Tuesday, September 25, 2012


It seems like a long time now that I've been able to update this blog.  I'm starting to realize that I'm missing it, and it was becoming a pretty great tool for some self reflection and critique on how I work.  I'm not a real embracer of technology, nor have I ever been the journal keeping type, but something about being able to combine the images with my rambling thoughts totally works for me. 
 Newborn son, moving the tattoo studio to a temporary location while my building gets remodeled (more on that another time), guest artist and friend Horimasa staying with me and working for 5 weeks, in addition to the usual day to day non stopness has really eaten up any free time I used to have.
All's well though, and I've been constantly on my toes starting and continuing some really fun projects. Hoping to catalog some recent pictures and get them up soon...
One thing that is happening this week is that my helper (I need all I can get) and I are finally ready to schedule 2013.  Thanks so much to those on the wait list for their patience and understanding.  With on going work and new projects waiting in the wings, it looks like a decent chunk of the year will be spoken for, but if anyone is interested in time for the coming year please feel free to email any ideas to truenaturetattoo@gmail and we'll see what we can do.  Doing the booking a year at a time is a bit overwhelming, but seems to be the best system for me.
The new studio should be done around mid December, so we will be starting out the new year fresh in a brand new space that we're very excited about.  Same building, but they're in the process of ripping of the roof and making a cool upstairs loft work space (that will have a huge deck overlooking the forest). We'll have a little more square footage and a cooler lay out.  There will be four dormers in all, so each of us will have our own nook with some cool angled ceilings and views.  My landlord and I have a really good relationship, and he's been letting me have a say in the layout, where fixtures and such go, and I pick the paint and flooring etc...
I really love the idea of being a building from 1905 with brand new everything.  Old time soul with all the modern amenities...

Thursday, August 9, 2012


So here's another from a while ago, but at least I'm finally starting to work through some of these older photos.
This flower is on the sleeve I started recently that has a big hannya and shake up top.  The bottom has since been outlined with a skull, another snake and a bunch more peonies (photos soonish...)
The idea for this arm is to just have almost all peonies as background (with the snake bodies intertwining between everything).  Kind of like everything is nestled in a peony bush.  There are only going to be a couple that are done in this style (with the white tips on the petals) and the rest that are more underneath and in the background will be darker shades.  It's an idea I've always wanted to try and this is the perfect piece and client to do it.  We've worked a bunch together before on a very solid whole leg piece and a few other odds and ends.  
This arm was another perfect storm situation where he knew exactly what elements he wanted and the basic layout, and let me run with it from there.  These are the types of pieces and people that really keep me highly motivated and wanting to push myself and set my expectations of myself much higher.
I was sort of hoping to outline the whole arm before starting any color, but time has been scarce lately for serious drawing sessions.  New baby, shop moving soon (more info on that soon too), and the day to day business of life with a very full tattoo schedule means that some things just have to wait.  I'm not really comfortable rushing artwork, and especially for an involved cool piece on a very dedicated client.  Yet somehow all things seem to be working out how they should and life is good...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dragon Back

So these photos are actually from a while ago, but I'm just starting to work through a back log of pictures from the past couple months.  
We've done a couple of sessions since this, but I like looking back at every step and trying to figure out for myself what I'm putting into making these things.
This session was drawing on and outlining the right buttock and down the thigh.  I had it sort of mapped out on paper and it ended up working out in real life (sometimes before starting a big piece I'll take a picture of the person's blank back, blow it up to an 11X17" piece of paper and sketch out a large thumbnail for the piece.  I either then blow that sketch up to the traced out actual area and refine it, or use it as template to draw stuff on.  Sometimes I really prefer this method as I find drawing a larger piece actual size from the get go you end up trying to put in too much detail and watering down the over all impact of the image.  Drawing it smaller and blowing it up later almost prohibits you from fussing over the details too much as you don't really have enough room.)
Since this session we've filled in the whole lower left side with background and are moving over the middle and starting to fill the stuff from this time.  More regular updates soon I hope...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Paternity Leave

Wow.  Just realized how long it's been since I've updated anything on here.  Past few weeks have been a whirlwind as my my new son was born on June 11th!  I've already got an amazing 7 year old daughter, and now the family unit is all balanced out with this great new little dude.  Couldn't be happier with how it all worked out and we're all feeling super blessed and looking forward to the next phase for our little crew.  Here's my scene these days:

That's Sparrow in the background.  My wife came up with her name early on in pregnancy and we both instantly knew that was the one.  This time around it took a while to really wrap our heads around a name.  For several months I was having this feeling like the one I was looking for was right in front of me and I just couldn't see it.  Then thankfully one day it finally came...Enso.  Not sure if it's really been used as a name before (I'm sure there's plenty on Enzo name confusion in his future) or if it makes a ton of sense, but we really dig it and I think it's going to work perfect for him.
An Enso is a Zen brush stroke of a circle:

I've always been very attracted to and interested in Zen Calligraphy and shodo in general (stylized Japanese calligraphy).  I don't know a ton about it on an academic level, but I've always really connected with it pretty strongly on a visual level, and enjoy trying it in my own way.  I've spent many late nights just drawing simple pictures/shapes/and words with brushes or brush pens and getting really lost in it for hours.  It can be super meditative and the flow of your hand can really help tap into a good stream of consciousness that ends up on the paper.  Really more about the process than the result for me (nice break from the pressures of tattooing where the result has much more importance).
An Enso is sort of an embodiment of this mental space...a quality I strive for and value.
Here's a description lifted from Wikipedia:
Ensō (円相) is a Japanese word meaning "circle" and a concept strongly associated with Zen. Ensō is one of the most common subjects of Japanese calligraphy even though it is a symbol and not a character. It symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void; it can also symbolize the Japanese aesthetic itself. As an "expression of the moment" it is often considered a form of minimalist expressionist art.
In Zen Buddhist painting, ensō symbolizes a moment when the mind is free to simply let the body/spirit create. The brushed ink of the circle is usually done on silk or rice paper in one movement (but the great Bankei used two strokes sometimes) and there is no possibility of modification: it shows the expressive movement of the spirit at that time. Zen Buddhists "believe that the character of the artist is fully exposed in how she or he draws an ensō. Only a person who is mentally and spiritually complete can draw a true ensō. Some artists will practice drawing an ensō daily, as a kind of Spiritual Practice."[1]
Some artists paint ensō with an opening in the circle, while others complete the circle. For the former, the opening may express various ideas, for example that the ensō is not separate, but is part of something greater, or that imperfection is an essential and inherent aspect of existence (see also the idea of broken symmetry). The principle of controlling the balance of composition through asymmetry and irregularity is an important aspect of the Japanese aesthetic: Fukinsei (不均斉), the denial of perfection.
The ensō is also a sacred symbol in the Zen school of Buddhism, and is often used by Zen masters as a form of signature in their religious artwork.

Sorry for the ramble.  Point being basically alls well with the little guy and family, but there's been no real time to keep up on everything other thing (like this blog).  With the way the schedule's been the past few years, this whole time was already booked before my wife even got pregnant, so there's been a lot of shuffling and adjusting of the appointment book.  Thanks to all for their understanding with missed or changed appointments, my helper Darci who sorts it all out for me all the time, and most of all my wife for putting up with how much I work and how much it takes of me to make it happen. 
Hopefully in the next week or so I'll be able to sift through the tattoo photos of the past couple months and get them updated.  Getting close on some super cool ones, and been starting some new stuff I'm really excited about...

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tiger Sleeve

I'm sure I've said we're almost done before, but seriously, we're almost done...
This was one of those classic ones for me where I'm convinced I can finish a much larger area that is actually possible for me in the allotted time (i.e. thought I'd finish the whole tiger during our session time).  Once I get into something I tend to have a fairly methodical approach, and I always forget that the style I prefer to do things takes a lot of time.  Ideally, there is minimal skin showing at all, dense black and color, tight little air spaces (leaving a small strip of skin between the color and the outline to give a little more pop to what is essentially a 2D image) and on and on.  I've realized it's just not an approach that can be blasted through and still maintain the look I'm striving for.  
I'm glad that my clients enjoy me and the process (I think/hope) and appreciate what goes into these things.  It can be an unexpected lesson in patience and endurance for a lot of people, not to mention seriously challenging their previous comfort levels.  These things are a serious commitment, and I genuinely hope that they're getting a little something more out of the experience that just a tattoo...
Mr. Tiger Guy here is a great example of someone I think has evolved and grown a bit through his two or so year tattoo journey so far.  Understanding his connection the the experience and enthusiasm for the art really helps me stay focused and motivated...

Friday, May 25, 2012

NY Convention

This piece was the majority of my time at the convention.
Friday I had a bunch of fun doing swirling clouds around the forearm of a super cool dude I know (got caught up in chatting and didn't get photos) for about six hours.  The above piece was pretty much most all of Saturday and a big chunk of Sunday (it's a really big tattoo, he's like 6'4" or more in real life and built like an ox).  Saturday we outlined everything, and finished the koi and the pink peony I believe (seriously, it was non stop and it's kind of a blur).  He had a fairly good sized tattoo on his upper arm that we were able to cover very successfully and still have everything flow nicely.
On Sunday we added the water and finished the flowers.  Eventually we'll add more black background around everything and really give it a traditional looking half sleeve silhouette.  He really wanted a half sleeve done in a weekend, but I just couldn't bring myself to cut the corners to make that happen.  When you're on the road, you're usually dealing with limited time constraints.  Folks tend to want to get as much as possible while they can,  and too often it can be tempting to choose quantity over quality.  I'd rather leave him with this portion finished in a way that I'm proud of and was done right with intention and focus (and we're the only ones that know it's gonna get more).  Also, I feel like the biggest virtue that big tattoo projects teach you besides perseverance is patience.
He hadn't gotten tattooed in a very long time, but did perfectly.  Couldn't have asked for a better guy to work with on this one.  I think we're both very motivated to continue on with this one and on to the other side...

And as a really great added surprise, Horitoshi came to give us a surprise visit!  When I first got to NY, I found out that he had just decided to come to New Jersey a few days after.  He was so good to me when I stayed with him in Japan, and has been such a big influence on me, that I was really bummed that I wouldn't be able to make it over there (full schedule of work) and he wouldn't be coming to the city.  Then on Saturday they decided to show up unannounced and surprise us (Shunho, who I was sharing the booth with) with a short visit...

It was a really great show and I'd really like to thank the folks who helped us out around the booth.  And an extra big thanks and debt of gratitude to Bill and Junii Salmon for entrusting the Diamond Club booth to me and trusting me to represent them in their absence.  Very big responsibility and honor in my world...

NY Peonies

Just starting to get settled back in from a whirlwind work trip to New York.
Had pretty much the best trip ever and can't wait to go back next year.  I was very honored to get an invitation to be a guest artist at NY Adorned for a few days and had an amazing experience there.  It's very high energy shop with an extremely talented and down to earth crew of tattooers.  I felt completely welcomed and really enjoyed my interactions with everyone there.  It was an interesting experience for me as I usually work in a private room where it's pretty much just me and the client.  To be in a big open space working alongside all these great tattooers non stop all day was hugely motivating and helped push me a little further than usual.  
I had one client a day for the four days, and put in a lot of time on each of them.  The peonies above were this guys first tattoo.  He sat great and was a real pleasure to interact with.  All of my sessions there went really well, and everyone I tattooed was a seriously great person and pleasure to work with.
I was sort of hoping to get this all done in one day (very wishful thinking), but the reality of doing peonies in this style (bright white tips, color edged up in rows between the white, little air spaces in the leaf veins etc.) is that they take a very long time.  Most of the ones I've seen done by friends of mine in the Horitoshi family (whose style I'm emulating in these) take 3-5 hours each by hand poke.  My friend Horizakura who  I was staying with was joking with me that he thought machine work would be faster than that, but with this look there's no real shortcut or time saving with a machine.  It's all about following a stylistic formula and making sure every part of the process is perfect...
Big thanks to everyone at the shop for being so welcoming, Horizakura and his wife for putting me up for 9 days, and an extra big thanks to the owner Lori for all of her advice and inspiration.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Karashishi and Peonies

I think it was seven sessions in all, and that's not too shabby for something in this style.  I'm very pleased with the result, and very much looking forward to starting the other side whenever the schedule opens up.  He sat like a champ every time and healed up great (even after a hiking trip in Yosemite right after a two day marathon session).
I've been fortunate to have Bill and Junii Salmon as teachers and mentors, and through them become good friends with the Horitoshi family.  This style is my version of what I've tried to distill from them over the years.  Although not every project is best suited to this look, and I'm open to exploring different things, this style of tattooing is closest to my heart and what I really strive to improve upon and move forward with...

Dragon Backpiece (Cover-up)

Really enjoying exploring a new background look on this one.  It struck me a while back while looking through Kuniyoshi's Suikoden series (http://www.kuniyoshiproject.com/) that I really dig the style of background he was doing on his representations of the famous bandits, and it's strange that you don't see it more in tattooing.
His drawings are widely considered the most important influence on Japanese full body tattooing.  Although you do see this more stippled look occasionally, it's not really too common.
I think it has a really strong folky look, and I've really wanted to do it on a larger piece.  Also, since this was a pretty big cover up, the misty style clouds were going to work the best so it was a perfect opportunity.
Been taking it easy the past couple sessions with all the shading, but next time is outlining over the right butt cheek and down the thigh...


Finished up the last little section of shading...or so I thought.
As I was putting up these pictures, I realized that I totally forgot to do the last claw.  Dragons have four legs and I got three on there.  I guess I could cheat and just say that the fourth claw is tucked under the body or something, but it really needs to be popping out somewhere on the front there to really balance it out.
Guess I need to call him and have him came back in for a few minutes.  Besides that it all worked out...


Right in the pit.
I haven't tattooed an armpit in years, but it went as smooth as possible.  For some reason I thought it would be much more difficult (not that it was easy), but it is just skin after all, and if you start tripping out about the location that's certainly not going to help...
She sat great and it healed in just a few days.  Very positive outcome for a pretty unique spot to get tattooed...


At the end of the second day of shading, we threw this little guy on her hand.
She'd asked for it last time, but we didn't really get around to it.  This visit, she walked in the door and I think the first thing she asked was if we could do her hand this time.
I don't take doing hand or neck work very lightly at all, so it really has to be the right combination of client and image.  After having known her for a couple years combined with the amount of tattoo work she's already got, I was super comfortable doing it.
Drew it up on the spot and it felt good to capture the moment and go for it.
I'm really happy with how it fit on the hand and ties in to the rest of the arm without having to bring the background down all the way.
For a hand tattoo, I really like seeing some skin around it.  I think that helps set it off, and not just look like they pulled their sleeves down and have stumpy arms...

Koi Sleeve

I've been really busy and not able to update much new work lately, and I'm heading out to NY tomorrow and won't be keeping up on any regular updates from the road.
Instead of rambling on about how the tattoo went, I'll just post some pictures minus the play by play...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Not too much commentary here.
Was able to get the majority of the stripes done in the time we had, and I'm looking to finish it next time.  The tiger is going to be black and grey, so I'm feeling like I can make it work to get it all done in one more.  We shall see...
After that comes the rest of the elements to this piece:
Rocks, misty clouds, moon, two chickens and a rooster.
Usually my approach is to try and outline everything first and then fill in, but for some reason on this one I'm feeling like finishing every component as we go.  Not sure why, but I'm just going to trust the intuition and go with it. "Do not question what you do not understand" I've been told...
Not sure how I feel about that one, but I am working hard and just be present to enjoy the ride...


Long time no update...
Running a tattoo studio is as hectic and fun as ever, and I've been gearing up and getting excited to get out of town to NY soon (which I'm booked up for already, so it's super cool that I can really concentrate the energy on just a few folks who are looking to get some serious work in a short time).  Not to mention all the construction we've got going on next to the studio, and the big impending move coming up...
Also just about a month out from child number two, so the home front is non stop as well.
Through it all I remain fortunate to be busy with high energy fun work on great folks though, and that's really what it's about.
Finished up this flower the other day.  We drew it on and grey shaded it before this color session.  I feel like that gives it kind of a richer tone that provides more depth and prevents it from getting too "loud" with the color.  And it's fun for me as it's a totally different approach to the peony for me (gotta keep experimenting and trying to figure it all out I guess).
It's a companion piece to a large chrysanthemum on her other shoulder that also has some fairly deep hues but still feels colorful.
She's one of the twice a month folks for most of the year, and we're getting to the point where we've got a few different projects going at once.  It can be really nice to hop around to different pieces and not stagnate to much with one thing.  Always look forward to our sessions and hearing what's coming next... 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hannya and Snake

The first session on this new sleeve.
We recently finished his whole leg (koi, skull, flowers, toad etc.) and he was back to start the arm a couple weeks later.  As with his leg, he had a very clear idea of the images he wanted for the sleeve.  He brought in great reference, expressed the color tones and vibe he was going for very well, and now it's pretty much in my court.  It is a very ideal kind of collaboration for me.  He's got a great eye (which is really one of the most important traits to have in this business I think) and understands good design.
There will be another snake on the bottom of the arm wrapping through a stylized skull and lots more peonies (oh yeah, and we're covering an old arm band).  I'm thinking the look we're going for here is going to be minimal background at best, and really fill the open spaces with snake body and flowers.  He's talking very dense and very dark color scheme, and I'm digging it all the way...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Karashishi and Peonies

Only a couple of weeks in between visits this time.  Day one we colored in all of the rocks and did the peony on the elbow.  I can't really remember how long it all took, but it was a long day.  
the flower on the elbow isn't especially big, but it was a challenge.  It can be a tricky area to pack it in solid and get things nice and tight.  Also not the most pleasant place to get a tattoo like that, but as always he sat like a champ (almost too well...made me feel wimpy for getting a little tired toward the end).
Normally long days can be a bit of a strain on me, and generally I prefer 2-3 hour sessions tops, but that's been changing a bit.  It's really the mental strain that gets to me after several hours.  Depending on what you're working on and where, it can take all you've got and then some to stay 100% focused and in the zone for 6 plus hours...
I haven't been sleeping too well lately, and the week leading up to this session I was up late watching lots of documentaries on life in Zen monasteries in Japan.  Not the most action packed viewing for most, but I really find it relaxing and incredibly interesting.  To see the amount of focus and awareness they bring to every single task, not to mention the extremely rigorous zazen practice (seated meditation performed several hours daily), is very inspiring.  It serves as a reminder to really shed layers of my self and the world around me and just tattoo, and gives me a high mental standard to aspire to.

Day two was a shorter session.  We colored in the top and final peony.  It was a perfect and managable session that was a nice follow up to the previous marathon day.

The plan for next time is finish the whole shishi in one go.  That would make it a total of seven sessions for this arm...not bad at all.  Also, he put down a deposit to start the other arm and we're gonna do another shishi and more peonies.  They're often represented in pairs, and to be able to do two matching sleeves of this theme as someone's first ever tattoos is pretty cool in my book...

Bonus inner arm shot: