an interview by Ryan Ann
Ryan Ann, our stunning social media guru, gritted her teeth and managed to get an awesome interview while sitting for a tattoo session with our feature artist of the month, tattoo pro TJ Stanley.
Ryan – Who are you top three inspirations?
TJ – “My mom, first of all. Growing up she was taking college classes, and I just remember her always wanting to learn. As I got old, my buddy, Sean, became one of my top inspirations. It didn’t matter what he was doing, he was always working his ass off. I’d die happily, if I died half the man he is. My third inspiration is a tattoo artist, named Jeff Goodway. It does not matter what that man is talking about, if he’s talking, you want to listen. He knew exactly what he wanted, went for it, and has succeeded greatly.”
Ryan – Who is your favorite living artist?
TJ – “David Choo. Guy is awesome. He does amazing things, and he uses his art for good.”
Ryan – Favorite artist that is no longer living?
TJ – “Van Gogh. That dude had the shittiest life; his work was treated as trash. But with all of the depression in his life, he still put a positive spin on his art. I love Van Gogh.”
Ryan – What is your favorite style of art?
TJ – “Tattooing, obviously. And oil painting. I have mad respect for oil painters. I’ve dabbled in it a little, and sold a few of my paintings, which is humbling. My Instagram is full of tattoo artists and oil painters.”
Ryan – If you could tattoo anywhere in the world, where would you tattoo?
TJ – “New Zealand. I love New Zealand.”
Ryan – As a kid, did you take any special art classes or were you mostly self-taught?
TJ – “In school, I took as many art classes they offered. Outside of that, I was very self-taught. I was always buying art books, and watching videos. Growing up, I had a cousin that was always drawing. So, I looked up to him a lot. I did everything possible to keep learning.”
Ryan – I know you’ve attended Ink in the Clink three years in a row, What exactly is that like; being part of a tattoo convention?
TJ – “It was so fucking awesome. Big shout out to Rick and Sharon Fields. They stated this convention, (in Mansfield, OH,) and it’s gotten better every year. But basically, they gather 60-80 tattoo artists, stages set-up for music, and vendor food trucks. One year they had a car show. It’s a wonderful time, and I’ve made so many friends. I’ll go to that convention until I can no longer breathe.”
Ryan – What is the most memorable tattoo you’ve done?
TJ – “At 17, tattooing out of my house. One of my cousins wanted this massive dragon on his side. Part way through the tattoo, I lost the stencil. I’m pretty sure that dude is still walking around with a quarter of a dragon, on his side.”
Ryan – What’s your specialty style of tattoo work?
TJ – “Neo-traditional. I’ve don’t a shitload of it lately. However, I like to try to remain versatile. But hands down, neo-traditional is my favorite.”
Ryan – How much of a tattoo’s design is your idea vs the customer’s idea?
TJ – “It really depends on the person. I’m bad about trying to take the reigns, all the time. But I have a lot of loyal clients that know how I operate. I always ask people what type of emotion they want to pull off, and work on designs surrounding that. I have about 20-30 people that come to me, give me the emotion they’d like to convey, and they leave the design up to me.”
Ryan – Do you ever have a day off?!
TJ – “Nope. Haha. I’ve had 21 days off in the last 287 days. I live to work, and work to live. But it’s humbling. People love me here, and I try to keep up with everyone.”
Ryan – Besides tattooing and oil painting, what other types of artwork do you do?
TJ – “I’ve done mirror engraving, wood burning, and marker drawings. I love the mirror engraving because it’s so unique here. But like tattooing, I like to stay versatile in my artwork.”
Ryan – What initial advice would you give to anyone considering becoming a tattoo artist?
TJ – “Do it. Don’t fall into conformity. Everyone says that being an artist, or an actor, or a musician, is a dead-end job, and to get a real fucking job. No. Don’t do that. Follow your dreams. If you wanna sell avocados on the side of the road, on Route 60, do it. There’s going to be 100 times you doubt yourself. Any type of artist, people are always going to doubt you, and it gets into you, and you start self-doubting. You wonder if you should’ve gotten a 9-5 job, bought a house, have a mortgage, get married. No. Don’t do that. Follow your dreams.”
Ryan – What do you think other people think about your tattoos?
TJ – “Um. I don’t know. I mean, they really love me here. I’ve had people come from Columbus to get my art, and being known around Columbus is great. I’m sure there are some people that I don’t meet their quality standards. But that’s okay. Apparently I’m doing something right, though.”
Ryan – Do all of your tattoos have personal meanings?
TJ – “Yes and no. A lot of my tattoos, when I got them, had no meaning. But after having a tattoo for so many years, they become little flashes of your life. You could go get a giraffe tattoo, for no reason, and three years down the road, you’re gonna be able to look back at that giraffe, and you’re going to know who you were dating, who you were talking to, what you were listening to music-wise, where you were working, where you were living; you’re gonna remember everything about your life, when you look at that tattoo. It’s like all the memories from when you got it, come flooding back into your head.”
Ryan – What does tattooing mean to you?
TJ – “That’s a good question. I don’t know. I have this massive passion for it, and this drive. I’ve dedicated my entire life to it. I guess it means life, to me. If something happened, and I couldn’t tattoo anymore, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d fall apart.”
Ryan – Who taught you how to tattoo?
TJ – “Mainly, myself. I’ve had a few mentors, over the last handful of years; Like, actual legit mentors were; a fella by the name of Eric Chamberlin, who is no longer with us, and the mentor after him was Rich LeMay. Those are my actual, official mentors, but honestly, the most I have ever learned about tattooing was just talking with other artists, and going to the conventions. And seminars. Seminars are a massive key. And just doing everything I possibly can, just to educate myself further, and make myself better. But I’ve mostly been self-taugh.”
Ryan – How often do you update your machines?
TJ – “I’ve been running a rotary for about a year now. I don’t have to oil it up or lube it up, too often. (That’s what she said.) If I had the funds, I’d buy a new machine every time one came out. They’re like shoes to a girl for me. There’ s a new machine coming out that I’m really wanted. My last one, was handmade, by Michael Garza who made me a little machine, with the coils wrapped in food stamps. One of my favorite machines.”
Ryan – Your favorite machine thus far?
TJ – “Either my rotary one, or the food stamp one. I literally just messaged the machine builder, and was like “look, I come from a little rural town in WV, I grew up poor all my life, these old paper food stamps mean a lot to me, I want you to make me a tattoo machine that just screams ‘West Virginia Poverty!” And he made me this teal, beat-up old Chevy looking thing with these paper food stamps wrapped around the coils. It’s gorgeous, I love it.”
Ryan – What are the benefits of tattooing in a small town?
TJ – “You get to know your people more! I would love to tattoo in a big city, because that’s where the money is. And I’d be okay, with as much as I work. But I wouldn’t really know my people. It would just be a rotating door. I grew up here, so I knew some of the people to begin with. I have met some of my favorite people I’ve met, in this business. People I would’ve never give the time of day to, outside of the business, and you spend 5 hours with them, tattooing them, and you’ve created a friendship with them, that will never be broken. And I really love getting to know my people. Whether I think I’m going to like you or not, I will talk your ear off for the hours that you’re in my chair, whether you like it or not.”
Ryan – What made you decide you wanted to tattoo?
TJ – “I was actually going to be concept artist for video games. I was always a gamer, a geek. I actually had everything ready to go to Full Sail, and that was around the time I started really getting into tattooing.. and it was an ephiany, if I’ve ever had one. The anarchy tattoo. Those three little lines and a circle. The next day, I called Full Sail to drop out, before I even started. And it was just tunnel vision on tattooing since then.”
Ryan – How many tattoos do you average a month?