Archive for nyc tattoo shops

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!

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!

A Sunday Afternoon Jaunt through Lower East Side

Posted in Tattoo shops in New York with tags , on June 7, 2009 by metalinkshop

List in hand and going on 2 hours of sleep, the courageous blogger sallies forth to LES. Visit the Metal Ink website at

Daredevil Tattoo
174 Ludlow St
NYC, NY 10002
(212) 533-8303

Brad & Amanda at Daredevil Tattoo

Brad & Amanda at Daredevil Tattoo

Brad Stevens
Tattoo Artist
Brad’s tattoos

MI:  How did you get started tattooing?

Brad:  I just drew a lot, painted a lot. I just wanted to go in that direction until someone taught me how to tattoo.

MI:  What do you draw?

Brad:  Traditional Americana tattoo designs. But maybe more fancy—I  don’t know how to put it. Maybe more cleaned up, but it’s basic, classic. You know, the really traditional sailors, Sailor Jerry, birds, skulls.

MI:  What was your first tattoo?

Brad:  It was on the guy who was teaching me how to tattoo. It was a razor or something like that.

MI:  And what was the first tattoo that you did on someone else?

Brad:  My first was a heart and rose, pretty standard.

MI:  Who are your inspirations?

Brad:  A lot of my inspirations are the older tattooers who don’t tattoo anymore or are dead. Bert Grimm, Owen Jensen. Long dead, from the 30s. It’s kinda cliché now, but I like Ed Hardy’s tattoos.

MI:  What’s special about this shop?

Brad:  There’s a lot of people with specializations. Like Amanda who does a lot of painterly stuff. And I do a lot of classical stuff.

MI:  What’s your proudest work, or your favorite work?

Brad:  I wouldn’t say there’s a proudest because I try to do my best on every tattoo. So ideally, my favorite tattoo would be the first one I did.

MI:  What do you think about tattooing becoming more mainstream?

Brad:  I don’t know…I don’t like it. I wish it still had a dangerous element. People come in with a chip on the shoulder and they’re like, “I’ve seen Miami Ink. I know how it’s done.” How tough can someone be if they can buy it at a mall? I see soccer moms are coming in with their Ed Hardy t-shirts.

MI:  So speaking of malls, what do you think of the chain tattoo store idea? Tattoo nation.
Brad:  Actually there was a guy who came in here doing a story. Even he was like, “How cool can a tattoo shop be if it’s in the shadow of a Lady Footlocker?”

MI:  So it’s just a trend that will pass?

Brad:  I think it’ll die down and I think the tattoo industry will take a hit too because it’s becoming so mainstream. There’s so many people starting to tattoo now and the mediocre ones won’t have anything to do when it dies down. I think tattoos will be like Hammer pants.

MI:  Ouch.

Brad:  It’s just a surge. Like in the 90s it was popular. 10 year cycle.

MI:  But you have to admit, it’s bigger now than it was then, and hammer pants have yet to make a comeback. What about how soccer moms are the fastest growing demographic to get tattoos? Why do you think soccer moms are getting tattooed?

Brad:  Because they think it’s cute. It might be a midlife thing—they always wanted a tattoo and now they can because it’s acceptable. It’s more acceptable, it’s more accessible, it doesn’t have that seedy element and their friends are going to approve of it. I don’t think that demographic is being more risky. It’s the same as it always has been. It’s just more acceptable now.


Amanda's unique painterly designs

Amanda's unique painterly designs

Amanda Wachob
Tattoo Artist/Painter
Amanda’s tattoos

MI:  You have an interesting name. Where is it from?

Amanda:  Scotland. Usually if I meet a Wachob, I’m relatd to them somehow.

MI:  Your tattoos on your arm are so flirty and feminine. Your tattoos are really unique!

Amanda:  They’re from sheet music from around 1910. There’s a lot of nameless art floating around out there; the artists didn’t get credit.

MI:  Where do you find it?

Amanda:  You’ve seen old sheet music with art on the front covers? I usually go to flea markets or estate sales—you kind of have to hunt around a little.

MI:  It reminds me of Aubrey Beardsly.

Amanda:  Yeah definitely. I’ve done some Aubrey Beardsly and people often bring in his stuff as a reference.

MI:  So they don’t just point and ask to replicate? They ask you to take that as your source of inspiration?

Amanda:  Right. They like the line quality the detailed illustrative style. I’m also a painter, and I’m always looking for a way to combine the two mediums. I used to feel like I had to admit to one thing but not to the other, but I love both things equally, so I wanted to figure out a way to make them overlap.

MI:  Name a current trend in tattooing.

Amanda:  Cherry blossoms.

MI:  That’s very Japanese. How do you feel about it?

Amanda:  You know it’s fun the first couple of times, but when person after person comes in wanting cherry blossoms in the same watercolor style, it becomes kind of monotonous and not very unique.

MI:  Where do they usually get it done?

Amanda:  Arm and shoulder area.

MI:  Branches haha. What’s the most out there part of the body you’ve tattooed?

Amanda:  It’s always interesting being asked to tattoo genitalia.

MI:  Is it usually men or women who ask for this?

Amanda:  Well, I haven’t done a lot, but it’s equal.

MI:  I would imagine it’s more painful for a man.

Amanda:  I couldn’t even guess, honestly.

MI:  So there’s a lot of different parts, you know, machinery, on a man…where do they want to get tattooed? Shaft, scrotum?

Amanda:  The whole junk, everything.

MI:  What are the designs that they want?

Amanda:  Well, it varies. I sort of curse those tattoo books floating around because it just gives people ideas.

MI:  Give an example of what you’ve done.

Amanda:  A cupcake, on a woman.

MI:  Aww, that’s so sweet. Did it have a cherry on top?

Amanda:  Yeah.

One Helluva Shop in Hell’s Kitchen

Posted in Tattoo shops in New York with tags , on June 6, 2009 by metalinkshop

Due to inclement weather (why’s it raining again?!), the list of tattoo shops to visit didn’t materialize. Instead, I went to the shop closest to the apartment where I’m staying, which turned out to be a serendipitous find. A big THANK YOU! to the 2 artists I met at Infinity Tattoo, Carlos and Wendi, who took a couple smoke breaks to answer my questions and pose for photos that will (one day) be posted on the Metal Ink website.

Infinity Tattoo

614 8th Ave
New York, NY 10018
(212) 398-2598

Carlos at Infinity Tattoo

Carlos at Infinity Tattoo

Carlos Gonzales
Tattoo Artist/Painter
Carlos’ tattoos

MI:  How long have you been working as a tattoo artist?

Carlos:  I’ve been tattooing for 9 years.

MI:  How did you get into it?

Carlos:  When I was an art student in Puerto Rico, a friend who worked at a tattoo shop needed help, so he asked me.

MI:  You were a born natural!

Carlos:  Yeah, I fell in love with it, because you can put your artwork on someone’s skin forever. I think it’s pretty amazing. It sucks when people take stuff from the walls, because that’s not your artwork. I did a demon just now, an African mask.

MI:  Describe the process. How did it happen?

Carlos:  She saw my portfolio online and she told me what she wanted.

MI:  You delivered! Seems you’re into the horror stuff…

Carlos:  Yeah, I also wanted to be in the horror movie business, like doing make-up horror. But it was $30K, too much to do the training.

MI:  What about tattooing in Manhattan is different from any other city?

Carlos:  It’s the same people, same questions, same urge to do it. Germany, Liverpool, PR, Norway. The good thing about tattooing is you get to travel. Like any freelance work.

MI:  What’s your favorite type of tattoo?

Carlos:  I would say dark images, related to surrealism. Something that your subconscious brings. I just let my hand go free, and see what comes out, like a dream. Demons and things, but I’m not religious.

MI:  Haha, yeah you and every other New Yorker.

Dragon painting

Dragon painting

Carlos:  It’s more about the people you do than about the tattoos.

MI:  Tell us about the tattoos on your arms.

Carlos:  They’re all horror-related. Sailor, pirates, Frankenstein, zombies, Bride of Frankenstein, more zombies.

MI:  What’s on your legs?

Carlos:  The left one’s Sailor Jerry Flash. He was in the Navy, I think, and he was a tattoo artist, classic. I got it before explosion.

MI:  You were first. *Smiles.*

Carlos:  On the right is Metaluna from “This Island Earth” and next to it is The Misfits.

MI:  Has anyone ever told you that you look like that character that Johnny Depp played in that film about that director who made horror B movies? You know…

Carlos:  You mean Ed Wood? The Tim Burton movie.

MI:  Yeah! You’re a Johnny Depp look-a-like!

Carlos:  *Laughs.* Thanks, but I don’t cross-dress like Ed Wood did.

MI:  Who are your favorite inked celebrities?

Carlos: I don’t follow celebrities. But one of my friends tattooed Rihanna recently—you know the guns on her sides? His name’s Bang Bang and he works at East Side Ink and Whatever Tattoos. He was on CNN talking about it.

MI:  We’ll be visiting those shops next week! Name some tattoo artists you admire.

Carlos:  Guy Atchison because he does organic, bio-mechanic forms. Very bright colors. Dimensional. Also Filip Leu, who does Japanese work. His whole family tattoos, like his father, mother, even his kid, I think. He’s from Switzerland.

MI:  Anyone else?

Carlos:  Joshua Carlton. He does horror images. If you come in with a poster of a horror movie, he’ll do it, all slimey and stuff.

MI:  That’s great. Slime on skin.


Wendi at Infinity Tattoo

Wendi at Infinity Tattoo

Wendi Koontz
Tattoo Artist
Wendi’s website

MI:  Let’s start by explaining Metal Ink: we’re like a tattoo-inspired Threadless.

Wendy:  I know them! I used to be an illustrator for teen’s magazines and children’s books. I actually submitted something for Threadless once.

MI:  Nice. How was your experience?

Wendy:  I drew something and my friends were like, “Send it to Threadless!” It was more as a joke, but people got offended.

MI:  Really! Why?

Wendy:  I had those tree car freshener things on either side, under the armpits. Some people made comments like, why would you want to call attention to your armpits? That’s gross!

MI:  *Laughs.* I’d wear it!

Wendy:  It didn’t get printed.

MI:  Let’s talk about the tattoo industry.

Wendy:  Tattoo Nation! I saw it on the news, it’s making tattooing like Starbucks. I don’t know how I feel about it. You’re losing the lifestyle and that essence that is a tattoo shop. You lose that when you chain it out. You know, it’s the difference between going to a mom and pop coffee shop vs. going to a Starbucks. It’s more personal to go to a creepy mom and pop diner on the corner, you know, than going to a Dean and Deluca. What are you actually buying with something that’s mass produced? Is it going to hurt the industry or be good? It takes away from finding the right artist. But then again, most people just go to a shop and hope for the best.

MI:  How should you go about it then?

Wendy: Find someone whose artwork in general best fits your personality and go with that. There’s the type, I call “collectors” who seek out certain artists for what they do. That’s the trouble with the chain store model of tattoo shops. Are these chain stores going to make it harder for people to grow as artsits who are sought out for their work?

MI:  Right, like is it going to make the designs cookie cutter? Here’s an analogy: you can’t go to McDonald’s in New Jersey…

Wendy:  …and get a lobster! Maybe it is that way, maybe it’s not. I’m curious to see how Tattoo Nation works. Is it something that devalues what I believe or is it something that’s just a different way of approaching it?

MI:  How long have you been tattooing and how did you get started?

Wendy:  I actually started when I was 19 in Ohio. And I tattooed for about 2 years and then I quit because my parents didn’t think it was a real job. I kinda think it boiled down to respecting your family. I got a corporate job, I worked for American greetings, school, other jobs. But the whole time I didn’t want to stop tattooing.

MI:  So you never got over it.

Wendy:  This is kinda sad but my mom watches Oprah a lot and you know how Oprah always says she didn’t know who she was until she was 30. So my mom was telling me this a couple years ago, and it coincided with what I was thinking about—that I was not happy in any other job that I had. I asked myself, what’s so bad about it [tattooing]? I readjusted what I thought and what other people thought. Doing something just because other people think it’s appropriate is not really a good way to live. So I told my parents, “I know you guys hate it, but I’m doing it again.” It was the whole Oprah thing. It’s not the job, it’s the person that you have to look at. My mom’s from a different generation, where if you’re a tattoo artist you’re a criminal or something.

MI:  So it was all thanks to Oprah!

Wendy:  Yes, thanks to Oprah, my mom kinda changed her mind. Sometimes I feel like writing Oprah and telling her thanks. But I think it’s true once you hit 30, 31, you know yourself better. I did all the things that other people want me to do. It didn’t make me happy, now I’m going to do what I want to do.

MI:  That’s amazing—you took a break for 10 years!

Wendy:  Yeah, I quit for 10 years. Most artists at my level are so much younger than I am. 35 vs. 25

And coming back, I found that so much has changed.

MI:  What changed in the 10 years you were away?

Wendy:  Just a change in perception about how people view tattoos, tattooing. TV shows helped a lot, people explaining why they wanted a tattoo. Most cities had a law against tattooing, but it started exploding in the early 90s.

MI:  Really, a law?

Wendy:  Yeah, a social vice law or something. But cities did away with it. I think in Cleveland it happened in 2005. Most communities like the one where I grew up had laws against it. It was considered a deviant art form that lives out in the backwoods. Nowadays, tattoos are more of an art form and not something you got while doing time.

MI:  Tell us about the type of designs you do.

Wendy:  It’s very feminine. When I was younger, whenever I went to a tattoo shop, I never saw anything that was particularly feminine. There was a hole. There weren’t designs that were downright pretty. If you want me to do something creepy it won’t come naturally to me. Mine is more feminine, floral, girly stuff.

Japanese lady

Japanese design by Wendi

MI:  Are most of your clients women?

Wendy:  Interestingly, they’re not all women. I think it’s all just how you perceive what’s masculine vs. feminine. Like the guy I was just working on, he was getting tattoos that commemorated his daughters.