If you're ever considering getting a tattoo while cruising Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, California, you may want to check out Alchemy Tattoos, located right where the iconic street crosses Silver Lake Blvd. Alchemy Tattoo frequently plays host to an array of guest artists that sit in throughout the year, but odds are you'll be sitting down with one of 4 of their full time staff.
One of these core artists is Mike Burns.
Growing up in Philadelphia, Mike quickly identified his passion for tattoos, and although many of his friends had them, even more wanted them. This is where the seed for a possible career in the tattoo industry was planted. It wasn't until Mike attended art school that this seed came to fruition. "While going to art school in Philadelphia I met the right people that gave me the opportunity to learn and pursue a career doing what I enjoy doing." As is so often the case when pursuing career opportunities, it's not always what you know, but who you know.
Having utilized his connections to the fullest, Mike began his career wielding an ink gun in 2006.
The artists over at Alchemy Tattoos specialize in a variety of styles: delicate black and gray, bold traditional and colorful realistic. Mike himself professes proficiency in script and lettering tattoos. "I really enjoy the endless possibilities of a single letter, and the feel you can give to it." Mike also enjoys doing more traditional color tattoos, describing the pieces as "timeless… [ones] that will last forever."
This quality is characteristic of a thoughtful artist, and is something you should look for when choosing the right one to execute your desired tattoo design. It's easy to pick a piece of flash on the wall or from a binder and say "Hey, put this on me." Likewise, with a little more conceptual effort, you can walk into a shop with an idea for a design specific to you, and instruct the artist to produce exactly this once the procedure starts. It's another thing entirely to come to an artist with an idea for a custom design and then give them just a little creative license. A sure sign of a quality tattoo artist is that inherent ability to take what you give them and run with it. If artists like Mike can look at a single letter and see in it an ocean of possibilities with unlimited potential for creative expression, imagine what they can do with other elements of your design.
In this way, the process now becomes a dynamic interaction between client and artist where creative ideas are exchanged, built upon and implemented. While the end product may not be what you initially envisioned, there now exists the possibility of a truly unique design, perhaps one leaps and bounds beyond what you originally had in mind.
But maybe custom isn't your thing. Not a problem for Mike. While some artists and tattoo shops prefer to avoid flash (Link to blog on Black Diamond) others, like Mike, are taking an old tradition and revitalizing it. Once upon a time, flash was rapid produced generic art that clients could choose from. Now, artists are taking the time to utilize the hours not spent skin deep with a client to paint custom flash as a further expression of their craft and individual style.
As Mike puts it: "I like to do both, and I do think people are getting more custom drawn designs than ever before. I paint flash, and I hope that people are attracted to my designs. I always give the client the option of me drawing a one-off design, but some people prefer to get what they see on the wall, and I respect that."
Clients' wants and needs change. One thing about clients that remains steadfast is Mike's attitude towards them. "I have a good relationship with my clients and have fun getting to know them. I feel if I am going to sit next to someone for a few hours, why not pass the time getting to know them?" It's not uncommon for an artist and a client to develop lasting relationships, especially for those clients who return frequently over a span of years, getting new work done, or continually carving away at long, involved pieces.
After every session, a client leaves with part of their artist's soul permanently inked onto their skin. This is one aspect of tattooing as an art form that encouraged Mike to take up the gun. "I was really inspired by the idea of having my art walking around the streets and making people stoked on their tattoos." Beyond this, Mike was really drawn to the freedom inherent in the industry, admitting: "Also, I really liked the idea of working on my own terms."
Aside from clients sporting an artist's work for life, one of the biggest motivating agents among artists is other artists, and this is true for any community of creatives. Whether you’re painting, composing a song, designing huge installation pieces or doing ink, your reference material for education, technique and inspiration is other people's work. Mike is well aware of this and is quick to identify a couple of artists who have impacted his own design: "I am inspired by many old tattoo pioneers and the concepts they put towards tattooing. The most inspirational artists would have to be #1 Don Ed Hardy. Due to the fact that he has really paved the way for so many different styles and techniques throughout his career. #2 Roger Seliner. He is an amazing artist and friend that works in Durango, Colorado at a great shop called Your Flesh. The guy has an amazing style. I am always inspired by the people I work with and respect them tremendously."
As artists continue to innovate and make advances in their technique, so too is the quality of the art, the aesthetic of tattoo shops and the status of tattoos in society subject to progressive change.
"Tattooing has evolved with the quality of art. As more time goes on, the craft as a whole is improving." This overall improvement of the craft is reflected in Mike's take on the increased standards in today's tattoo shops. "It seems like shops these days are becoming more and more regulated and mainstream…The quality of shops have gone up to meet the standards and expectations of today." Mike, keen on a fundamental difference between the old school tattoo shops from decades past and those of today, points out: "There is a bigger knowledge of blood borne pathogens and cross contamination, which creates a much more sterile environment for both the client and artist."
But it's not just shops that have trended towards mainstream awareness. So too has the nature of tattoos themselves. Just look at the swelling of tattoo shows on television now. "I believe that these shows will always be out there, but the real art of tattooing will still remain highly respected. I don't like the fact that these shows make a mockery of what we do…I just try and stay away from that bad vibe and the nonsense of TV." It's the nature of the beast. "Many more people have tattoos and the general public are more accepting of them."
Throughout the course of the interview, one thing that repeatedly struck me was Mike's endless capacity for respect. Respect for the art of tattooing, the craft, other artists, his clients, both new and old, and the decisions they make once they enter the shop.
There's no shortage of competition for tattoo artists in L.A, and Mike extends this theme of respect to answer another question: 'Of all the shops in LA, why should I choose yours?' He answers frankly and honestly:
"All I know is that when people walk into our shop they will be treated with kindness and respect. We always pick the best artist for the job and never rush someone into getting a tattoo. We have a good vibe in the shop, and it's a fun time to get tattooed at Alchemy."
Next time you're on Sunset looking to get cut, you just might want to check out Alchemy Tattoos.
check out mike's Artist Page : http://www.tattoo.com/michae...