Tattoo Artist Spotlight: David James

Here is this weeks Tattoo Artist Spotlight of David James, which was written by David himself! Enjoy!

I came into tattooing at a different time. My beginning has been reset many times.  It’s been a metaphor, repeating and ever reminding me that you must learn to crawl before you can learn to walk.  I grew up in a tattoo shop, spent countless hours watching, and listening. From an early age I’ve been spoon fed advice. In nature of the Master and Apprentice, I have progressed, regressed, and well a few times had to just start over.  Sometimes it can be hard to learn to do something like tattooing and to able to do it to the best of your ability. This is my story, here are some of my thoughts and experiences. These things have motivated me to try my best and put my heart and soul into the legacy that is David James Tattooing.

david It was 1987…. The Sunset Strip was a different place than it is today, and I am Seven years old hanging out with my tattoo artist dad. I remember one night this woman came in wearing Daisy Duke style cut off overalls. As she was looking around she asked questions about getting a rose tattoo. When she was asked where she wanted to put this little rose, her answer was to unbuckle and drop her shorts down to her cowboy boots and point. I was astounded, I drew a conclusion, instead of drawing little cartoon wars on paper I should draw that little rose. I remember getting into trouble in school for throwing the pencil and screaming, “Fuck this handwriting Bullshit.” I was struggling, like in geometry, I didn’t feel it had any practical use in my life. After the parent conference my dad rolled up his shirtsleeve and showed me my name that was tattooed on his arm. He then explained to me that people pay him hundreds of dollars to hand write the names of their loved ones. He also impressed upon me that anything can be done with practice, hard work and a good investment of time.

By 1989 the National Tattoo Convention was in Anaheim, CA. I still only knew that my dad tattooed for a living and that Disneyland was just across the street, I was having way more fun at this convention. The Hyatt hotel was completely packed with tattooing and tattoo people. Even though there were many artists with their families I felt like I was the only kid, like the original Vegas, it was an adult thing. I remember that it was so packed the hotel ran out of food. I watched this guy get his camera smashed and picked up off his feet and thrown out because he did not ask to take a photo of a tattoo. As I sat in the audience watching the judging for the best overall male tattoo competition I took notice that this one person stood out, his tattoos were more of a suit he was wearing. I asked my step mom why the color was so bright and she said, “Ya know, your dad is a really good tattoo artist.” That was Gary Stuer; he was a Marine and a Kung Fu master. He’d even given me a couple Kung Fu lessons. The images he had tattooed on him told a story with a Crane, monkey, snake, tiger, and an awesome Yip Kai man.

As a few more years passed, I discovered Ice Hockey. I had also moved away from my dad to a place where tattooing was rather frowned upon. So much so that when some man came into my 6th grade class to speak about gangs and drugs (Ala scared straight ) he took his shirt off  to reveal all these tattoos that were obvious to everyone that he must have been an ex Cholo Gang Banger. His message to us was that we did not want to look or end up like him. Suddenly he got in my face because I contradicted him when I said that the tattoos did not make him a Cholo his Choice to get Cholo Tattoos made him look the part. I was punished because even the principal refused to understand that very concept that I was trying to explain.

When I moved back with my dad. Hockey was all I was really interested in. I had developed a more warrior code way of thinking. My Dad had taught me how to make Tattoo needles, it was part of my black and white means to an end. I made needles he bought me skates. Come to think of it, at that time the only real creativity I expressed was in my writing. High School as we all know is a cruel rat race of alliances, you make choices to be with clicks and have to tune your way of thinking. I ended up in Honors classes with a give up attitude fueled by any criticism, though I aced my classes.

As I was about to graduate, I had no real idea what I wanted to do. Since I have a good knack to teach what I have learned I decided to become a teacher. College however was finically out of reach and I was not willing to go in debt like the rest of my graduating class. My Friends suggested an apprenticeship in tattooing. In 1998 you could tattoo an armband in an hour and make a whole days pay. Sounded just right plus the schedule was flexible enough to work and go to school. I started my apprenticeship right out of High School.

When I started tattooing at that time there were no “artists” trying to ignite the industry with their individualized changes. Nobody believed they were the second coming of Christ because they redesigned a Tasmanian devil. There was an understanding that a tattoo, at the very least, was hanging in the shop. It was called Flash and when people came into the shop that is where they picked their tattoo. People wanting custom tattoos went to custom shops with artist specializing in what they were looking for and were willing to pay for the artist’s specialty. Sometimes you had to educate someone on the reality of their idea. The artwork from a CD cover with sperm swimming through space inside an eyeball iris that was originally a oil painting on 4×8 canvas could not be duplicated as a tattoo, even if you were a body builder with 28 inch biceps it couldn’t hold that kind of detail in a tattoo. It would basically turn out to be three pounds of crap stuffed into a two-pound bag.

After my apprenticeship, I worked for my uncle Tenn. Dave at the original West Coast Tattoo. It was located in Downtown Los Angeles on 5th and Main Street (the nickel). Commercial tattooing at its finest, you tattooed a name on someone Monday and covered it up on Friday. Once I did a name on a guy’s arm and 45 minutes later he came back to cover it up with a rose. I also did a tour in East LA on Whittier Blvd. In East LA the tattooing looked like it was always hand drawn by an inmate on letter paper and all I had to do was reproduce it 90% of the time. I had confidence in knowing that I was going to make it a better tattoo just cause I had better tools to work with (like a shader needle) When my dad asked if I liked doing them gangster Cholo tattoos I replied yeah just because they were so easy for me to reproduce. The prices were cheap then so no one ever complained. I was working seven days a week at either shop. My Uncle had me getting supplies and trusted me with the money. It made me feel like I was getting experience being a shop manager. I felt that I was paying my dues by working these shops which for me was just the start. I was feeling that my dedication had made me ready for a move to where I really wanted to be.

In late 1999 I got hired at Sunset Strip Tattoo. Cliff Raven, one of the great masters of western style Japanese Tattooing, founded sunset Strip Tattoo. Robert Benedetti now owns the shop. I was working there at the time with Michael Lures, Eric Blair and Greg James. The name Sunset Strip at that time was synonymous with world-wide reputation for great tattooing and fair pricing for the work to be done. The shop was a custom tattoo studio and they also did walk-ins. The hourly rate was $100 an hour.

In late 2000 Sunset Strip Tattoo had lost their lease and had to relocate. Between the move and an overall crash in business it became a dark time for me. I was not happy with the way tattooing was changing. Everyone had a friend who tattooed, so things that were a staple in tattooing, like old English lettering, nautical stars roses, butterflies, and your average tattoo, got devalued. This was the bread and butter for tattooers. A lot of Scratchers were opening up shops all around us and it was becoming harder to make a living. The pie was getting cut up smaller and smaller. Doing good craft just wasn’t enough. The professionalism of the tattoo experience was replaced with time and money compromises.

I decided to stop tattooing for a wile to make a living as a parts salesman for a Mercedes Benz Dealer. I then started tattooing for myself only wanting to do what I wanted to do with tattooing and only on my friends and people that I was interested in tattooing. If I was not interested I did not do it. I was talking to Robert Benedetti, the owner of Sunset Strip Tattoo who is a great friend and mentor, about what I was doing with tattooing. He decided to give me the opportunity to tattoo out of his shop again. This made it more professional for me and I didn’t want to be some scratcher working out of the house or somewhere.Flower tattoo

The years ticked off and I continued to grow and became better at accepting the changes in the industry. My dad would take the time and draw with me, which helped hone my craftsmanship. I was having a full life and being a part time tattooer. I continued to be very interested in tattooing and I was waiting to find what would really motivate me to take it to another level. When my little sister turned 18 she wanted to get her first tattoo, which is when I had to really look in the mirror and ask if I was up for the challenge. Tattooing her and putting the time and effort to produce the best I could, enabled me to face the hurtles of my passion to create and bring my tattoos to life.

In October of 2012, I started tattooing full time at Tattoos Deluxe. My dad, Greg James, bought Subculture Tattoo from his friend Eric Blair and after making the shop his own has renamed: Tattoos Deluxe.

I have had to accept that there is a lot riding on each and every tattoo because of the Internet, social media and the diversity of human opinion. My gratification is that my clients will be pleased and that they will be happy to give me their hard earned money in exchange for my service. Also that they will carry it with them for the rest of there lives. It all starts with your ideas and the importance of understanding of what that is to be your tattoo. Although times change the only thing that stays the same is what makes a good tattoo. I always try to inform my clients of what can and should be done for a tattoo to be successful. I never want to compromise my work.

Always Dedicated

David James

Tattoo Artist Spotlight: Greg James Tattoo Artist and Owner

Greg JamesGreg James love for tattoos began at a young age when he started drawing flash tattoos for his brother, Tennessee Dave. He was only fourteen at the time. His drawings turned into an apprenticeship in 1976. During the following nine years he worked on honing his craft. Greg had done it all from single-needle black-and-grey to classic Americana tattoos and large custom Japanese artwork, which he has become famous for.

Lotus FlowerGreg wanted to do superlative work and decided that he had two options either quit tattooing or try to work for Cliff Raven at Sunset Strip Tattoo. Well, I think we all know how that turned out! Greg joined Sunset Strip Tattoo in 1985 and worked closely with Cliff Raven to hone his Japanese style tattoo, since Cliff was a pioneer of that style. Greg contributed in building the legacy of the legendary Sunset Strip Studio while he was there for over twenty-five years. He became the real star of Sunset Strip, the tattoo artist’s tattooer.

In September 2012, Greg decided to open his own shop, which we have all come to know and love, Tattoos Deluxe in Sherman Oaks, CA. Greg is known worldwide and is at the top of the tattoo industry but has not lost sight of staying down to earth. Clients have said that he is modest, understated, a genuinely nice guy, and his work is truly amazing. Japanese Hannya Mask

In Greg’s eyes tattooing is a personal thing between two people, not so much about the art, the craft, or being a cool guy. A tattoo should look like it has always been there, like its part of your body.  He says that tattoo artists really put a lot of effort, time, and communication into what they do. Tattoos are permanent; they can’t just be torn up and thrown away when the tattoo artist is done with it. Greg says that all the tattoos he has done over his thirty years are carried around in his head with him.

Greg has apprenticed numerous tattoo artists, including Eric Blair of Subculture Tattoo and Dollar Bill of Sunset Strip Tattoo. He is also know for tattooing celebrities like Sarah
Hibiscus FlowersMichelle Geller, Denise Richards, Charlie Sheen, Motley Crue, Jesse James, Joan Jett, Ozzy Osbourne. He has also worked on tattoo artists, like Kirk Alley, owner of Eleven Eleven Tattoo; Johnny Hollywood, owner of 13 Roses Tattoo Parlour; and Chris Cashmore, owner of Tattoo Power in Canberra, Australia.

Check out Greg James Wikipedia site for more information