Mike Moses: Facing the onslaught of the digital age

September 25th, 2013 by Kevin -


Picture of Mike MosesGuest post by Mike Moses (On Instagram: @thedrowntown)

Those of us with at least a decade in the tattoo industry remember a world quite different from today. As for the old-timers… hell, they probably don’t recognize their own shops anymore. The nervous laughter and palpable fear of those yet to be tattooed is gone. Instead, quiet cadres glued to the 5600K light of a handheld revolution occupy our waiting rooms. Prospective clients gain reassurance that the process ahead is “no big deal” from an ever-growing web of search results.

What used to be a rite of passage for more questionable members of society (and more than a few good servicemen) is now served up hot to hoodie’d teenagers, housewives and your cousin Frank. You can’t even check out at the grocery store without a family of five cooing in unison, forcibly comparing their future projects and former mistakes to yours. I didn’t sign up for this – I just wanted some ice cream.

At some point, you have to wonder: “What the hell happened?”

Coming up in a small town, tattooers in magazines took on a heroic glow. They seemed so far away, their greatness vast and unattainable. As an apprentice, you poured over piles of moldy outdated magazines; tattooer preschool was all about taking notes of the good (and bad) aspects of others’ work. Next you began observing the guys you worked with and the dudes down the street; studying their style, approach, and remembering their names was your job.

In those days, even the guys a couple blocks over might as well have had miles of barbed wire around them. The only way to gain access was a chance meeting in a bar; perhaps you’d get lucky and someone would introduce you. To get a glimpse of their sticker smudged and road-worn portfolio meant manning up and walking into their shop, a frightening endeavor indeed. Understanding the industry relied on the realization that you owed other tattooers everything, simply for carving the path ahead of you.

Fox tattoo by Mike MosesBack then tattooing was still massively unappreciated by the mainstream. It was a remote career, a venture regarded by all but the most subversive as a “bad move” – to pursue this was professional suicide. No one in their right mind would encourage you, and threats from disapproving parents hung in your head like nooses. But for all the nooses they tied and the gallows erected, nothing held the same allure as old timers’ stories: neon in the windows, shitty pool table out front; the hum and buzz off in the dark distance, the unknown.

You couldn’t get enough of it; the allure and majesty of an industry that didn’t want or need you, quietly carrying on in the shadows.

Epicentral to it all was a collection of nicotine-stained flash art, hung in blessed disarray. A shop’s flash collection was it, man: the fiercely guarded and revered mother lode. Despite the disproportionate quality to quantity, stealing flash was treason of the highest order. The names of people and stories of their deceit remain burned into young tattooers’ minds for all time. Theft of someone’s custom work meant kissing your ability to wipe your own ass good-bye. Copying, tracing, or otherwise stealing a custom design was akin to signing your own death warrant. This was ingrained in all of us – it was lesson one.

Reference materials were limited to naturalist illustrations, a few good photos, and some Japanese shit so secret, you weren’t allowed to look without its owner’s express permission. The wall of secrecy around tattooing could only be overcome through YEARS spent carefully chipping away—and that was what you worked for; that was your goal. Looking back, that secrecy’s importance presented itself, as many things do, only in its absence.

Some of us had websites, but they were flimsy and difficult to navigate. Magazines were still the dominant medium to gaining mass recognition as a tattooer, and getting into them was either easy because you knew someone – or impossible, because you didn’t.

A carefully manicured hard copy portfolio was still your best bet for getting work. A tattooer that couldn’t produce images of their work on demand was hiding something, and likely a filthy scratcher.

Before the digital revolution, you had to put in the hours, make the connections, and earn your notoriety. Promoting yourself was something you had to earn the right to do. And then it struck. A stray bullet from an unforeseen Philip K. Dickian future.

Networking took a notable turn with the first websites tattooers actively posted to: Myspace and Facebook. Promoting yourself through the baby-fresh face of social media was approached with a shrug and a “why not?”

That changed with the popularization of the iPhone. At first it was a ‘gimmick’ most of us laughed off, an item purchased only by those with too much expendable income.

The ribbing died down once we realized the ease with which we could shoot and share our work. A pocket-sized portfolio at our fingertips? That was nothing to laugh at. Eventually, we all caved. Inadvertently, we changed the industry forever.

Social media became the final stick of dynamite wedged in a hardened wall of secrecy that had stood for decades. By trying to expose ourselves to a larger audience, we removed all of the barbed wire, turned on all the lights, and made all that was hiding in the magical dark accessible to anyone.

moses1Today, any amateur with a smartphone can amass a following seemingly overnight, rivaling what someone else worked their whole lives for. People who’ve never set foot in a tattoo shop know the names of every potential great. Critiques on tattoos take place in forums about cake decorating. Painstakingly produced custom designs are ripped off, copied, perverted, gimmicked, and destroyed by pathetic tracers before the original artist has the chance to lay claim to their idea. Trends blow back & forth across the globe in a cheap wind. Within hours, a single great idea is bastardized and forgotten by a constantly churning sea of ingrates—and the inexperienced are heralded as gurus, geniuses and greats.

A trade thick with tradition and respect has been unceremoniously bent over, violated and left for dead. Integrity, already in short supply, dried up like a puddle of spit in the sun by people possessing no more artistic depth than the fluids they excrete. Tracing is commonplace, and no one seems to realize or care about its devaluing nature.

For all of this, a lot of it has made our lives easier: modest public acceptance, professional respect, and comfortable incomes… even parental endorsement! These are the benefits afforded by cultural countenance.

Contacting amazing artists the world over is now simple; new collaborations occur daily. For those that cut our teeth the old way, or just happen to have a good head on their shoulders, it’s a very exciting time. There is much work to be done and new ground to tread.

The benefits are there as sure as you read this, available only in digital format, now that seeing things exclusively in print seems inconceivable. We should be awed by the power of the digital medium, and owe a lot to the ingenuity that fixed the path… and to the people that take the time to Like and Reblog our work daily. All of this fans the fire that now warms us.

The question remains: Are we better or worse for it? A quick flip through your battery powered magic 8-ball reveals: “ASK AGAIN LATER.”

As we stare blankly for hours, flick endlessly through scrolling tiles, and search for ideas we don’t believe we could produce alone… we learn one valuable lesson: No matter what the future brings, there’s no such thing as instant gratification. We must offset the flaws of our situation—we must continue to work our asses off, and allow ourselves to still be mystified. We must cultivate respect and integrity. Most of all, we must be conscious of the need to protect our seedy, sacred industry in the onslaught of the digital age.

See more: Mike Moses on Tattoo Snob

Tattoo by Mike Moses

Shannon Larratt on realism tattoos that won’t last

September 28th, 2012 by Julene Huffman -


I’m going to come right out and say I don’t read BME often. But I do think that the post “Fraud in Tattooing” by Shannon Larratt raises some interesting thoughts on tattoos that look great fresh and wind up, pardon my paraphrasing, healing like shit. Shannon’s intro says more than I possibly good:

I’ve been talking to an old friend that’s a tattoo artist who’s pretty straight-shooting and no-bullshit in his attitudes about some of the trends we see among top artists these days. The one that I whole-heartedly agree with is this tendency to fill portfolios with pieces that couldn’t possibly heal well, but look great fresh. Tattoos that look incredible the day they’re done — bright color realism with almost no black-shading is a good example of stuff that often turns into a faded out nothing in time — but looks like garbage when it’s healed. I’ll quote some of what he said, keeping things anonymous because I’m not looking to point fingers here.

Here’s a portion of an email Shannon received from an anonymous tattooer friend on the subject:

There is a very ugly tendancy today in tattoo business of taking pictures of fresh tattoos, doing realism that will look like shit in twenty years — or in four months even — and going from convention to convention, making 100% black money, with no touch-ups, no follow-up of clientele. Those are the most famous artists in the world. I have no problem doing tribal [edit: he is referring to an image I posted of a “less than inspired” tattoo that I spoke ill of] for people who ask. If I can’t change their mind, I’ll do it. It allows me to keep cool pricing for everybody, to keep tattoo art something it SHOULD remain, that is, a POPULAR art form.

The fact there’s only 41 comments on this post is baffling to me. Give it a read – I’d love to know the thoughts of artists and enthusiasts alike on it.

Actually, what I’m really looking forward to is the inevitable name-calling and know-it-all’ing we’ll see in the comments below…

Big surprise: There’s a Season 2 of ‘Ink Master’

August 29th, 2012 by Julene Huffman -


I saw a couple casting notices posted online for season two of Ink Master back in February… I mean, I really hate covering reality TV on this blog. But I think it’s important, considering the sheer number of programs–and tattooers, be they amazing… or not–showing up in primetime TV spots.

This year there’s 16 contestants… and more notably, $100k as the grand prize.

For the record, I still think it’s super cheesy they have Dave Navarro as the host, but I get the type of “scene cred” Spike TV is shooting for with that. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m kinda shocked by some of the artists included in the constant list below…

  • Tray “Big Daddy” Benham
  • Clint Cummings 
  • Nick D’Angelo 
  • Jamie Davies
  • Katherine “Tatu Baby” Flores 
  • La Ron “Ron” Givens 
  • Steven “Kay Kutta” Givens
  • Thomas “TJ” Halvorsen
  • Cee Jay “Inky” Jones
  • Mark Matthews
  • Sarah Miller
  • Sebastian Murphy
  • Jesse Smith
  • Little Mike
  • Steven Tefft
  • Lalo Yunda

What about you guys–are you planning on watching? Do you even care? And more importantly, is this going to lead to more “boycott network” groups on Facebook?

Season 2 Trailer
Spike Full EpisodesSpike Video ClipsSpike on Facebook



The Laws of Lettering

August 27th, 2012 by Julene Huffman -


Considering the number of large, text-heavy tattoos popping up online in recent years, it was only a matter of time before someone sat down to write about them.

And that person–thankfully–wasn’t me. I came across a post on the Seppuku Tattoo blog, The Laws of Lettering for Tattoos, which began simply enough:

We often turn down requests for massive amounts of type & I wanted to spell out our very concrete reason as to why that is. This isn’t to discourage anyone from getting tattooed, but rather to look at the broad picture & to help make better tattoo choices. I realize it’s a current fad to get scads of text, we see it all the time. And it drives us crazy.

Here’s the CliffsNotes version of the points used to support their reasoning:

  • Text tattoos destroy the art of typography
  • Text tattoos fight anatomy
  • Text tattoos fight good tattooing
  • Text tattoos eat up a lot of skin
  • Text tattoos cockblock other tattoos
  • “There’s no gallery openings for fonts”
  • Art is subjective–text is not
  • No one wants to have to read you
  • You might have failed English (or other national language)

Clearly the author put a lot of thought into this post – there’s a lot of quotes I considered re-posting here, but for maximum effect might I suggest you read the full post yourself.

Personally, I’m not big on the “one size fits all” mindset for anything; but text tattoos are tricky. While I can think of a handful of attractive large-scale text tattoos right off the bat, I’d say closer to 80% of the heavy text tattoos I’ve seen could be summed up by Seppuku’s last line:

She could have been the Birth of Venus, now’s she a Chinese take out menu. *sigh*

So, what’s your take?

The magic of tattooing according to Tim Hendricks

July 9th, 2012 by Julene Huffman -


Every time a fairly visible tattooer gets involved with reality TV, I wonder how they feel about it after. While it doesn’t look like Tim Hendricks has any interest in writing a tell-all  about his experience shooting NY Ink, he did pop off this gem about reality TV that I wish the show’s producers would pass along to their target audience:

With tattooing becoming as popular as it is these days every person that knows how to doodle wants to become a tattooer. I can only complain about it so much before I start feeling sad and a bit responsible as a result of partaking in crappy reality TV. […] Reality TV is a joke, it’s not real. If you haven’t figured that one out by now then you are an infant. What you watch on TV is not how tattooing really is. Tattoos take longer than three minutes and most ordinary people don’t sit and talk about this incredibly breathtaking story behind it. For the most part tattooers get along pretty well in shops, and even if they don’t they usually just find a common ground and agree to disagree.

Reality TV wasn’t the focal point of Tim’s post, however. To read the rest of Tim’s post, scoot over to the Salt Water Tattoo blog.

Tattoo by Tim Hendricks

What are you going to do about your tattoos when you’re older?!

June 20th, 2012 by Kevin -


I know a lot of you have seen this picture, but in case you haven’t – enjoy.

If anyone knows the origin of this, please let us know in the comments below.

Can the swastika be “taken back”?

June 19th, 2012 by Julene Huffman -


You don’t see swastika tattoos, reclaimed or otherwise, on Tattoo Snob. Like, ever. The picture above is the first, and I’m uncomfortable with it.

Let me start with a personal disclaimer: I have a hard time believing it’s possible to ‘reclaim’ a symbol that has become synonymous with hate, genocide and Hitler. Considering there’s plenty of people out there with swastika tattoos that aren’t signing up to join the Hitler Youth, the subject is a tricky one to broach. (On the flip side, there are still plenty of people who are pledging to “defend” the white race from… pretty much everyone else on the planet. And they happen to align themselves with the same symbol.)

So imagine my surprise when I came across VICE’s interview with ManWoman, author of Gentle Swastika, Reclaiming the Innocence, about his attempt to reclaim the symbol from “cue-ball headed bigots” over the last fifty-something years. ManWoman reveals the source of this calling: an old man in his dreams.

There was an old man who came up to me and he had long, white hair, a beard, and white clothes. He marked my throat with a white swastika and said that I needed to take this on as my mission and redeem the symbol.

Okay… they almost lost me with that. But this isn’t about me, it’s about the idea of people trying to reclaim the swastika. So what do you think – can it be done? Should it be done?