Saturday, February 28, 2009
I remember the first time I watched a new reality show called Miami Ink a few years back on TLC. It featured the daily life experiences in a small tattoo shop on South Beach, as well as explored the relationship between the artist and the client. The show offered an interesting insight into the meaningful experience that getting a tattoo can be and I found myself fascinated by the entire process, from concept to creation, that comprised this permanent form of artistic expression. Little did I know that one day I would have the opportunity to witness first hand what it's like for someone to receive a tattoo...
Last week my best friend Ryan, A.K.A. Ryshu embarked on the final leg of a journey that began several months back with the conceptualizing of his 2nd tattoo in less than a year. It has been said that once you get your first tattoo you become hooked, and every subsequent one comes easier and more quickly. This seems to be the case with Ryan, who after receiving his first ink in May 2008, almost immediately began the process of inventing his next piece along with finding the artist who would execute it's creation. It turns out that choosing the artist is a pretty important step in getting a tattoo, as the days of walking into your average tattoo shop and picking a random design off the wall seem to no longer be. These days it's common to find that people research different artists, looking for the style that perfectly fits the design needs. This results in the creation of a unique partnership bonded by the intense experience getting a tattoo can be. This turned out to be exactly the case with Ryan and his chosen artist, Tom "Ugly" Michael who came to Atlanta as a visiting artist for one week at Ink and Dagger Tattoo.
Ryan and Tom...Partners in Crime
Ryan's appointment was at 1:00 PM and was scheduled to last 8 hours. I accompanied him on his trip there and shared in the anticipation of the day. Ryan and Tom had consulted on a design and this was the first time we were going to see the final art to be applied. Ryan's design was based off of an old Japanese Print that featured a Samurai riding horseback, and he asked Tom to customize it in his own way. As the art was revealed to us for the 1st time, it was obvious that Tom was a master and that Ryan was in good hands. It was a beautiful drawing filled with detail and it was big. The proposed design would start on Ryan's shoulder and end at his elbow. It looked like it was going to be a long day, so I decided I would leave them at it and return later when things were well under way...
The black outline almost complete
When I returned to the shop 5 hours later I was blown away. Tom had just about completed the outline and it was stunning. Tom is truly a master, and by the way, one of the nicest guys I've ever met. Society has a way of determining worthiness based on appearance and tattoo artists are typically on the fringe when using this criteria. Judging a book by its cover is never good, and Tom exemplifies this notion as his seemingly hard exterior is completely contrary to his very approachable personality. Upon entering the room it was obvious that not only Ryan and Tom were good buddies at this point, but that I was also welcome there, and Tom did a nice job of creating a comfort zone that enabled me to photograph at will. As a result I was able to have my own "Miami Ink" experience with first hand access to the process and the artist.
For the next 5 hours I hung out, and while Tom did his job I did mine. Not only was I there to document the experience photographically, but I also played the role of support for Ryan. Any curiosity about the level of pain one experiences when getting a tattoo can be cleared up by witnessing one being applied live, especially when it is of this magnitude. Ryan was a trooper, and he managed to survive, but not without obviously suffering for the cause. I watched all day as Ryan winced through much discomfort, constantly fighting back the reality of 10 hours worth of needles repeatedly penetrating the skin with an intense force and velocity that does not let up from beginning to end.
It's really a lot less pleasant than it looks here
The whole process was really interesting to watch. As I have been recently experiencing my own artistic awakening, I find myself very aware of the constructive approach to design. It's very methodical and usually involves a step by step process to achieve the final result. Creating a tattoo is very similar to this as it involves 3 distinct phases. The first is in setting up the black outline. Then comes the shading, giving the important detail necessary to create that 3-dimensional sense. Finally comes the coloring, which really finishes off the piece in dramatic fashion. Every artist has a different approach, and I really got into watching how Tom tackled this monumental piece. Adding to this was the fact that Tom was really into the artwork itself, as he does not often get the chance to create on this level, and it was obvious that he was putting his all into the work. There was no rushing, no corners cut, and he worked through the marathon session with intense passion.
As the night wore on, and the tattoo shop had long been closed, the three of us grew together. We took several short brakes, got to know each other in little ways, and developed a cool bond over the experience. All of us "suffered" in our own way, and as a result can identify with the work separately. It was great watching Tom shine as he executed a work that his heart was totally into, and watching the transformation Ryan experienced, both physically and emotionally. It's a powerful experience watching someone receive a tattoo, and I am thankful that I got to take part. It truly is a powerful collaboration that can occur and when done well can lead to amazing results.
It's 1 AM and the job is finally well done
If you'd like to get a different perspective on this experience head over to Ryan's Blog to get a sense of what it's like to actually receive this awesome piece. Also, check out my Photobucket Portfolio to view more photos. Thanks again Tom for allowing me to take part, and to Ryan for being manly enough to endure it. It was an experience that I will remember for a long time to come...