- Dr. Foster, Dawn of the Dead
After rejecting art school for a stint in the Navy, DJ Minor commiserated a few bad jobs at a tattoo shop near the base, and not long afterwards found himself tattooing tribal armbands on GIs… He just “kept waking up as a tattoo artist”, and the rest is history. You can find him at TastySquirrels.com and KantReed.com, and on Myspace as djminor.
* * *
BME: How did you get into art and tattoos?
I wasn’t drawing portraits of my friends at age three or anything, but I was steadily drawing from the third grade on. I got into photography and technical illustrations in high school due to a very persistent High School Art Teacher. She got me all revved up about a serious art career — as long as it wasn’t photographing kids at SEARS she would be excited. Time goes on and I got a full scholarship for an art School in Savannah, GA, which I turned down for a trip to boot camp. This threw me into a different art reality of the tattoo parlors beside the base.
I would have been awesome at SEARS though.
BME: Were you also exposed to tattoos as a kid, or were the base parlors the first time?
My uncle was in the Navy and was covered with little demons, and flowers from all over the world. It was really interesting since South Carolina, where I am from, didn’t have legal tattooing, or many heavily tattooed people. When I got out of the Navy myself I was covered in the kind of tattoos that make laser treatment techs rich — but visibly covered none the less.
Living in the southern heartland didn’t really take well to a twenty-something all sleeved out with naked ladies and skulls. After a few bad job decisions, I decided to take a few hours break at a local tattoo shop with an artist named Crenshaw. Knuckle head thought I was still enlisted, and was crackin’ on me for my lovely collection of art. Next thing you know, I am rewiring broken power boxes and tattooing GIs from Fort Gordon with Crenshaw! I really don’t know what happened after that — I just keep waking up as a tattoo artist.
BME: Tell me about your first customer?
So my first customer walks in, and throws down with some seriously sweet red tribal arm band action. Oh yeah! After probably two and a half hours longer then he was ready for, we wiped off my glorious red masterpiece. The client base at the time was a lot different from the tattoo show watching public of today, a little less informed about current trends in magazines and the art behind tattoos — they really liked tribal and Old English tattoos!
BME: Obviously your uncle doesn’t mind, but what about the rest of your family?
My grandfather was a Pentacostal preacher from the South, and my mom still thinks one day I’m gonna wake up and decide against them. Most of my family just doesn’t care anymore and it’s just who I am to them. The South isn’t like the rest of the country as far as ink and body mods go — I’ve been on the road for many years traveling, and I’m really happy to be away from the negativity from all of that Bible Belt mentality.
BME: Did you teach yourself to tattoo when you, I guess, just started doing it? How do you improve your work?
Tattooing was a sink or swim atmosphere and very intense. I quickly realized I needed more training, so I started traveling more and more until I just became a gypsy. I’ve been to every corner of this country I could, trying to learn more, and immersing myself into tattooing around as many talented artists and tattooers as possible. I owe any successes I have had over the years to my friends. Tattooing was a very private affair a few years back. The open ideas, and willingness to trade information of the last few years has really helped increase my tattooing technically. Lots of practice, and lots of technical critiques really have helped me push my tattooing to some very different places compared to when I first started. Fortunately the ability to tattoo more technically opened the arena to better art, so I worked on drawing and painting. Both mediums helped push the other. It’s kinda nice working with different mediums. You get stale and bored if you don’t. Recently, my wife has been pushing to work with oils more and more, and I’ve been on an art vacation the last three months while my the shop is being refitted.
I really get super critical with my work. I learn from each piece — little things to make it better, cleaner, and more crisp than the one before it, and improve on the next one even more. I try to outdo myself each time.
Critique from others is a large part of how I get better, so I don’t much care for open forums. You get a lot of washed out opinions on the Internet from people trying to be nice. I keep mine for artists I respect and that influence me. No matter how good you are, or think you are, outside eyes often can pick up things you never see yourself — whether it’s line weight, or contrast, you often just need a little extra outside opinion to help.
I also often try to incorporate as much non-tattoo art influence as possible too. There are so many possibilities with this medium that it just seems a waste not to.
BME: You said you’ve traveled and worked with a lot of people — who are your influences as an artist?
Tattoo-wise, it’s always been Joe Capobianco, Josh Ford, Josh Carlton, and Eric Merril — guys like that have been on my radar since before I was a tattooer. Recently, people like Gonz, Jason Wheeler, and a lot more West Coast artists have been drawing my attention to more traditional themes and styles. I am looking forward to going back out to Reno and LA to work around them as much as I can. Currently, I am in Houston. Obviously Nate Beavers is a name heard a lot lately, and working down there with those guys was a pleasure. Rick Clark and CMFL are workaholics and make you feel guilty for not painting and working more. But, in this business, there are always amazing artists popping up out of the woodwork making your jaw pop. However, in saying that… I’m still gonna cut off Kyle Cotterman’s hands — maybe just his fingers, haven’t decided yet.
BME: Who would you choose to tattoo you?
Josh Carlton, Joe Capo, and my wife Jen — but I could name lists of people if I had more skin and time. Joshua is a quiet tattooer with loud ideas, and just slick tattoos. His Alla Prima Ink just really looks cool healed. I’d glady trade my black arm for a sleeve from Josh — might be time for some more laser removal? I still have a lot of open skin and I have barely been tattooed at all in the last few years… I would love to get some pin-up action from Mr. Capo. Finally, my wife is my new live-in tattoo artist. I love her work, and we are about to start my back project. I’m super-excited, but she is super-preggo, so I have to wait a little while longer. Once we move back to Reno, we will start on it.
BME: What have your favorite places been to work in your travels?
Each area I travel to really helps me expand. Hawai’i was still the most awakening experience I have had artistically, but the majority of my education was in Atlanta. However, every pin-poke on my map has increased my artistic vocabulary. I really can’t say enough about traveling — I made myself a promise, and this is my last year of being a gypsy full-time. I’m turning into a homebody as of late, so you’ll see me on the West Coast as a fixture not just a glimpse.
BME: What kind of machine do you use?
You can tattoo with a quill from a sea urchin with black soot from a fire, but I’m too lazy for all that. I still run electromagnetic tattoo machines. I haven’t given into the air machines yet, but who knows. Most of my machines are just random one-offs from different machine builders like Dave Riegel, Josh Ford, BadBrass, and what-not. I wish had more, but my buddy Jay in Atlanta talks me out of most of my irons when I go home for a visit. I have a huge ink rack from several companies, but ink brands don’t matter much. You just have to apply the ink to make a tattoo bright and solid. I got one of the fancy Eikon meter power boxes. I never really used the meter, but it glows all pretty in my booth.
BME: What kind of tattoos are your favorite to do?
Tattoos without a huge back story.
I am sure that everyone could come up with the most meaningful tattoo ever to be on TV, but there is nothing as fun or rewarding as doing a tattoo just because. No reason or rhyme — just a tattoo because it looks cool. I got an elephant shitting out a Dorito on my neck. It doesn’t mean anything but the fact that I have a nacho flavored chip on my shoulder. Most of my clients are pretty chill. I do a lot of odd zombie stuff lately. Not because I want to; people just like dead shit. Who can blame them?
BME: What do you think of those TV shows? They certainly push the idea that everything needs a long story behind it. Would you appear on one?
Hell yeah I would be on a show! I’d be the jerk from any reality show. I love the interest that the shows have brought to tattooing. I am just not really happy about the side they show on TV — any business will have drama. You don’t get a real sense about what is really going on tattoo-wise… “Come back in five minutes, I’ll have that sleeve drawn up and stenciled for ya.”
Um, yeah, sure. It may take a little longer in reality. Oh yeah… And you will not find a cat running around in my shop, or a tiger, or a bear, or even an alligator, oh my. I got a zoo at the house for that. The other shows like that Versus show were awesome, but didn’t have the drama the seventeen year-old MTV crowd wants to see like on Big Brother or what-not. Tattoo shows need to show more art — more conventions and art shows. Follow an artist from two weeks out till the day after a convention. That would make for a better show.
BME: Will you tattoo faces and other “public” skin?
An eighteen year old walks in and says, “Hey, tattoo this name on my neck…” Well, he probably won’t be getting tattooed. But if you have a fair share of ink, and understand the responsibility of a body mod, then it’s your choice. Don’t think there isn’t a price to pay. Walk up into any store with huge piercings or tattoos and you will quickly learn. People are less shocked these days, but sometimes, you still got to warn or educate a client before they take on certain work.
BME: Do you turn many people away?
Not too often… most of the clients I turn away are actually just referred to someone else who would be better suited for what they want. Most of my clients are here because they are open to my work already, so most often, people who come see me get me. If that Polynesian back piece is still on your mind, then I’ll hand you Ronson’s info and get you out to Oahu though.
BME: What’s the best way for someone to get into the industry these days? Any advice for wanna-be tattoo artists?
Be a well rounded artist way before you try to be in this industry. Make your own path, and don’t look for a quick fix.
BME: What do you think you’d be doing if it weren’t for having fallen into tattooing?
I would have to marry a rich girl to afford my Xbox addiction! Maybe a porn star… who doesn’t wanna watch a chubby guy wiggle on an ugly chick for fifteen seconds?
BME: Think you’ve found your life-long calling then?
Tattooing for my whole life? If this old body will hold up, I will. My tattoo retirement plan is a little lax right now, but my wife is younger, so I’ll just make her work when I get old.
BME: Is your body starting to give you problems?
Yeah, I got some nifty glasses — I look like an old man creeping up with my newly founded gray sprouting hair. My back is ok as can be from sitting on painfully flat chairs for the last decade. I would really like to see some major advancements in tattoo chair technology.
BME: Finally, what do you think about scratchers and their role in tattoo culture?
Trick question, right?
BME: Haha, definitely not… thanks for talking to us!