for a year, if I don’t like it, bail, move back to New York. It’s like, once you’ve been in New York, you can do that. I’ve been here for 11 years, this is my home. Even if I leave, New York will always be the base. I could always move back here. I’m from New Orleans though. In New Orleans, the tattoo scene is dead, from what I hear.

MI:  I’m from San Francisco. Kinda biased, but I really like the Pacific Northwest.

Neal:  I don’t go to San Francisco because I have 4 ex-girlfriends who live there.

MI:  *Laughs.*

Neal:  Some of the best tattoo artists live in SF.

MI:  Who? I’m going back to SF on Wednesday and I’m going to start interviewing artists there.

Neal:  Let’s see…there’s Grim, Jason Kundell, Paco Excel…and you got a lot of Horis, traditional Japanese people.

MI:  Thanks, I’ll look them up!