You meet some interesting characters when you live in a backpackers hostel. People that you wouldn’t normally come across in your life back home.
One of the latest characters here at Hostel Kokopelli has been Jason Tyler Grace, an incredibly talented tattoo artist from San Francisco who is attempting to make his way around the world one tattoo at a time.
After checking out his portfolio, I gave Jason the go ahead on a big piece for my back.
My posts about tattoos have been some of my most popular, so I thought I should interview Jason about his “Tattourist” journey.
Now as a warning, Jason’s language is colourful at times, and I am not the type to filter people’s voice, so if you are offended by that sort of stuff don’t bother reading on.
After all, he is a tattoo artist. What did you expect, a mama’s boy?
How did you get started in tattoos?
I remember my mom always drawing them on me at the beach and other places, which was interesting as she hated them because she went to school with a kid named Carl Bomgartner and he always used to draw on himself with a fountain pen. So she hated him and that he always looked like he was all covered in blurry black ink.
So when I was about thirteen or so and wanted to a second earring, she said YES, as long as I signed a contract saying I would never ever ever get tattooed, which I did.
But when I turned 18 I realized that was like asking a 6 year old boy who thinks all girls have cooties, to never make out with a chick.
So I think it was probably that contract, that put it in my brain. My beautiful mother shot herself in the foot, and in turn provided me with the catalyst that turned into a great career.
I got my first one and that was it… I dropped out of school soon thereafter and started an apprenticeship in Connecticut.
What excites you about your work?
Different things at different times.
It amazes me that after 11 years of doing this that I can still be kept up at night, my mind racing thinking about tomorrows tattoo and how to make it good, or about technique or design aspects or composition or all the things I still have yet to figure out etc…
I am so excited and incredibly thankful that tattooing found me or that I found it.
The people I meet along the way, the community of the craft. The challenges. Seeing progression in my work.
The f&*king fact that I can do it anywhere is also pretty rad.
The helicopter pad on my backpack excites me too.
What artists inspire you?
Tattooers: Filip Leu, Grime, Chad Koeplinger, Thomas Hooper, Mick from Zurich, Marcus Kuhn, Yutaro Sukai, Holly Ellis, Justin Shaw, Tony Derigo, Mark Warnick, Steve Byrne, Scott Sylvia, Marcus Pacheco, Jet, Greg Irons, Richard Stell, Tomas Garcia. blah blah blah
Painters/ Visual Artists: Basquiat, Rauschenberg, Paul Thomas Anderson, Chris Ware, R. Crumb, Banksy, Blu, Jeremy Fish, Ralph Steadman, blah blah blah.
Can you describe your style and how it is unique?
Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeit, I dont know, you gotta take a look. It is unique a lot of the time.
I take from a lot of different visual images and try to incorporate them in some way.
I strive to make it different, I take it very seriously, I am constantly on the lookout for new inspiration.
And I got swagger.
Besides myself, what are your favorite type of clients to work with?
You were probably the best client I have ever had in 11 years.
The ones that want cool sh!t. A lot of times as of late people focus a lot on meaning, and I think it tends to be a hindrance in the way of getting a good tattoo.
All of my sh!t that meant something doesn’t mean what it used to. The most consistent thing in our lives is change, so why focus so much on the meaning of something permanent, when you aint gonna feel the same tomorrow?
But that may just be me on my tattoo high horse.
The ones who aren’t wasted and a bunch of pussies are always good.
I know its a painful situation, it hurts, it sucks, but the person is deciding to go through with it, well then shut the f&*k up and get the tattoo.
I’m going to get it done the best I can in the quickest way possible. No screaming and whining, and moaning, it just makes me want to make it worse because you are acting like a douche.
But in general its the people that have an idea and are willing to let me work with it and make it as good as it can be.
People that are open to change and metamorphosis, allowing the piece to take it’s own direction and not hold on to tight to their original idea.
Hopefully I’ll do the same.
According to your blog “Tattourist” you are planning to make your way around the world one tattoo at a time. What inspired this journey?
I have always wanted to fill my passport with stamps, fill that f*&ker up! Just to see places, broaden my perspective, be a vagabond, I think I’ll be good at it.
I was living at an artists warehouse in Oakland called Lobot, a batsh!t crazy spot to live, always full of travellers and visiting artists, and I saw all these people travelling with next to nothing.
The people I was living with were all starving artists, with a lot of time at their disposal. I had money and they had time.
While I had a career, these guys were living an artistic life, and that’s what I wanted. I was just working and falling in and out of love and blah blah blah.
I decided to sell most of my sh!t and try to make it around the world. I wanted to be without.
No home, no plan, no worries.
How do you think your “Tattour” will make you a better artist?
It gives me time to school myself. Time to focus and figure things out.
I am always in my sketch book, it can be very easy to fade out and bury my face in my own little world.
Where do you intend to Tattour this year?
This year I am planning on finishing up South America and then to the Virgin Islands for a bit, then Australia, and up into Asia, India etc…I’m gonna travel everywhere you have never been.
These will all be split between short trips to the States for work. I’m just getting it dialed in.
How do you promote your services while on the road?
Fliers, wearing my tattoos and being friendly.
Telling people that lighthouses rule and if you dont like lighthouses you suck.
Your own body is pretty much covered in tattoos. Does this start conversations that lead to what you do?
Most of the time.
“What do you do?” is such a common question, so it’s ineveitable in any situation, it’s just sped up in my situation.
You go by 3 names, Jason Tyler Grace, when most people go by 2. Do you think this helps people remember your name?
That was the original idea.
It’s really akward to introduce myself as Jason Tyler Grace. I would feel like a pompous @ss and I dont like feeling like a pompous @ss so I don’t .
But I like the way it reads. And it shortens to JTG which I like.
Your clients allow you to put your artwork on their bodies for a lifetime, how does this make you feel?
I have met amazing people that I have known now for up to nine years as a result of us working together, so that aspect is really nice. Some people become more than clients, like you Chris, my friend.
Its cool that the tattoos leave and go off to live with that person. I also think of all the people that may have had them removed or covered up.
It’s heavy so I take it like a doctor or lawyer and seperate myself, go to my lakehouse and ride on my sailboat and jetskis and chill the f&*k out.
What does Facebook, blogs and other social media mean for your work?
It definately helps keep people up to date on what I’m doing and just getting your sh!t out there for people to smell (thats gross).
And it helps me keep in touch with tattooers from back home who may help me with designs or just lending an ear.
How important is word of mouth and recommendations for your work?
Sh!ts like tick tick it’s the bomb. When stationed in one spot its the most significant form of promotion.
The work speaks for itself and hopefully the person is stoked, so they speak well of the experience.
Bill Murray is my best word of mouth, he’s been really good to me.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone anting to get into tattoo artistry?