This weeks Tattoo Artist is about Noah Baxter. He wrote this himself so Enjoy!
I have always been interested in tattoos. When my older brother Riley first came home, at 16, with a skull tattoo on his forearm, I thought it was rad. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t in more trouble for it. I was eleven at the time and was fascinated while I watched over the next few years as his collection grew. Then my sister Holly started getting tattooed, followed by my oldest brother Jesse. By the time I was 17, my entire group of friends (including my sister and most of her friends) were tattooed. At this point both of my brothers were tattooing professionally. I would go and visit them at Body Electric on Melrose Avenue. That was the place to be, there was always something cool and exciting going on. Machine building, tattooing, drawing, painting, and tattoo artists sharing their personal stories and experiences. It was by far the coolest place I could be. I was going from job to job then, trying to figure out what I was passionate about. I had gotten my High School Equivalency Certificate and finished school at 16. Naturally, my mother gave me the option of continuing my education or getting a job. So aside from getting a job at a fast food restaurant, I also enrolled at Valley College. I began taking art classes such as Drawing 101, as well as whatever other academic classes looked fun. I always kept art on the back burner, as a hobby. Painting at home, doodling on whatever surfaces I could, but not taking it very seriously. Since both of my older brothers were tattooing, I felt like what I was doing wasn’t as polished or professional as what they were doing. They had more experience, practice and a daily regimen of drawing to their advantage and I was intimidated even though I was interested in art and tattooing. So I tried different jobs, still searching for what I really wanted to do. In 1996, I found a job working in Hollywood photo lab. Five years of working in the photo lab gave me plenty of experience. Unfortunately, an overbearing boss, stressful workload and hellish commute was cause for my unhappiness. When one day I was scribbling a drawing on the back of some photo paper at work, my boss came up to me and said, “I don’t pay you to draw.” I was glad she did. That was when I realized that I should be getting paid to draw. So I quit.
I went to my oldest brother, Jesse, for an apprenticeship. He turned me down, he was willing to give me some drawing pointers, but that tattooing was a hard job with no benefits and that there were easier ways to make money with art. I was determined and decided to scour Hollywood for an apprenticeship and began going shop-to-shop trying to find a place to start. I had no luck. Meanwhile, my father had just become Editor-in-Chief of Skin & Ink, a popular tattoo magazine. During a meeting with the magazines’ executives there was an issue with Director of Advertising and his lack of experience and knowledge of the tattoo industry. My father off handedly mentioned that I could do a better job and the executives decided to take him literally. Next thing I knew I was the Advertising Director for the international tattoo magazine. Again, my dream of tattooing was put on the back burner while I set up my new office in Pasadena. This job entailed my father and I traveling together to tattoo conventions and other events. I was introduced to the big names of the tattoo industry and put a face to many of the names I had heard about from my brothers and their friends while growing up. I was having a great time and learning all about different artists and even different tattoo cultures but I couldn’t fight the feeling that I was simply making money off of the tattoo industry and not contributing to it. Not being creative.
I was at the grand opening party at Tabu Tattoo early in 1998 when my brother Riley approached me. He had heard that I was looking around and offered to have me apprentice for him. I was enthusiastic and accepted his offer. It was a good apprenticeship in some ways but not in others. It only lasted 6 months. I learned about sterilization, Blood Bourne Pathogens, made needles, traced flash, cleaned the shop and was a typical lackey. It was a good time, but most days I was just hanging out while my brother did his thing. Until one day when I got an unexpected call from my oldest brother, Jesse. He was set up in San Francisco, working at 222 Tattoo. He told me that the shops owner was looking for an apprentice and that my name was at the top of the list. Despite the fact that I was already in an apprenticeship I knew it was a great opportunity and that I should take it. I knew that 222 was an extremely successful shop and what I would be learning there would be valuable. This all sounded great, so I sold everything I could to get up to San Francisco, burning a few bridges with Riley and the owners of Tabu tattoo at the time Bob and Dot. The deal was that I would go there for a year, be a slave, and in return the owner would teach me everything he could about tattooing. When I got there I worked at the shop 13 hours a day, 7 days a week, cleaning, scheduling, and doing whatever I was told. I soon realized that the owner was a bit of a “knowledge hoarder” with no intention of ever teaching me anything. I was being extremely patient but when most of the year had gone by and the owner hadn’t taught me much of anything I approached him about it. The other artists had been helpful in teaching me what they could but with a month left to go in my apprenticeship, I hadn’t even held a machine. I asked my boss when he might start teaching me to tattoo, his response was something to the effect of, “I don’t know how long I’m gonna keep you here.” That was when I knew I had to leave and go back home to Los Angeles. Apparently, the apprentice after me didn’t learn much either so I didn’t feel too bad.
After that I almost gave up on tattooing all together. Soon after, I got a phone call from Dave Rothberg the owner of Body and Soul Tattoo. He offered me a job. He said that he had heard about my “apprenticeships” and that I just needed some practical experience. He allowed me to tattoo under his watchful eye on my friends first and when he decided I was ready I would start on customers. Within a month I had done well enough to earn a percentage of the income and continued to work there for over five years. In 2005 I ran into JoJo Ackerman at a tattoo convention in Guadalajara. I was tattooing at the convention, accompanied by my dad, which was not going very well. JoJo saved the trip and introduced me to Mike Pike another legendary tattooer. A few months later Mike Pike contacted me and asked me to keep his shop open while he and his staff attended another convention. It was the best professional decision I could have made. When they returned they were impressed by the great job I did, he suggested I work there for one day a week so that my tattooing could improve. Since I had basically been teaching myself for almost six years the instruction was very much appreciated. Shortly, one day a week was not enough so I left Body and Soul for Psycho City in Lancaster, CA.
Working with Mike, JoJo and Doughboy helped me drastically improve my tattooing skills. That shop changed my life, but soon driving to and from Lancaster everyday took its toll on my personal life and I had to move shop back to the valley. Although I didn’t want to leave Psycho City, my marriage was falling apart and I wasn’t having any time to see my kids. After almost two years at Psycho City I started working at Studio City, which was drastically different. There were nine artists for four stations, virtually no drawing area and plenty of drama. This was not a good fit for me so after two years I ended up at Subculture Tattoo working for Eric Blair.
Subculture Tattoo was a great shop but lacked the one thing that I really needed, which was “walk in” clientele. I found a position at Think Ink in Woodland Hills. After two years there my ex wife (who had majority of time with our kids) let me know she was moving to Georgia with her boyfriend who was stationed at Fort Benning in the Army. I moved with them in order to be able to continue seeing my children on a consistent basis. My girlfriend (at the time) moved with me and due to my ex wife breaking up with her boyfriend we ended up in a house with my kids full time while she moved back to California. I found a job at Above All Tattoo and worked there for a year until we were able to move back to California. Once we were back in CA I decided to try to get a job at Subculture Tattoo since I had worked there before and was familiar with the area, people, and shop. Eventually, Eric decided to sell the shop to Greg James who turned it into Tattoos Deluxe. I am pleased to say that the moves I have made in my career have led me to come full circle at this wonderful shop. I have found myself in the very fortunate position of working for a tattoo master and legend who teaches me new things everyday, is constantly improving the shop and I finally feel like I have found a stable environment to continue growing as an artist. I like working in all styles, but I really enjoy the challenge of realism, as well as the subtle feeling of black and grey, and the bold color and style of Japanese. I can be found here at Tattoos Deluxe four days a week and anytime by appointment!