Fighting The Good Fight

You may have seen a number of articles circulating about the state of Arkansas and a movement to ban certain body modifications. The simple fact is, what went down in Arkansas was a step towards bettering the modification industry. Thankfully we have a great ambassador Misty Forsberg to thank for it.


Thanks Misty!

Misty is a professional piercer and scarification artist at Southtown Tattoo & Body Piercing in Fort Smith, Arkansas. However her contributions to the body modification community don’t even come close to ending there. Misty has been battling hard through the proper channels for better body art industry regulation. I was able to do a brief interview with Misty and talk about her experiences.

I’d like to thank you for taking the time out to do this interview, I know you’ve been traveling quite a bit and had your hands pretty well full! I’d like to hop right in and ask you about the most recent and initially turbulent legislation push in Arkansas. Where many articles we’re quick to say the state was trying to ban procedures what we’re you really trying to achieve?

Well there were two bills introduced. It was one of the most confusing issues for most people looking at what was happening in Arkansas. SB387 and SB388 were sponsored by Senator Irvin a the same time, but were two very different items. The bill involving banning any body art practices was unrelated to the bill we were working on. Our bill was aimed at increasing the standards in our state for body art, especially in the area of body piercing, which previously had no laws governing it. The bill involving banning what the state deemed as ‘extreme’ body modification came after we had written our draft and worked to get the Senator to carry it for us.

How did you start the process of fighting for legislation changes? I might imagine that a visibly modified person may have a tough initial ice breaking period when it comes to state lawmakers.

We actually got lucky, they came to us. The Arkansas Department of Health held a private meeting with a small group of artists from around the state to ask for help with updating the legislation regarding body art. Most of that group fell away when there was work to do, and the two of us that were left moved forward. As we began to talk with Steve Joyner about how to proceed, a group led by Joe Phillips formed called the Arkansas Body Modification Association. Dustin Jackson and I joined, and worked with their group to push forward with the legislative changes we felt were necessary to keep body art safe in our state. A lot of people really underestimate what having an organized group does for you when you are working with state agencies and representatives. Having a collective voice that can represent the industry, rather than 20 voices all pulling in different directions, gets attention and gets your issues taken seriously.

When it came to working with the state representatives and how we look, we actually discussed it to make sure we were all on the same page before meetings. I feel like it is unrealistic to expect to be treated like a professional in any field if you can’t present yourself as such. Yes, I kept all of my piercings in and some of my tattoos were visible, but I also knew that as an adult it is about compromise. My orange and yellow hair was dyed brown and trimmed, I bought a few suits, slapped on my heels, and went in looking and speaking like a professional. There wasn’t a single meeting that we came in looking like we weren’t there for business.

As much as it would be nice to believe you should get treated fairly no matter what, it just isn’t the way it works. You have a matter of minutes (literally 2 minutes one of the meetings) to not only present yourself, but to convince a room full of people that you know what you are talking about and that they want to listen to you. As much as it might not be fair, how you look is a huge part of that.

By redefining “body art” in Arkansas legislation you actually we’re successful in keeping scarification work legal and regulated. Do you feel like this victory was watered down by the plethora of bad publicity?

Adding scarification to the definition of body art was a huge victory, and I don’t feel like people misreading what happened tainted that. The bill was amended last minute, and so on paper people saw that it ‘passed’, but didn’t realize that changes had been made.

It is a very scary door to open, and we are still trying to write the rules and regulations that will license and govern scarification artists in my state. It is two sided. It brings light onto scarification which can potentially make other states consider regulation (possibly in a negative way), but it could also set an example for other states to follow which keeps artists like myself safe. I can continue to openly work in a studio without fear of it becoming illegal or the studio suffering because of my work in a ‘grey area’. Our state has taken a stance and decided that scarification is a form of body art, and we have a right to do it. I am proud of that regardless of incorrect internet buzz.

The quote from Republican state senator Missy Irvin “Body artists are my people.” feels almost like a shot heard round the world to me. Do you feel that now more than ever it is important for artists to have good rapport with their state officials?

YES. I can’t say that enough. Get to know who is regulating you, keep in touch, and let them know that you want to be involved. Missy Irvin and I did not see eye to eye, we did not have anything in common, and we would probably disagree with a number of each others political standpoints. At the end of the day, we learned to work together, we found a compromise, and we shook hands like adults and walked away with a mutual respect for each other.

We have to understand that a lot of the problem is a lack of education. These representatives don’t know our industry because they are outside of it, and hating them and lashing out does nothing but reinforce the stereotype they might hold of who we are. If you don’t like their stance and you want to see a change, shake their hand, present yourself in a manner that gives them a reason to listen to what you have to say, and educate them.

You have openly shared your scarification portfolio to the state, something that a lot of folks may be pretty wary of. Were you afraid of any repercussions from being so open?

The body art industry as a whole is very small in my state. We have two representatives at the health department, and they know all of us by name if that gives you an idea of what I mean by small. When I first started doing scarification in my former studio I had two options; hide it and lose the trust of my state representatives when someone told on me or openly offer a service that was not illegal and be proactive in educating them on what I was doing. So they have known for quite a while that I offered scarification.

When the state began looking at restricting what they deemed as ‘extreme’ procedures, they asked Steve, Dustin, and I to attend a meeting to discuss a number of forms of body art including body suspension, subdermal and transdermal implants, scarification, anchors, and tongue splitting. With them already being aware that I was a scarification artist, I felt that showing clean photos where healed results could be seen and explained was a much better option than leaving it to whatever google might pull up for them. It was still intimidating though.


With lines that clean who could be mad?

Juan’s Double Eyelid Piercing


Eyelid piercings have wowed people ever since I first featured them on BME. Although they’ve shown themselves to be safe and viable when properly placed on a person with appropriately shaped anatomy, they remain one of the rarest piercings. Spanish pacifist Juan Carlos has a variation on it that is perhaps the rarest of them all — a single bar connecting the top and bottom lids, almost like an industrial for the eye. The reason this piercing is so rare is that in order to wear such a piercing permanently, it requires a very unique anatomy — the lack on an eye. As the first person to get this, Juan claims the “right of naming”, and calls this the “Tuerto piercing”, or “Eye piercing”, as it replaces the eye. I had a chance to chat briefly to Juan about his remarkable piercing and other mods, including his striking full-face tattoo.

When Juan was nineteen, he was required to serve time in the Spanish military, as all citizens were required to at the time — this happened almost twelve years before the government would finally abolish the requirement. Juan went on to join the elite Spanish Green Berets, but wasn’t comfortable with aspects of their behavior once he got to see it first-hand. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. The abuse ran contrary to his ethics — he has “Libertá” tattooed on himself three times — and knew he couldn’t live with himself if he became part of this. It was either figure out a way to get out of the military or commit suicide. Not wanting to die, on January 28, 1990 Juan took a needle and punctured his own left eye — a process that he describes as not particularly painful, but just a sensation of pressure. This wound became infected, resulting in the loss of the eye — and more importantly, a psychiatric discharge from the military.

As with most people who lose an eye, Juan initially wore an artificial glass eye, an eye that he came to hate. He saw it as “a dirty mask” that he was required to wear to fit in, and that it “symbolized the triumph of ‘handsome and decent’ over the ‘rebels and libertarians’.” In addition, he needed to wear it all the time to maintain the eye basin, and it was uncomfortable at the best of times, and torturous if there was a scratch — “shit, more shit, as always.”

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Left to right: 1. A photo of Juan before getting either his facial tattoos or unusual piercing, while wearing his uncomfortable glass eye. 2. Two of Juan’s three “Libertá” tattoos. 3. Early in Juan’s tattoo process, with his false eye removed.

So he rejected the false eye. He found that not wearing the artificial eye, though freeing, came with problems of its own — the underlying tissue changed in shape, thereby altering the angles of his eyelashes. The top lashes would fold under the bottom lid, which was extremely uncomfortable, so he started looking for something that would both solve this problem and symbolize his sense of personal freedom and autonomy — thus this unique eyelid-to-eyelid piercing. He clarifies, “my piercing, in principle, was not done for aesthetic reasons. I do like it — this piercing is one of the most beautiful and important decisions I’ve made in my life — but it is a device with a function.”

The piercing itself was done by Montse Manzorro, who pierces and tattoos at Tarambana Tattoo in El Puerto de Santa María, a coastal city in the southwest of Spain. She had been piercing for years, but like most artists, had never done an eyelid. At first she refused, but he replied with a threat experienced piercers have heard oh-so-often: “If you don’t do this for me, I’ll go to the newbie down the street, and if they won’t do it, I’ll do it myself.”

So Montse considered the matter, called a doctor friend who told her it was no big deal, and agreed to do it. Juan describes it as quite painful to have done, but not a big deal beyond that. He figures that the initial healing took about a month, and he’s had the piercing for about four months now (it was done October 10, 2012). Juan says the piercing is very comfortable — much more comfortable than the artificial glass eye was. So far the piercing has been a success both in terms of function and aesthetics, with Juan explaining, “I am very happy and I feel freer than ever. Nobody will tell me now what I should wear or not wear. My life is my business and mine alone.”

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Above: Immediately after having the “eyelid industrial” piercing done.

I asked Juan how others in Spain reacted to him and he laughed — “In Spain? I do not exist! It’s dead, this country is dead — we need to ban bullfighting. The people are aggressive animals, but they do not want blood on their hands. My piercing goes mostly unnoticed due to my facial tattoo — that is, people tend to look away from the color, so they don’t have a chance to see the piercing. Young people though — and some old pimps — love it and appreciate how unique it is.”

I should add that Montse is also Juan’s tattoo artist, a tattoo adventure that is still in progress. A skin condition that Juan has asked me not to discuss in detail is deeply linked to his tattooing — first, because it means that the tattooing has at times been slow going and there are areas they can’t work on, but also because it keeps him out of the sun, restricting his ability to go to the beach (it’s just not the same at night). This is a great loss he says, “because I love the sun, my mother Sun, my favorite star, the love of my life. I am a child of the sun, always happy in its light.” Like many sun lovers, the beach was a big part of it, “I used to go to the beach in winter, and I was bathing in the sea.”

Losing the beach was heart-breaking — “I’m a baby without its preferred toy, it’s oldest toy”. Making up for the loss of the literal reality he’s moved the beach to his face — “The tattoo helps me to live, you know this, Shannon, you’ve heard it a thousand times. My facial tattoo represents the sea, the beach that I lost, the beach that I dream of most every day.”

Juan greatly enjoys corresponding with others around the world about body modification. Contact him via email at [email protected]

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Above: Juan’s piercing about four months old, with more blue tattooing added, including both top and bottom, left and right eyelids.

Cammy Stewart Interview


Cammy Stewart, whose work has been featured on ModBlog in the past, is a Dundee, Scotland based tattoo artist who started like most do — self-taught, tattooing anything they could on anyone they could find — but had an epiphany when he met neotribal, blackwork, and sacred geometry tattooing pioneer Xed LeHead at London’s Divine Canvas. He began merging this new style and philosophy of tattooing into his own, and became a part of what began with the idiosyncratic style of a small handful of outsider tattoo artists and has become a full-on art movement. Find Cammy at Metalurgey in Dundee, Scotland, online at facebook/cammystewart or instagram/cammytattoo, or email him at [email protected].


* How do you create the designs in your tattooing?

I design all pattern work I use for tattooing on Photoshop. Sometimes I draw sections by hand on paper, scan them, and then replicate or manipulate them using the computer until I’m happy with them. Any other drawing or layout for the tattoo is usually drawn directly on to the skin with a selection of pens until it is clean and easy to follow.

* Does the core of the design tend to come from you or from the client?

I like my clients to come in with a rough idea and let me do my own thing with it. The only time I like to have full creative control over a tattoo is when I either know the customer well and they trust me fully, or I get a vibe from them that they are open minded and genuinely don’t mind what I do.

People always say, “do whatever you want,” but I know deep down they don’t really mean it. If the client has existing tattoos that I have to work around or cover up this will also have a massive impact on the final design. I try to use this to my advantage and let it help with the shape, and the shape of the clients body can also influence what kind of design I use or how I place it.

In my opinion the body should be treated as a whole when possible. The un-tattooed space is as important as the tattooed space — how it fits, how it flows, how it becomes a part of the wearer and looks natural on them…

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* Do you have a library of artwork that you do in advance and then look for clients for, or is it all drawn for the specific person?

I design everything for the client, and most of the decisions for the final design are done on the day. I don’t like knowing exactly what I’m going to do in advance as I feel this isn’t really the most creative approach — I like to work in the moment, for my life on that day to influence how I go about coming up with the design. It feels raw, and that’s what I get a buzz from.

I do make patterns and designs and keep them in folders on the computer for possible future use, and I also collect things I find that look interesting from books or online that I feel might be helpful for ideas or for reworking in Photoshop at a later date.

* Maybe a silly question, but why do you use almost exclusively red and black? It seems a common palette for this style in general.

The reason I choose red and black is because it is a striking combination — bold and raw, and it works well on the skin. No other colours have the same power for me. I’m not sure why they are popular as a whole though. I imagine for the same reasons that I’ve just described…

* How do you introduce individuality into designs that by their nature are somewhat repetitive?

Every day is like reinventing the wheel. People see my work and all want similar things done, but I try to persuade them that they should look beyond my previous work and do their own thing to something that will suit them — obviously I have my favourite patterns and motifs but I try not to overuse them.

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* What do you draw influence from as an artist?

I draw influence from everything — my family, my friends, day to day life, emotions from within myself and people I respect within the tattoo industry. I don’t really look at tattoo magazines these days and I try not to look at too much tattoo work online as I don’t want to draw to much from other peoples work. I’d much rather look at books on graphics, street art, and so on to keep my work is as original as possible and not have it be a copy of other artists’ work…

* What would you say to the criticism that geometric tattoos are, while technically advanced, are devoid of a certain artistry?

Art to me is a raw expression of ones self, a tool to communicate with people without language… and mostly something that makes people talk, so whether you like something or hate something, as long as you want to discuss it and it makes you think, then it has much artistry as a portrait or any other kind of tattoo. And really, “what is art?”

* How did you learn and mature as an artist?

It’s been a very long drawn out process. My background was in graffiti art so that obviously has has a big influence on the tattooing I am currently doing. However, when I started tattooing I didn’t have a clue about anything. I am self taught, so the first few years I was just learning the technical aspects through trial and error — I was tattooing whatever came my way really, wanting as much skin as possible to get better.

The biggest turning point for me was meeting my now good friend Xed LeHead from Divine Canvas. As he tattooed my face and head, I remember him saying, “you wear the sacred geometry, so why not take this path and explore it for yourself?”

It just seemed like the right thing to do as I had so much respect and admiration for his work and his take on tattooing and life in general. I felt at home around him and all of the wonderful people working alongside each other at his studio. He shared everything with me –machine knowledge, patterns, tattooing techniques, Photoshop use… the lot! It got me started with this form of art, and gradually, as I got more confident I put my own twist on it and used my own art background to help me develop further… I don’t feel this process will ever stop, and if it does I’ll stop tattooing.

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* Is it frustrating being seen as specializing in a specific style, or does that help you push it further than you could if you were a more “general purpose” tattoo artist?

I much prefer working in only one or two styles. I don’t feel you can be really good at everything — it’s impossible to be great at every style. I’d rather concentrate my brain on one thing and be the best I can be at it than be OK at many styles while never really excelling at any of them. Being an all rounder was never really my thing.

I also feel its easier for people to remember you and your work if you work within only one or two styles — it makes your work instantly recognizable. You could compare it to marketing a brand of anything. When I was still doing other styles, but was already changing from doing a bit of everything to specializing in one style, I felt it a good idea only to display in my portfolio the work I wanted people to come to me for rather than everything I’d done, so that in time people would know and accept that this is what I do.

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* How do you see you style evolving from where it is now?

The work will evolve as the customers evolve. Without people I am nothing. What I’ve been starting to find is, as more people see my work they are keener to give me larger spaces to work on and I have more freedom with design. Everything I do inside and outside tattooing helps me grow and evolve. Also, as equipment gets better it can make tattooing more fluid and allow me to cover more area more efficiently. Long term I would like to work on larger projects rather than small tattoos, but this will only happen when the time is right.

I think geometric/blackwork/abstract work will continue to grow as new artists enter this world and do their own take on it — the possibilities of it are endless with people who are prepared to take risks and push the boundaries of modern tattooing, ignoring all the conventional rules and thinking outside the box…

I just like to tattoo and want my customers to be happy with the final outcome… I want to make images that people remember and that fit the body well.

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Zombie Boy doll – A Q&A with Robert Tonner


On the heels of Rob’s previous article about the Zombie Boy doll released at this year’s San Diego ComicCon, Robert Tonner, founder of The Tonner Doll Company Inc. graciously answered a few questions for BME.

BME: First, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions to share with the readers of and ModBlog. This is such a unique doll. Where did you first hear about (or see) Rick Genest and what inspired you to create a doll in his likeness?
Robert: Hard to say…I think I became aware of Rick sometime around the Mugler ad campaign and then the Lady Gaga video. I thought the ads were powerful—here you have a beautiful classic tux worn by a guy who was totally tattooed. The images were incredible. I didn’t think when I first saw them that the tattoos on the model were real—it wasn’t until later that I found out that they were. I saw an article about Rick and the campaign.
I have to say I’m from a totally different generation (I remember my mother saying that I should never get a tattoo because I’d never be able to work at a bank!) and although the extent of Rick’s tattoo’s was, to me, a little shocking, I really saw what he’s done as something of a work of art. And art should rattle you.

BME: What was Rick’s reaction when you approached him about making this doll?
Robert: Actually, I’ve never spoken to Rick! I sent him an email and his agent/lawyer got back to me. Seems that Rick thought it was a great idea.

BME: Zombie Boy is unlike other dolls we have seen from Tonner. Did you have any concerns about how this doll would be received?
Robert: I didn’t really worry too much about the reaction of our collectors. I think our group is pretty sophisticated and while they may not want the doll, I’m pretty sure they could see the artistry in what we tried to do. The figure is unlike a lot of what we put out in some ways, but I always felt that we’ve pushed the envelope of collectible dolls and figures.

BME: What process goes into creating a doll with this kind of detail, particularly in duplicating Rick’s tattoos and what can you tell us about the doll itself?
Robert: We used a doll body that we had in stock but we had a head sculpted to Rick’s likeness. I work with one of the best portrait sculptors working today and with Rick’s input I think we got a great likeness and we were able to do it all with photos. We then had Rick’s tats produced in decal (a painstaking process) form and that along with a lot of hand painting created the look. We worked with Rick and his agent on the outfit and the box.


BME: Sneak previews of the doll were published online and the doll itself was an exclusive release at the 2012 San Diego Comic Con. What has the response been from Tonner collectors and those in attendance at the convention?
Robert: I can tell you that no one was on the fence about the figure! Most people loved what we were trying to do and there were a few negative comments but that all comes with the territory. All in all, it was really well received. At Comic Con (where Rick did a personal appearance for us to promote the doll) we sold out of the figures that we had there. It was very positive.

BME: The body modification community has certainly taken notice of this doll, sparking interest from those who might not necessarily be doll collectors. How likely is it that we may see more Tonner dolls with body modifications in the future?
Robert: Actually, Zombie Boy was not our first. We did a line of dolls called “Sinister Circus” and we had a lot of body modification going on. I do see us doing more—if it can be beautiful and well done.

I’d just like to thank Robert Tonner for taking the time to answer a few questions for us and to Joanne who has been so friendly and helpful in setting up this Q&A. Check out some more detailed photos of the doll below.


If you didn’t make it to SDCC, that’s ok! You still have a chance to get your very own Zombie Boy doll as they are set to go on sale Thursday, July 26. You can pick up your own for $159.99 from the Tonner Doll Company. Dolls ship worldwide and each comes with a Certificate of Authenticity signed by Rick Genest.

BMEtv Update

I can’t believe how much time has elapsed since I started BMEtv. I came up with the idea back in December of 2008. In the first few months I had filmed about 30 interviews but I had a ton of trouble editing them because I just didn’t have the skills necessary to do a good job editing video, nor did I have the time to learn. I hooked up with a friend and he filmed and edited Trevor McStay while he was tattooing my leg. He then went up to the State of Grace convention and video interviewed  Bugs, Henning Jørgensen, Mike Rubendall, and Joey Armstrong. I really liked where the series was going (though some of the editing on the interviews was better than others) and I wanted to do more. This is where the main reason for the BME World Tour came from. I wanted to do more than just American or Canadian artists. I wanted to showcase artists from around the world and I think that we’ve started on a very cool project. I had some ambitious plans and while we didn’t get to do all of the countries that I wanted to, we are of to an amazing start. I lost track of the number of interviews that we’ve done but I believe it’s somewhere between 400-500 tattooers, piercers, body modification artists and “enthusiasts” (people with body modifications).

I’ve had the first few interviews that I’ll be posting finished for a while but I didn’t want to start posting them if there was going to be a big gap in between getting the rest of them finished. I’ve gotten over that hang up and I’m going to post them as I get them done instead of waiting as time seems to be flying by very quickly! The first interviews that are going up feature  Zoe Dennis, Vond Barta, Josh Roelink, Rob Wommelsdorff , Rhys Gordon, Rob Valenti, IAM: Nano, Marshall, Luciano Lima, Freddy, Stevie Edge, Cory Ohrman, Brady Hardin, Jenny McQuade and musician Astronautalis. These are just the first interviews that are finished and ready to go. I’ve got 5 more interviews which just need to have the title credits added to them and then they’ll be ready to go. The rest of Australia should be edited by the middle of February and then we’ll start on the Japanese interviews as soon as I find someone who can help me with the Japanese to English translation.

Thank you to everyone who helped make the interviews happen and who helps support the BME tour along the way!

Keep an eye out starting tomorrow!

The sum of all parts

When I first started posting on ModBlog, one of the first things I did, was a short interview with Gregory. Greg and I were not friends way back when. In fact, I think it’s safe to say we disliked each other quite a bit. Life is funny though and it has a way of turning things around and you end up finding out that person you really didn’t like is not so bad after all.


Recently, I happened to see the new work that Greg is turning out and I thought it was time to catch up with one of IAM’s more controversial and outspoken members and find out what was new.


Click to keep reading…

Life doesn’t always deal us the hand we’re looking for. Suffering a serious motorcycle accident and then battling cancer might cause another person to fold and give up. Not Greg. But nothing is ever quite as it seems and, opening himself up and showing me a more vulnerable side, Greg confessed to me that for nearly three years after his accident, he was a drug addict, addicted to pain medication, and it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with cancer that he quit the drugs.

This isn’t a sad story though because, as Greg tells me, “With my melon finally getting its shit together and me moving out of East Van and all of its negative vibe I am once again the Greg of old.” Like any rebirth, beauty rises from the ashes and Greg’s work is just that, beauty.


Wondering about his inspiration, I asked Greg to explain how he came up with these new designs:

The new stuff came about while I was looking at this woman wearing glasses and the frames she had on. They have what is called a torx screw holding most of it all together. Then out of nowhere I said that would be cool looking finger ring. Lucky me who just happens to use Solidworks, I went into my shop the next day and started to fuck around. It took me a few days of looking but I found a company in the great white north that manufactured the torx screws. Once I nailed that down I got started messing around on my lathe and mill. These rings were all just up inside my messed up melon and I just did what I thought I saw. But now that I have had a chance to see them and touch with my one good grubby hand I see what I want to do next. The two finger ring was just for shits and giggles and I of course want to change that up to but this time I will use torx screws and something else which I can not tell you about or I would be forced to kill you…


What’s up Greg’s sleeve remains a mystery but he did share some of what he’ll be doing in the future. Next fall Greg will be taking that mighty leap back into the murky waters of education as a full time student at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. There will be no stopping him then! If you want to keep tabs on Greg (or maybe order a ring for someone or for yourself), you can visit his website:


One of the reasons I wanted to interview Greg back then and why I’m posting this now is because while we deservedly give a lot of focus to the practitioners of body modification, we often don’t stop to find out about the rest of us. I’m not talking about long dramatized stories about what a tattoo means to you so you can get some air time on TV, but who we really are and what we’re really up to.

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I did promise you I’d be serious this Friday and I like to keep my word. There is a lot of negative energy thrown out there in the world. I’m a little tired of it personally. So let’s take a minute and focus on the positives of triumph over adversity and creating beauty in the wake of something ugly. Have a happy and safe weekend folks.

BME Finalists Round Two

I feel like a teacher handing out extra credit assignments but I need help to pick the winners for the BME World Tour. I’ve just narrowed it down to 10 finalists who will all need to complete an assignment.  If you want to know who the finalists have been narrowed down to, you’ll have to watch the video!

More information on the assignement after the jump!

The assignment really isn’t “extra credit” because if you don’t do it, you’ll be automatically disqualified from the contest. Since I know that everyone is working, I’m going to give this round of finalists until Thursday at Midnight PST to turn in their assignments. They will then be posted on the following Friday for votes by Modblog readers!

Send the following to [email protected].

Since we will be taking photos, writing blog posts and posting videos of our travels, I want the 10 finalists that I have selected to do the same. We will be posting these on a daily basis but since I know that everyone has other full time jobs on their plate, I am giving you until Thursday to turn this in. You’ll need to be able to do this on a daily basis when we’re on the tour.

Make a video, take some photos and write up a blog post about your day. You can do whatever you’d like with it. If you’re a student in school, just make a video about your day. If you’ve got time and you want to pretend we’re out on the road and you want to go interview a shop, do that. Are you going to a concert or some touristy spot during the week? Take photos and videos and write a post about that. There is a ton of flexibility. It doesn’t necessarily need to be “modification based” since the tour will include a lot of BME related stuff but also a lot of stuff about the people that we meet and the tour interns themselves.

Remember to have fun with it. This is your chance to show me what you’ll be able to come up with while we’re out on the road.

You’ve also got a lot of options for how you can record the video. Use your point and shoot camera, a flip cam, an ipod, an iphone, your laptop, or a real video camera! You’ve got tons of options, just remember to get everything in to me by Thursday or you’ll get disqualified!

Thanks again to all of the applicants. I’m sorry that I couldn’t take everyone but I felt it was best to try to narrow it down to my top 10 favorites so that I didn’t waste everyone’s time by making them do the assignment if it wasn’t likely that they’d get picked. My top 10 definitely changed after the last post and I’m glad that I put the finalist up and got to see how people carried themselves under criticism since BME is has a very large and vocal audience. You have to be able to take the good compliments with the bad comments.

To the finalists who did not make it on to this round, all of you are incredibly talented and there are several of you that I would like to offer opportunities to write on Modblog and as well as for BME. I’ll be contacting you as soon as things quiet down!

Thanks again to everyone who applied!

It’s time for a contest!


BME Internship 2.0

It’s been almost 5 years since BME last had interns. I’ve decided that I’d like to do something similar to the internship contest that we had. You can read more about it here. This is a much shorter version of the intern ship and instead of relocating to beautiful La Paz, Mexico, we’ll be traveling around the world.

I’m currently planning a worldwide BME tour. This will probably mean being on the road for 2-3 months. My goal is to start the tour in time to be home for the middle of June. This means we’d be hitting the road in the beginning of April. I have approximately 6 weeks to plan the trip, get sponsors, figure out the winners and then buy everyone’s tickets and book accommodations. I will also be booking the interviews that we will have scheduled. We will have at least one day off each week. This trip is all business though so if you want to do it, be prepared to take photos, talk to people and video tape interviews while we work our way around the world.

The goal of the tour is to interview as many individuals from as many different cultures and locations as possible. In each city that we stop in, I want to interview at least 5 shops and collect copies of their portfolios to add to BME. In addition to interviewing Tattoo Artists, Piercers and Body Modification Artists, I want to talk to and photograph clients as well as random people that we meet on the streets. I want to see the sites that the various places we go to have to offer (yes this means playing tourist!) as well as compile video interviews along the way.  I’d like to bring 4 people besides myself. That means our group will consist of 5 people total. We can get away with 4, including me but we may go to 6 if I can’t make a decision between a couple great candidates.

Depending how the planning process goes, the trip may end up getting split into continents, obviously it’s always fun to think big but to make it so this really happens, we may need to scale it back and make it more affordable in terms of money, time and logistics. While I’m working on the contest and putting together the team, I’ll also be working on getting sponsorships as that will help make the tour that much more viable. I may also end up having a couple openings on the trip for multiple people to fill the various roles due to the length of the trip. I feel though that you should be able to commit at least two weeks. If you can only come out for a week, it’s not enough time to get into the groove with the rest of us. I will, however, make exceptions so please send in your audition and let me know that you’re the exception that I should make!

Click through for more information!

In order to make this trip possible, I’m looking for people who are talented in a couple different areas. I’m looking to fill the following roles:

Videographer/Video Editor

In the dream scenario, each person would be capable of filling all of the roles but I understand that is a dream and not likely to happen. The main thing though is that everyone will have to be able to write. That is a requirement. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be an accomplished author but they have to have an inquisitive mind and be able to express their thoughts in writing so that we can share our travels with the readers of BME. I’m know that I am not the world’s best writer but I am capable of recounting an event or conducting an interview so if you think that you can write as least at the level that I can, then you qualify! I can also take decent photographs and keep a video camera steady. I am however really lacking in the video editing skills. I’ve been trying to get better at it but unfortunately it’s really not something that I’m good at.

If you’ve got more than one talent and can do the same, then it makes it more likely that you will be chosen to accompany me on the trip. Seeing as there are 3 roles that need to be filled and 4 spots available, this means that between the 5 of us, we should be able to fill these three rolls. When we’re in a city, we may need to split up to tackle two different locations at the same time depending on the schedule, which is why people need to be able to fill multiple roles. Being able to write relatively well, understanding lighting and Photography and also being able to properly handle a video camera (even if you can’t edit) means that we should be able to regroup at the end of the day and put our work together with ease.

Besides being able to fit a minimum of one of the above roles, there are a set of requirements that need to be met.

You must meet all of the following:

Active Interest in Body Modification –
You should be knowledgeable about and actively involved in body modification. You should be  open to all of what BME covers. If you have a problem with with anything in the BME/Extreme or BME/Hard areas then you should not apply. You don’t have to have heavy mods but you need to be okay with others having the right to modify their bodies as they see fit.

21+ years old preferred, 18+ Required –
I’m asking for proof of a passport so I will be verifying your age. There are places outside of the USA that require you to be 21 to gain access so I don’t want to leave anyone in the hotel room because we’re going to an event at a 21+ location. Having everyone above 21 makes this a non issue. If you are under 21, apply anyway. I may make an exception for the right applicant BUT keep in mind that preference goes to those that are 21+

Valid Passport – You must hold or be able to acquire and provide proof of a valid passport two weeks prior to the time that I purchase our airline tickets. If you do not have one by this time, you will lose your spot. I cannot risk putting out the money for our non refundable travel arrangements and then find out that you can’t get a passport. There are no citizenship requirements. As long as you meet the other requirements, you are welcome to apply!

No Felony Convictions/No Arrest Record/Anything that prevents you from traveling freely
– This is a requirement because, like the  passport issue, I do not want to have the tour ruined by someone who gets blocked access from entering a country. Some countries will not allow convicted felons or someone who has even been arrested to gain entry to the country. It could potentially ruin the tour all together if someone in our group was denied entry and that made it so the rest of us were denied entry. Anything that prevents you from freely traveling, entering various countries or getting back into your own country will prevent you from being selected. I have decided that if you can get clearance to travel by filling out the appropriate paperwork and going to the required consulates and get yourself authorized to travel (with a criminal record) I will waive this requirement for the right applicant!

No Drug/Alcohol Abuse Issues –
As we will be traveling in foreign countries, I do not want to deal with any issues relating to drug problems. We may visit countries that have serious penalties with foreigners that are caught with illegal substances. If you break this rule and are caught, there is little that we will be able to do to help you.

Good Health – I will get Medical Travel Insurance for all of us in case of emergency but if you are not in good health and cannot carry your own luggage or backpack, this is not the tour for you. We are going to have to schlep our own bags. We’re not rock stars, we’re people out to do something cool on a limited budget. We’re basically seeing the world on a shoestring budget (unless I score major sponsorship) and we need to make sure we meet out goals. If you are on medication that you take daily, that’s fine but it cannot interfere with our abilities to get from point A to B and do what we need to do while we are there. I am hoping to make it so that I am the only one with a chronic illness on the trip. In addition to doing our interviews, going to events and working almost every day of the trip, we will be site seeing. Depending on the country, this could include a lot of hiking.

Drivers License –
You should have a valid drivers license, but it’s not required. Preference does go to someone with a license in the event of a close call. It does not need to be a full license if you’re in a country with a rated system like Canada. I don’t want to end up being the only one who can drive though!

Availability –
You must be able to commit to staying on the tour for at least TWO WEEKS. Any less than that and it will disrupt the tour. It will take a lot of time to get into a grove and figure out how everything works and to streamline our entire process. If people come and go too often, the harder it will be to become an efficient touring machine! Preference will be given to those who are able to commit more time.

Computer Experience
–  This is a no brainer. You need to be able to write and post photos on the web. If you only have a desktop computer and you are selected, I should be able to provide you with a laptop.  This will need to be returned back to me at the end of the trip. You must have a working knowledge of wordpress, basic photo editing capabilities (ie color correcting, watermarking, resizing photographs),  as well as basic HTML skills. Extended knowledge is always a plus and as always, preference will be given to those with the most variety of talents and skills.

A Positive Attitude
– Sometimes shit happens, especially when you travel. Are you going to be able to keep a smile on your face when we get to a hotel and it’s oversold and they gave away our rooms because we didn’t get there until 1am due to our flight being stuck on the runway for 3 hours? Are you going to be okay with sleeping at the airport when our flights are canceled and we can’t get a hotel until morning? Or are you going to be a diva and whine and cry about it? If so, this isn’t for you!

Be Social/Outgoing
– You don’t need to be a party animal but you have to be willing to talk to strangers. We are going to interview, photograph and film people that we don’t know. You have to want to get to know them, or at least do a damn good job faking it, which is what makes a good interview. You also have to be willing to have your photo taken and appear on CAMERA. Obviously some people will want to spend more time in front of the camera and that’s fine with me. I hate having my picture taken or being on video but I know that it needs to be done. You should know this too and be willing to get over your fears.

These things are major bonuses:

Travel Experience is a plus – Do  you know what I mean when I say we’re going LAX-LHR? Do you determine your travel route based on the amount of air miles you’re going to accrue? Do you know what to do when you’re in line at airport security? Do you pack everything into a tiny carry on bag so you don’t have to check it and in that bag are things sorted so you can pull out your liquids so you don’t get a secondary screening? If you’re a travel pro, that’s a big bonus. If my 6 year old knows more about travel procedures than you do, chances are we might not get along! If you have airline/hotel/rental car elite status, that is also a HUGE bonus because I will be booking flights based on AA/OneWorld Alliances and hotels based on Priority Club alliances. I have EVIP’s which need to be used by the end of February or they expire. If you know what this means, make sure you include it in your application. If you’re adept at public transportation, include this on your application as well. We don’t want to get lost and we don’t want to kill our budget on taxis! Obviously safety first but we’ll be in a group so we will be fine.

Multi-Lingual – Do you speak more than one language? Great! Do you understand other cultures because you have experience with them? Awesome! Do you know people who can put up the 5 of us for the night? Even better!

Hotel/Airline/Sponsors Connections – That’s a no brainer. Do you have any hook ups and you want to help us out? Please contact me!

What’s covered and what isn’t?

Now that you’ve been selected, what do you get? Unless I find a couple other sponsors, we’re going to pull this off on a limited budget. It means that we’ll likely be flying economy (this is where having travel experience and frequent flyer status comes in handy! You can upgrade, I won’t hold it against you!), staying in low end Hotels/Hostels/Friends Couches where we can and taking full advantage of Continental Breakfasts offered at the hotels/hostels that we stay in. We’ll try and take public transportation to keep costs down as taxis can be very expensive. I will be covering the basics. Unfortunately this isn’t a paid tour but all of the costs will be taken care of so you’ll be able to take a trip you may otherwise not be able to afford. This is a great opportunity to see the world as well as build up a huge archive of content for your resume. Not to mention it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Plane tickets/Ground Transportation – You will need to get yourself to our starting point, if you happen to be closer to our first destination, you can meet us there. Due to the nature of our tour, it makes sense that we all travel together. The only exception is if it doesn’t make sense for you to go to the start point if you’re closer to the first destination. For example, if we’re all starting off in Los Angeles and our first destination is Londan, England and you live in Paris, it makes more sense to have you meet up with us in London. In that scenario, I’ll cover getting you to London from Paris but I can’t cover getting you from Podunk, IA to Los Angeles.


– We will be staying in hotels/hostels or friends couches (this will be a very rare occurrence and most likely won’t happen, mostly due to the fact that most people don’t have room to accommodate 5 people). We will be sharing hotel rooms. Since there are 5 of us, we will be splitting two rooms (taking turns with who gets the cot!). In the event we take on an additional person, we will be splitting 3 rooms. 2 persons to a room.

Meals – 3 meals a day. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. This does not include alcohol or tobacco.

Medical/Travel Insurance
– I will make sure that each of us has medical/travel insurance for the duration of the tour.

The Application Process!

Now that you know what the tour is about, who I’m looking for, what the requirements are and what you get out of it, it’s time to apply! As I’ve described at the beginning, I’m looking for “Jack-of-all-trades”. If you can write, take photos and hold a video camera, then this is definitely an opportunity that you qualify for. I’ve also got a position open for someone who doesn’t really excel at any one skill out of all three. Everyone needs to submit the same application, however, if you’re looking to be assigned one role specifically above the others, then you’ll need to submit additional material to support that request.

Please submit the following:

Send an email to [email protected]. Please make sure to include the following in your email:
Birthday & Age:
IAM Page Name:
Role you’re applying for:
Drivers License:
Criminal Record Y/N, if Y, what?:
How long can you commit to the tour? Please note priority may be given to those who can commit more time to the tour:
Are there any time periods where you will need to briefly leave the tour?:
Email addresses used for any BME submissions. If there are contributions to BME or this community you’ve made that won’t show up under those email addresses, please include details about them.
Link to Audition Video (You must create a video audition and include it with your application – see below for hints!):
Links to writing:
Links to Photography:
Links to Videos:

I’ve explained the application specifics for the Audition video and the links to your writing, photos and videos below! If you don’t submit these things your application won’t be considered!

A Video Audition Make sure to state your name, your age, where you live and which role you’re applying for. Since I’m potentially spending weeks on end with you, I want to get to know you as well as possible through your audition tape. I wasn’t sure what to ask for in the audition video so I googled “how to make an audition tape” and got tons of answers. Check out those sites as well as this one to see how to make the best audition tape possible. If you’re saying “I don’t have a video camera, how can I make a video?!” Don’t forget that most digital point and shoot cameras have a video mode. You can also use the webcam built into your computer to record an audition tape. Most things that you audition for put 3 minute limits on the audition tapes. I’m giving you 10 minutes to work with. You don’t need to use all of it but I’m giving you a lot of time to let me get to know you. Tell me who you are. Tell me why you think you’d be good for this. Tell me why you want to do it. Be honest. Tell me your deepest darkest secrets and everything else you want me to know. Are you afraid of the dark? Let me know. Give me a look into your life and what it would be like living together on the road for 6 weeks to 3 months! Upload your video to  youtube and send the link along with your application email.

Examples of your writing
– As I said, everyone must be able to write at LEAST at the same level as myself. This means you can express yourself clearly and intelligently via the internet. You need have a basic grasp of proper grammar, spelling and punctuation. Your examples of writing can be anything from a link to your IAM page, another blog and articles or interviews you’ve written. If you’re interested in being selected as “The Writer” then make sure you submit more examples of these.

Photography – Everyone needs to be able to take photos. Please send a link to examples of the photos you’ve taken. A link to your BME submissions, IAM page, online photo hosting page or something similar is fine. We will all have pocket size digital cameras. If you’re interested in being “The Photographer” please send links to your portfolio to back your selection for this role. You will need to know how to light the shops that we are shooting in.

Videos you’ve Edited – Everybody needs to be able to use a video camera.  Please send links to videos you’ve uploaded to youtube etc. It’s okay if you don’t have any if you’re applying for one of the other roles. Your application video will suffice. If you’re applying for the “Videographer/Video Editor” role, please send a link to your portfolio of films/videos that you’ve edited.  To snag this role, you’ll need to prove that you can edit video!

I haven’t decided if I’ll be posting the video auditions on Modblog so that I can get BME readers to help me choose the winners. Submit your videos under the impression that I will be. This is going to be a kick ass trip and I think we’re all going to have an awesome time! Get those applications in asap! The application process will be closed on February 20th and winners announced on the 1st of March. We should be able to have a finalist round where I’ll post the video auditions that made it to the finals and we’ll do a group vote. I want to see who can really market themselves and get people to BME to vote for them, since that’s kind of what a part of this tour is about! I will have the final vote on who goes on the trip though. If everything goes according to plan, we will be leaving in the first week of April. Good Luck!

Modified Mamas: Molly

Babies, babies, babies. Doesn’t it seem like everyone you know is having one right now? In the middle of trying to figure out what to post about I got the news that another friend is, you guessed it, “expecting”. It got me thinking about how many people I know who are either expecting or have recently had babies, and then I realised that the majority are women I know from IAM! Imagine that. So I’ve decided to put together a series of interviews with some of my favorite modified moms.

To start of the series, we have Molly, a young hip mom to daughter Audrey. Or, as she calls her, Odd. Click “read more” for the full interview.

Molly and Audrey

When in your own personal life did you start modifying your body?

I’m from a small town, I wasn’t even aware of modifications outside of the occasional eyebrow or lip ring until I was 17 and I moved to a larger town/small city and made a few friends there who worked at piercing/tattoo shops. I eventually had my lip pierced, and then a few months later switched that for two upper lip piercings (commonly called double monroes I guess). I got my first tattoo the same day, for an incredibly stupid reason. I was dating a young tattoo artist and we were bored. It’s a pretty horrid piece really, with a ton of scar tissue, but it was my first one so I remember it fondly. From there I just kind of ran with it. I realized that it was something I found esthetically pleasing on myself and others. I started stretching my ears, getting more tattoos, and reading up on different modifications through BMEzine actually.

How would you say that your own parents have influenced that decision?

My step-dad likes to tease me and say he got me into tattoos. This is a lie, he has a few silly little pieces (including Calvin and Hobbes and a chinese characters armband) and if anything, he should have shamed me away from them! My mom has never expressed an outright disgust or disapproval for my tattoos. Although when I got a memorial tattoo for my dad on the back of my neck, her response was “It’s a little big, isn’t it?”. She seems pretty used to it all now, and even compliments my pieces sometimes. But I can tell she’s still kind of worrying about the stigma attatched and me limiting myself in career choices. Thankfully, my family is pretty supportive and understanding and I’ve never been put in a position where I’ve had to choose between something I love and my family that I love.

Have your views changed since you became a parent.

I wouldn’t say that my views have changed, I still love tattoos and my earlobes and my piercings. I would never be embarassed by them just because I’m a mom, and I’m not going to regret them either. I do tend to notice more when people stare or make comments, just because I don’t want Audrey to ever be made uncomfortable. And it bothers me that somebody could make her feel this way someday over the way I look. Hopefully, we will raise her in a way that keeps her open-minded and comfortable with herself and her family, no matter what she’s like as she grows up.

Out for a walk

Out for a walk. Photo by

Tell me a little bit about your journey into parenthood

I hadn’t really planned on being a parent. I’ve always had the idea in the back of my mind, but I just never felt I’d be ready. I’d also been told by two seperate doctors that my chances of ever concieving were between 1 – 5%, for a variety of health reasons. So it was just kind of something that wasn’t going to happen for me. I actually didn’t find out I was pregnant until 3 months into the pregnancy when a female room mate mentioned that she’d gone to the clinic for a test of her own that had come back negative. She was explaining the symptoms she’d felt that she was sure meant she was pregnant, and each thing she mentioned I mentally ticked off as something that was happening to me. So I decided I should probably do a test just to be sure, and VOILA. Positive. It turns out my room mate had actually been having sympathy symptoms for me.

My partner, Zach, and I had only been dating for about three months at this point. We were very happy, and I was losing my apartment so he’d offered to share his place with me until I could find something else. It was literally the day I was moving into his house, while he was at work, that I found out I was pregnant so you can imagine the stress. I told him, and it took us about two weeks to come to a firm decision about keeping the baby.For awhile, it was very hard to get used to losing my chance at being a carefree, 20-something year old with a bunch of friends and a busy social/work life. Being a parent was the polar opposite. And a lot more difficult than anything I was used to. But it was also incredibly fulfilling and made me so proud and happy.

What are some of the challenges you face as a parent?

I’ve had issues, I’ve been stereotyped and ignored. But I arm myself with knowledge and force people to take me seriously. I’m not going to sit back and let other people make the decisions regarding my body and my daughter’s life. I’ve dealt with the stigma attached to someone with visible modifications. I’ve had other moms make snide comments towards me, doctors refuse to accept that I have educated myself on what is right for me and my daughter, and a general public that is convinced that I’m the stereotypical, trashy, un-wed mother. I’ve also had to face the fact that I am an incredibly impatient person, and babies require incredibly amounts of patience. I’ve had to try to change the way I react to different things, and find things to keep myself calm. I’ve also dealt with losing a lot of friends who are still young and living entirely different lives than I am. Pretty much the moment I could no longer go out and get drunk every night, I was ditched. I’ve made a ton of amazing friends though to make up for that, ones who are supportive, helpful, understanding, and always there for me and my family.

Molly and Audrey

Are you employed at the moment? What are your plans professionally for the future?

I am currently employed, I work at a music venue/bar. Sadly we will be closing at the end of January so I’m looking for a similar job. In February, money permitting, I should be starting a Yoga teacher training program. Yoga has been a huge help, both physically and mentally, during my pregnancy and after so I’d love to pursuahae it as a career. I also hope to eventually get back to school, I’d love to do an English major in University and possibly be a teacher one day.

What sort of modifications do you have at the moment? Do you have any in plan for the future?

I have stretched earlobes, basic nostril piercings, and a fair amount of tattoos. A sleeve in the works, my knuckles done and some other scattered pieces. I plan on stretching my ears larger, it just depends on how cooperative they are. I also plan on being pretty covered in tattoos. I’ve got ideas for my chest, arms, legs, hands, neck, etc.

How would you say being a parent has impacted on your personal journey with modifying your body? Have you ever faced discrimination when spending money on your mods?

Being a parent has not swayed my decisions regarding my body and the things I like. I would never get a vulgar or inappropriate tattoo since I have a child, but that’s not something I would do anyways. I’ve never faced judgement over spending money on modifications, but we’re also fairly stable financially and Audrey is spoiled rotten by family. She doesn’t miss out on anything because of our spending. And we would never withold from her to give to ourselves.

and baby make three

and baby make three

What message would you like to share with expecting moms or women who are thinking about having a baby?

Having a child is an amazing experience. It can be overwhelming, stressful, frustrating, heart breaking, and the most difficult thing you will ever go through. But it is also amazing, rewarding, and life-changing in a good way. You need to educate yourself as soon as you know you’re pregnant. Read information about pregnancy, about labour and child-birth, parenting and possible things you’ll have to deal with. This is the most important thing I think. I dealt with a lot of problems with doctors assuming I was just another young girl who got herself into a mess. But once I could show that I knew all about what was going on with my body, and what I was going to go through, I found I was listened to more and trusted to voice an opinion.

Thanks Molly!

No Superfluous Flummery: An Interview With Bob Roberts

Last month, while in Los Angeles for BME’s Tattoo Hollywood convention, I was given, above all else, one specific task: to interview Bob Roberts, the owner of L.A.’s Spotlight Tattoo, whose art gallery opening that week I wrote about here. There was, of course, an element of danger. “He can be very intimidating,” people cautioned me. “Be careful what you say around him.” Though ostensibly well-meaning, these warnings were unnecessary. When we sat down to talk on Sunday afternoon as the convention was winding down, Bob struck me as a cross between Jeff Bridges’s The Dude from The Big Lebowski and John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski: an old hippie, content with his status and the life he’s lived…who occasionally gets very, very fired up about things. (Voice-wise, though? He’s The Dude.) Drawing from his nearly 40 years of experience, we talked about his humble beginnings, shitty artists he’s known, blow job etiquette in 1970s New York, various people who deserve to have their thumbs cut off and much more. Here’s our entire conversation, edited in parts only for clarity.

BME: OK, let’s start with some procedural questions and then once we’re warmed up I’ll try to make you cry.

Bob Roberts: Alright. Can you hear me? Test, test. Is the needle going on there?

BME: We’re ready to go. So where are you from originally?

BR: Los Angeles, California.

BME: And what brought you to tattooing in the first place?

BR: Well, it’s a long story. My dad had a store at Eighth and Broadway, and he used to take me with him to work on the weekends. When I got old enough to run around, first I would go by this pawn shop that had switchblade knives that would start at one inch and would go until they were maybe over six feet. Then, they had a lot of tattoo shops, so I used to go into all of them until I’d get thrown out, and I just always loved it, man. I saw all these people getting tattooed and from a young age it just nailed me to the wall.

Later on, I was in rock and roll bands for a long time—I played the saxophone—and I was painting a lot of flash and I wanted to find a job, and I thought I could be good at [tattooing]; I loved drawing the designs. So I went to a few shops and went, “Hey! Where can I get some ink and some guns?” And they just told me to get the fuck outta there.

So, I was living in Laurel Canyon, and I was driving down the hill one day and I saw a friend of mine hitchhiking, and he had this girl with him named Truly, and she had a fringed leather jacket on with a really nice Japanese dragon done in Indian beads on there. So I inquired! I said, “Man, that’s a nice dragon, it looks like a tattoo design.” She said it was, so I asked if she did it herself. She said, “Yeah, and I’m a tattoo artist too.” This is 1973, by the way. I told her I was looking into getting some equipment and machine, and she told me she had a whole outfit she could sell me. So, I bought some machines and some flash (that I still have) and a power-pack, and that’s really how I got started.

Shortly after that, I started going down to The Pike and got my first three tattoos—my first shop tattoos—by Bob Shaw, and I told him I was interested in working there. I’d bring him stuff that I’d drawn and I’d get tattooed by him, so he gave me the ultimate challenge: bring some people in that’ll let you put a tattoo on them. Well, I was in a rock and roll band at the time and these guys knew I could draw, so I told them to come to The Pike with me to get some free tattoos—I was bringing two carloads of guys a week down there. And I did alright, you know? I guess they figured, “Well, I guess this means we have to give this asshole a job.” And they did!

BME: At what point did you branch out on your own?

BR: Well, after working for [Bob] Shaw and [Colonel] Todd, I first worked at a shop in Santa Ana where I had the honor of taking over the great Bert Grimm‘s chair, and me and Bobby Shaw worked there. I worked at The Pike for close to four years, and eventually, for the only time in 37 years, I quit tattooing for four months before going back to it after I got a job with Cliff Raven. From there, I went to work with Ed Hardy for three-and-a-half years, and then I went to New York City and opened my first shop there. It was a fifth floor walkup, where I tattooed in one half and lived in the other; that was the first Spotlight Tattoo. Then I moved back here after I got kicked out of New York.

BME: You got kicked out of New York?

BR: You know, in New York City they sell buildings like they sell houses out here [in Los Angeles]. I never knew that. I was living in a place there, and the next thing I knew my lease was up and I was going, “What the fuck, man?” I was paying $550 a month for a loft, but the guy who owned that building sold the building I was in and nine other buildings to someone else.

So, tattooing was still illegal at that time in New York City, and I wasn’t gonna live and work in the same place again, and I couldn’t afford to open a shop on the street and then get a separate place to live—plus, I was burned out on New York, so I came back here, and I went out every day for six fuckin’ months trying to find a store. On Melrose, you couldn’t rent an outhouse for less than $8,000. It’s a little different now, but back then it was in its heyday. Finally, I found a little garage next to where I am now and stayed there for nine-and-a-half years, and then I moved next door into the shop I’ve got now.

BME: So when you started tattooing, did you consciously decide what your style was going to be?

BR: No! I did what I had to do wherever I was. I broke in on biker stuff at The Pike—you’d do Harley wings every night, you’d do reapers, you’d do eagles, you’d do roses, marijuana leaves, you’d do at least one to four Hot Stuffs [devil designs] every night. All that kinda stuff, man. You work at The Pike, you’d tattoo 15 people every night, five nights a week. We had three people on the night shift and three people on the day shift, and everybody tattooed 15 people—at least 75 people a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I still don’t know how I did it.

So then I went on and started seeing some of Ed Hardy’s work and some Japanese work and I wanted to learn how to do that. I tried to do whatever I could—this was 1976—and I could already do the other stuff pretty well. Then I came up to work for Ed and things started changing. All of a sudden, people thought all the old American traditionalism was no good because the line was too big, you know what I mean? All the old-timers thought, “Well, that shit ain’t gonna last.” We joked and said, “Oh, this is the new thing that’s gonna replace everything?” And we were all wrong. We got on a big high horse about it, and I tried New School-style for a bit until I realized, American-style? You can’t do that way, man. It doesn’t hold up—it’s only good for certain things. But when I opened my own shop, I had to do everything that walked in the door to pay the rent. One day it’s a reaper, one day it’s a portrait, tribal, Celtic, portrait, all this different crap—I had to make a living. Some of it I was good at, some of it I wasn’t, but I did the best job I could.

But I was always best at American traditional, the stuff I did at The Pike, and I got into a comfort zone where I could take that stuff and do my own thing with it, which was really hard for me to do with the Japanese-style stuff. I worked on Japanese stuff up until a couple years ago and I just stopped doing it, it was getting too far out of my reach.

BME: How long did it take you before you realized you wanted to make a career out of this?

BR: I knew right away, I just didn’t know if I could do it. Back then, working with these old timers, you didn’t know what went into mixing ink, you didn’t know anything. Eventually, they had me in there whenever I had a day off making needles, and all the other younger artists would get mad. “Well, how come they’re showing this fuckin’ guy this stuff?” They didn’t want to teach everybody that. If they saw you painting flash? They’d look at you like, “What the fuck are you doing this for? We’ve got all the designs you need. What, are you thinking about opening a shop down the street?” Oh, they were serious! You’d ask them about mixing colors and they’d tell you, “You don’t need to know that. What, you planning on opening up? What do you need to know that for? We’ve got everything for you right here.” That’s how it was.

Somebody comes in and goes, “Oh, I want this custom—” and they’d stop them right there. They didn’t draw nothin’! If it wasn’t on the wall, they didn’t get it. They’d fire you if they saw you doing it, because they didn’t give a fuck about anything like that. If you sat there and drew for half an hour, all they saw was $200 walking out the door. If you wanted to put something custom in, you went and drew it at home, and then you had the client come back. You didn’t fuck around. Names, that’s the only thing you drew on, and you just picked up a pen and went, “Jane. J-A-N-E.” Twenty seconds. Five bucks. There was none of this fancy stuff The cheapest thing was a name, and then you’d have Hot Stuff for $12.50, eagles would start at $17.50—see, Todd said if you put the 50 cents on there, you’d get tips, he worked it all out—and go up to $36.50. I think the biggest thing they had was a peacock with grapes, and that was the most expensive tattoo, which was $101.50. We shaved their arms with straightedge razors—that’s how you could tell the men from the boys. The boys would all use their fuckin’ safety razors. If you used a safety razor at The Pike, they’d fuckin’ throw you out of there! You couldn’t fuck around with that. That took too long. Then you’d put Vaseline on their arm, and then you had an Acetate stencil that you’d use black charcoal powder on. You’d smooth it out and touch that onto their arm, and the powder would stick to the Vaseline. You had to work your way from the bottom up so you didn’t wipe the stencil off.

BME: So when you’re looking at a tattoo, whether it’s one that you’ve done or one by someone else, what makes you think, “Now that’s a good tattoo”?

BR: If it’s done right, man. First I look at the design, then I look at application, then I look at if the artist has overdone it or underdone it or done just enough. You don’t have to fuckin’ add 50 million extra rows of rosettes—no superfluous flummery, no extra bullshit. It just takes away from it.

BME: Do you feel like a lot of people overdo it these days?

BR: Yeah. The New School got all fucked up, man. They make it all limp and add all that extra shit in there—who needs it? I don’t like it. It just takes away. You’re working by the hour so you just go, “Hey, let’s add another two hours on there.” For what? For nothing. Doesn’t look good, doesn’t work.

BME: Do you think artists’ approaches have changed from when you started?

BR: People ask me stuff like that about “then and now” and where stuff is going and what do I think the new thing is going to be, but there’s something people don’t realize. If you’re a photographer, the important thing is what you’re taking a picture of, not you—if I want to be an artist, I can go buy brushes and I can go buy paper and make art. But, if I want to be a tattoo artist and nobody’s coming to get a tattoo from me, I’m not a tattoo artist. So, the future and where things are going and the approach, it’s not up to us, man. We’re secondary. The important thing is the person getting the tattoo, not me. Where’s it going? It’s going where they want it to go!

If we draw all the traditional stuff that we like and we think, “Hey, this is the shit, man!” and nobody wants it, it’s worthless. It’s taken this amount of time for people to realize that that stuff [traditional tattoos] is really what it’s all about. It’s gone all the way around with all this other garbage, and now it’s come back to where people starting to recognize that stuff again. But still, the bottom line is, somebody wants Celtic on their arm, somebody wants tribal, they should have it. They want some fucked up New School thing with 80 million colors, they should have it. I can’t tell somebody what they should get and what they shouldn’t get. I can tell them what I’m gonna do and what my capabilities are, and if you want to fuck your arm up you’ve got every right to fuck it up, but it ain’t gonna get fucked up in my place.

BME: When have you refused to do a tattoo?

BR: When I didn’t like the drawing, if I thought it was boring. I’ve had a lot of people who’ve stayed up for three days on speed and did this fuckin’ drawing they want to use to cover up five tattoos, some big fucked up treble clef, and they come in and say, “OK, here’s what I want,” like I’m a fuckin’ secretary and I’m taking dictation over here. And I go, “OK, why don’t you let me redraw this, I’ll fix it up so it looks right,” and I get, “Oh no no no, I want it just like this.” And I go, “You know what, you should have it just like you want it, and I’ll tell you what, there are five more shops down the street and you should go down there.” “Oh no,” they say, “but I want you to do it.” I say, “Well, I’m not gonna do it like this.” And I’ve had a lot of people walk out really mad at me. I’ve gotten in fights and all kinds of shit about it, but usually they come back and they thank me a couple of years later.

You’ve gotta know what to say to people, man. You can go up on Hollywood Boulevard where they’re all “experts” on every style under the sun—they’re “experts”! And once you pay them, they don’t give a flat fuck what you’ve got on your arm. They’ll sit you down, take your money and just fuck you up.

BME: So you think it should be the artist’s job to talk someone out of a design?

BR: Well, sure it should. Half these artists don’t give a fuck. Everybody’s getting tattooed now, and half of these people, they don’t give a fuck, so they go to artists that don’t give a fuck. Then, eight years later, they walk into a shop and they see what a good tattoo looks like, and they didn’t even realize they had a bunch of garbage on them. It’s sad, man, the way these people think. You go to the gas station and you get gas, you go to any liquor store and you get a pack of Camels—well, here’s a tattoo shop, you should be able to get a tattoo here! And all they’re doing is gettin’ fucked up. They got all these health department regulations and this kinda regulation and that kinda regulation—you have to be more than 150 yards away from a school and all this stuff—but on the other hand, they let some fuckin’ horrible artists just sit there and make money. That’s the sad part: so many people innocently walk in, and it ain’t rocket science, but I’ve seen just horrible stuff.

BME: What do you make of more and more young people are getting their hands and necks and faces tattooed without having substantial work done on the rest of their bodies first?

BR: Well, that’s the way it was a long time ago, but now you can’t control it. You’re an idiot if you try to, because they’re gonna get it. But on the positive side, you look around now and, Jesus, there are just so many really good artists. The degree of workmanship has just exploded in the last 10 years. There are guys who’ve been tattooing for three years and their stuff is just absolutely beautiful—a whole lot better than I probably will ever be.

BME: Do you like the convention atmosphere?

BR: Yeah, I like conventions…as long as I don’t have to work them, I like them. [Laughs] I just bring my prints and sell those. I worked at conventions for years and years and years, and then I wouldn’t do it for a while and then I’d go work at one and I’d get home and think, “Christ, what the fuck am I doing this for?” I’d work at all these conventions and I didn’t even have the money to go to them, so I had to go there and work the whole fuckin’ time. Plus, they wanna set me up in a phone booth, shine some real bright lights in my face and go, “Alright, Bob, now play us some hot jazz.” Or, “I got a spot left for Bob Roberts, I’ve been saving it just for you, right on my ass here,” the worst skin in the fuckin’ world, about the size of a postage stamp, so I’m gonna stand on my head at ten-thirty in the fuckin’ morning with a hangover and tattoo this guy on his ass because I promised him I would do it and I forgot to ask where he wanted it.

BME: Does it bother you when people want a tattoo from you just because you’re “Bob Roberts”? They’ve never seen your portfolio, they don’t know your work, but they know you’re Bob Roberts and they want a Bob Roberts tattoo.

BR: Nah, that doesn’t bother me. If they’ve got nice legs especially, it doesn’t bother me. [Laughs] I’m just like anybody else. I have to make a living. Some of these guys get so opinionated, smelling their own fuckin’ shit and backing themselves so far into a corner they can’t see their own asses—”I don’t like this” and “That’s no good,” “No blood and guts,” you censor yourself so much that you can’t swing your own fuckin’ ax. Like I said, I used to have to do everything. Now? I’ve got six other guys in there. If I think somebody can do it better than me, I’ll give it to them. People will come out of my shop with the best tattoo they can get, I don’t give a fuck who does it. Spotlight’s full of good people, and some of the worst work I ever did was when I was working by myself. Now? I’ve got hell-hounds on my chairs. I got these young fucks in there like Norm and Grant and Bryan Burke, and these guys are fuckin’ fantastic. I feel like I’m dying out over here! Throw me a fuckin’ lifesaver, you know? But it’s great, because this way I don’t have to do the stuff I don’t want to.

BME: How often do you tattoo these days?

BR: I’m down to three days a week now—down from six days a week, 14 hours a day. Now I do three days, and I can do one or two tattoos a day.

BME: And when you bring a new artist into Spotlight, what do you look for?

BR: Well, first thing, I look at their photo book, and if the guy’s got a pretty good selection, he’s good at a lot of different styles, I’ll give the guy a job. But then I’ll tell him, “You’ve gotta be more than good to be here. You can’t be a shithead, either.” The work may look good, but if he doesn’t fit in, he’s not gonna stay here. I don’t like firing anybody, but I tell them, “If you’ve got a problem with it now, there’s the door. Leave, pack your stuff and we’ll still be friends, because if I have to fire you…”

BME: Have you had many unceremonious firings over the years?

BR: Yeah. I just had to get rid of a really good artist who I found out was stealing from me. I treat my guys pretty good, man. I give them a good percentage and all that, and this guy was really a fuck. He’s lucky he just got fired. Fifteen years ago I’d have cut his fuckin’ thumbs off.

BME: What do you think of the nostalgia for the era when tattooing still seemed more “dangerous,” when it was still underground and illegal in New York and other places?

BR: I’ll tell you what, man, of all the things in New York City when I was there…you’d have a 24-hour Go Put Your Money Through A Hole And Take Your Dope spot with lines down the street and they didn’t do anything about that, but with tattooing, the minute it became illegal, nobody wanted to do it there. When I was there, there was me, there was Bruce Martin (who didn’t really do much tattooing), there was a guy named Don Singer who maybe put one on occasionally, there was Tom Devita…and that’s about all I can think of. There might have been some others—there was Mike Perfetto in Brooklyn, but he wasn’t right in Manhattan. In Brooklyn, I can’t remember if it was legal or illegal. But I mean, nobody ever bothered me. Of all the things that were illegal that went on in New York City, I mean, you could get your dick sucked down around the block for five bucks every day. You could get six girls if you wanted to spend $30 and pay five bucks a blow job, one right after the other. I’m not kiddin’, man. Nobody bothered these people, this stuff just went on. Whatever you did in your loft in New York City, if nobody complained, they didn’t bother you. And even if somebody did complain, if you weren’t chopping people’s arms off and grinding ‘em up into little bits—if there were no blood stains or torsos, the police just left you alone. I don’t know how it is now, but that’s the way it was then. So as far as any nostalgia, I don’t think there was enough of it going on then [for there to be real nostalgia].

BME: So it’s a kind of manufactured nostalgia?

BR: I think so, man. But hey, over the years, I got to be an opinionated kinda fuck, you know? And that sort of thing doesn’t matter. Like I say, the bottom line is, people put importance in tattoo artists and guys that have been around a long time, and now there are more good artists than there have ever been—they’re state of the art, they’re flying out of the roof—but still, it comes down to what people are gonna get. That’s the most important thing. Without them, we ain’t tattoo artists. You see these lovely young girls who don’t even look like they’re old enough to get in the shop and they’ve got a neck tattoo, they’ve got the back of their hand, they’ve got a dagger down the front of their chest and a skull that’s eroded and burned and spider webs—the girl’s 19 years old, for Christ’s sake. I take my hat off to them. If anybody came to me when I was 18 or 19 and said, “Hey, come on Bob, we’re gonna go to the tattoo shop and get great big fuckin’ daggers from our necks to our belly buttons,” that sort of thing was nonexistent.

BME: It’s funny, because it’s not uncommon to hear people take that as a sign of younger people being too impetuous and not thinking things through.

BR: No, listen, they’ve thought it through. It’s a saving grace. It dictates what you’re gonna be able to do in your life. God, if you get a bunch of fuckin’ tattoos like that, you’ll never be able to work in a bank, you’ll never be able to work for the FBI, and maybe people think, “Well, good, maybe that’s what I should do, then. It might save me from destroying myself.” And it does. It changes the way you look at yourself and it changes the way everybody else looks at you and reacts to you for the rest of your life.

BME: For better or worse.

BR: But see, for you guys it’s commonplace now. I remember when I got this tattoo on my forearm, what, 39 years ago? After, I went to see some friends of mine, and they were scared to fuckin’ look at me. I’m not kidding. They were genuinely fuckin’ scared of it. It wasn’t like it is now—it wasn’t popular. People didn’t do that, not the crowd of people I hung around with. They didn’t get tattoos, especially not big fuckin’ skulls on their arms.

BME: What kind of people were you friends with back then?

BR: Well, I was a hippie, and this was sort of when I was making the transition from hippie to being a musician and thinking about doing tattoos. Actually, I’d been a musician for a while and I couldn’t support myself. I always wanted tattoos and I was thinking about learning how to be a tattoo artist, toying with that idea, but also, I was just getting into getting tattooed back then. I had to think about it for a long time. The first tattoo I got was in downtown L.A., and I was working for my dad and there was a tattoo shop around there, and I just drove by the place every day for two weeks, say to myself, “There’s the tattoo shop, gonna go in?” And I’d just keep driving. It got to where I’d go to bed at night and I couldn’t sleep because I wanted a tattoo so bad, but I was afraid to get it. So finally I snuck over there when my dad couldn’t see me and I got three dots on my leg—75 cents. I never knew I’d have this many tattoos or that it’d be my profession for life or any of it. I think it came after me more than I went after trying to be a tattoo artist. I put forth all that energy trying to get machines and all that, but I didn’t really think of it as a learning experience. I was cocky. I’d go into shops and go, “Well, I can draw better than that.” And I could. Just give me a machine, you know? Just give me some guns and some ink.

Every day though, I thank my lucky stars that I broke in with Bob Shaw, Col. Todd—that foundation has helped me through it all. People who don’t get to break in at a shop like that, where they don’t get to learn how to shade a panther, they don’t learn how to do a pair of Harley wings, they don’t have that foundation, I can see it in their work that they don’t know how to do that stuff. Or they fuckin’ New School it all up, just make it a bunch of limp fuckin’ crap and I look at it and say, “Oh, I see…can you do a real one?” [Laughs]

BME: Who are some of your favorite artists right now?

BR: Well, my son Charlie for one. All the guys at Spotlight, Bryan and Steve and Norm, I love Bert Krak and Steve Boltz, Richard Stell, Tim Hendricks, Jack Rudy…

BME: And with how popular tattooing has gotten, do you think it’s going to stay or come and go in waves?

BR: I thought it was gonna be done 15 fuckin’ years ago. “Look at this, it’s gotta go downhill, it’s peaked out.”

BME: Could you have ever imagined there’d be a time with television shows about tattooing?

BR: No. Hey, listen, when I started out, I couldn’t even imagine that there’d be tattoo magazines. Now you can go to the newsstand and pick up five magazines and you’ve got a global view of what’s going on at this very moment. Me, if I wanted to find a fuckin’ dragon, I went to the library for eight hours and then went to the 25-cent Xerox machine, copied a dragon and traced it and made sure nobody was looking at me.

I remember I used to ride my motorcycle cross-country every year and I used to like to stop in the small towns where they had that good old country home cookin’, and I’d ride up on my bike and everyone would be scared of me—within 10 minutes I’d see the local sheriff—and they didn’t bother me, but they just wanted to make sure I was just getting something to eat and getting gas and was going to keep going. [Laughs] Now, I haven’t done it in a while, but the last few times I did it, I stopped in the same places and now the waitresses would say, “Oh, those are great tattoos!” They’d get the busboys and the dishwashers and everybody would be out front showing off their tattoos—this is in the very same towns! It’s everywhere. Every little town across the United States has a tattoo shop now.

BME: Is that a positive thing, though? Or do you think they should weed out some of the lesser shops?

BR: Well, that’s what we were saying, the health departments want to make sure everything’s sterile, you got a foot pedal and hot water and sinks and you wash everything down with hydrochloric acid and all that crap, but I’ve seen shops that were absolutely immaculate, you could eat off the fuckin’ floor, all the best equipment, all the expensive shit, everything’s wrapped in prophylactics, and they have the shittiest fuckin’ artists in the world. They don’t govern that. It’s art, who says it’s good or bad? Somebody might like what this guy does, but to me it’s absolute fucking garbage. The guy should have his fuckin’ thumbs cut off, at least. But they don’t regulate that, and that’s what needs to be regulated. Look how many unfortunate people in all good faith walk into some of these shops and throw their money down, and they’re getting fucked up and having their money taken from them. And there are a lot of them.

BME: You’d think with as many good artists as there are now, the worse ones will be exposed eventually.

BR: They don’t care, man. Like I said, they’re going in to get a pack of cigarettes. That’s what it is to them. They don’t know about all that stuff. It’s always been that way. I’ve known guys—who will remain nameless—who’ve been tattooing for 47 years that are just terrible. That’s all they’ll ever be, just sitting there and fuckin’ people up forever. But they’re people you’ve never heard of. Most people that you’ve heard of, that have been around…I just saw Maurice [Lynch] was in here, a lot of people don’t know who that is. That’s Tahiti Felix’s son, who just turned 75, and when I worked in Santa Ana, I used to see his Felix’s Marine Corps stuff come through, and it’s still ingrained in my brain. The first eagle, globe and anchor I saw—I’d seen work at The Pike and all they did there, but I’d never seen too much other work that I thought was good. I just remember seeing this guy’s arm, this was 38 years ago, and it’s as plain in my mind as if I saw it yesterday. That’s all those guys did. They don’t try to invent nothing, they don’t try to get out of the realm of their own shops, they just did good, simple tattoos—and a lot of them. Not because it was cool, not because they thought something looked like a good gimmick, they just did it. There was no reason. They were there, and that’s what they did. And guys like Bob Shaw and Col. Todd, they were just pure-hearted tattoo artists, there were no lines about how this is cool or trendy or fashionable or anything else. They just did it, man.

You’d see this for years, man, breaking in at The Pike? Guys just came in and did this stuff. Sailor Jerry just did it. They weren’t on T.V. Journalists? People like you? They’d throw them out. “Hey, wanna be in the paper?” “No, just get the fuck outta here.” They didn’t want to have anything to do with it. People get into it now and they have a lot of pride, a lot of self-satisfaction. You get to be a big-shot, it’s cool, you make a living. But, some people? Some people were just thrown on the ground and they fell down a hole and that’s where they are. They’re never gonna be anything else.

Visit Bob and his crew online at All paintings featured by Bob Roberts. All photos from Tattoo Hollywood by Phil Barbosa and Thaddeus Brown.