Born and raised in Wilmington, DE, Eric Marcinizyn is a rising star in black and gray tattoo. Tattooing for just three and a half years, he mixes West Coast styles with East Coast reference point. Marcinizyn cut his teeth as a graffiti artist and formalized his art training with a degree in graphic design from the Art Institute of Philadelphia. His strengths are in portraiture (Eric's featured in our Complex Guide to Portrait Tattoos), but his talents (as you'll see) extend to finely articulated narrative pieces.

Complex connected with Marcinizyn to talk about his career and influences.


How did you get your start in tattooing?

When I was about 16 or 17, I met a kid named Steve Guerin through mutual friends. He had grown up in and out of tattoo shops with his dad, and at that point had already been tattooing people for a few years. The combination of my life long interested in art, and my unhealthy habit of making my mark on things led me to eventually talking him into letting me try tattooing, on him. He's still got it on his thigh; an outline of a spoon next to old english outlines of the word "me." Spoon me. Who knows.

At that point he was already tattooing me, and we hung out a lot. Eventually I started making an effort to watch him work I borrowed his stuff to use once or twice, and then came up on my own gear. I think I was about 20.  

Where did you apprentice? What has your experience been like as a younger guy trying to break the industry?

I never actually did a formal apprenticeship. After I got my own stuff, I was tattooing in the house for a year and some change, trying to figure out what I could from one person to the next, and trying to get whatever info out of Steve that he'd offer. I wasn't doing good work, but with the pictures I had, I managed to get a job at a shop called Trademark Tattoo in Wilmington, DE that Steve's dad was opening up with BJ Betts in April 2008.

I've spent a lot of time as the new guy, so I never expected anything less than a hard time. Some people are nicer than others, and some people are dickheads. I know that the most important factor in furthering myself in the tattoo world is minding my own business, because ultimately work speaks for itself, good or bad. Tattooing as a whole for me has been one big lesson in patience. I feel like I found out that early, or maybe I'm just shy, but I was never in a hurry to get ahead of myself with meeting people, or showing my work. I just had it in my mind that it would happen at the right time.


Why black and gray? What drives you in that style?

I grew up writing graffiti, and long before tattooing, that had me learning about regional styles and the difference between East Coast and West Coast culture. Now, let me say first that I've always had problems with color. Not looking at them, but making them work together. I'm from Delaware, born and raised, but all my interest and and influence was always on the West Coast. I guess it makes sense that when it came to tattooing, my interest fell in the same location. The further along I got with tattooing, the more of an attachment I had with black and gray. As opposed to color, which is aggressive and messy to do, I feel like working in black and gray is graceful and calming. The way it is applied, and built up to sculpt and bring out the piece, its just smooth you know. And in a way, therapeutic.

As far as what drives me in the style, at this point I would have to say everything about it. There are so many ways to put it in, and so many different end results to get, whether it be the texture from a different needle grouping or hand motion, or sculpting a face with a type of blocking or smoothness. I want to learn it all, and understand it, and have it, and apply it. Thats just the technical side of black and gray.

Artistically, I feel the same way, except the list of what there is to do is endless, and I'm just beginning. I love west coast black and gray work, but the culture isn't mine. I guess I could say that my mission is to figure out a way to create the same end result; work thats not only beautiful and harmonic, but powerful, and just cool as shit, with the appropriate cultural and personal influences.

You work Shane O'Neill and BJ Betts - tell me a little about how working with them has helped you progress and the lessons you take from both.

Well, I was actually getting tattooed by Shane before I ever started  tattooing. I'm not sure, but maybe he had a professional obligation to be nice to me when we ended up working together. Just kidding. Honestly, and I'll never forget it, it was a humbling experience. Still is. Every time you think you get something, you look over at the work of the guy who not only gets it, but defines it, and realize you don't. As hard as it is to be around people every day who are able to do what I wish able to do, it is more beneficial to have it there than not. It's like, how do I know if I get it right? Well, "right" for this is right next to me, and "right" for that is in the other room. That kind of point of reference being available on its own is invaluable. I never expected anyone to teach me anything, and that's fine. But these guys letting me look over their shoulders, and even answering questions when I had them, I can't speak well enough to express my appreciation. In return, I do my best to show them that the knowledge isn't going to waste.

As far as the lessons taken from them; Shane is the model of patience and discipline. You sit down, aim your concentration, and work until the job is done, and done right. BJ exemplifies resourcefulness, drawing inspiration from every part of life, and a most important lesson of progression. In an industry where the majority is on their toes to do a shit poor rip off of your latest idea, you always have to be two steps ahead.  


Who are some of the artist's you look up to?

I have respect for any artist doing their thing and no respect for dickheads, don't care who you are. Learn some manners.

As far as who I look up to, it would naturally be the people who I feel like are doing the best job at what I enjoy. Naturally, Shane O'Neill and BJ Betts are influences. My good friend Steve Wimmer is an inspiration as well.  Klown and Abey Alvarez, from Lowrider Tattoo, have been incredibly welcoming, supportive, and just plain nice to a young kid who's was too afraid to talk to anybody. I look up to Bob Tyrell, Chuey Quintanar, Jose Lopez, Jun Cha, Nikko, Todd Noble, and Russ Abbott as well.

What are the main challenges in producing a winning portrait tattoo?

Everything. Trying to sit down, concentrate, and maintain for 5, 6, 10 hours, despite the people talking next to you about dumb shit, your girl blowing up your phone to fight with you, people walking through the door to interrupt you, and the customer not cooperating - those are the main challenges. Everything that makes a regular tattoo difficult is magnified by a thousand when the room for error is divided by it. For a person like myself, the hardest part for me is just slowing down. Things are always moving quickly, and when you're moving too quick, you miss a lot. A good likeness of someone will make a quality tattoo, but for that portrait to be dead on, you have to capture EVERYTHING. And you have to get it right. Time, patience, and discipline are required.