When did you end up moving down to Miami to film TLC’s Miami Ink?
Eventually they called me to come out and help. It became one of the busiest shops ever. They had lines of 50 to 60 people after the show aired. It was the first time I ever left my shop. I decided to go there every two weeks—going back and forth for a while. One of my good friends, Morgan Pennypacker, he worked at Lucky’s before I did and he ended up being Ami James' first employee. Between them, they got me out there. Eventually I moved out there.
But at the time, we had zero weeks, we had good days and bad days—it was enough to pay the bills. It went from that to Miami where we were making great money.
Was the style different in Miami, tattoo-wise?
It was a lot of different everything. One, it was the first time in my life that I made extra money. Before that, tattooing wasn’t popular. I wasn’t a big name, I was just starting out.
What does a starting out tattoo artist make in Oceanside?
We had weeks where we didn’t make any money. I usually don’t like to talk about how much I make. But at the time, we had zero weeks, we had good days and bad days—it was enough to pay the bills. It went from that to Miami where we were making great money.
So you ended up moving to Miami for good. What were you impressions of the show at the time?
It was really hard to be excited about it then, because I was brought up around traditional tattoo artists and a lot of the old values and respect and a little bit of the ignorance and stubbornness of it. To publicize it on TV was a no-no, and it’s something that you grow up learning and something that you respect. Once Ami opened it to the world on TV, it was like, ‘What the fuck.’ Then, at the same time, I got to benefit from it. Ultimately, I have to make a living with my life so I had to find a balance between my standards and my future. In the end, it was a great show, they were showing great tattooing, they weren’t giving away any secrets. To be a part of that, it was really special and it’s part of tattoo history.
How did you adjust to the lifestyle in Miami? I’m sure it’s a lot different than California.
I was working there for four-and-a-half years, but only living there for a few years. The girl I was with didn’t like living there. It’s full of great nightlife and beaches, I enjoyed it, I learned how to relax there and chill on a day off by the pool which I had never done before. I’m still getting used to that. Me and my girl didn’t really drink or go out so weren’t partaking in the nightlife of Miami because we were working a lot, which was cool because I would hang out with her and paint all the time.
To publicize it on TV was a no-no, and it’s something that you grow up learning and something that you respect. Once Ami opened it to the world on TV, it was like, ‘What the fuck.’ Then, at the same time, I got to benefit from it. Ultimately, I have to make a living with my life.
When did you start painting?
When I learned how to tattoo, I learned how to paint and to me, it went hand in hand. The style of watercolor, it’s similar to the way I tattoo, it was just like exercising. I just found a way to find time to paint. Throughout the years, I’ve always done tattoo style painting.
After the Miami show wrapped up, where did you move next?
I started traveling and working in a lot of places—Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Amsterdam, Germany. I went to all of these places in the last two years, meanwhile Ami said he was building NY Ink and he called me to tell me he had a spot for me and that he’d love me to be there. It was perfect timing. I wasn’t ready to settle in San Diego even though I had this shop. I have an addiction to progress.
After traveling, you get involved with Ami’s new shop in New York—NY Ink, better known as the Wooster Street Social Club.
Actually when Ami called me, he wanted me to be one of the main cast members but I’m more of a laid-back guy so they fought him on it. I’m more of a sideliner on the show and it’s been a cool place for me because I don’t have to be a goofball all over the billboards and lose some credibility with people I respect, but I can still build my client base.
Do you feel like you lose credibility by being on the show?
Yeah, I mean even Tim Hendricks, he’s an amazing tattooer and loved by everyone, but he’s gotten a lot of hate for being a main guy on the show. It’s people’s ignorance, their stubbornness, and I understand that because I come from that. It’s a bummer. When you get older it’s about trying to make a decent living and Tim fought with the idea of being on the show because of that reason. A lot of times the show is controlled by the network so it’s not as much reality as you’d hope.