Chuck Gordon opened up Soular Tattoo and Piercing in Lahaina, HI in 2010, after moving over from Colorado. Gordon, 34, is the sole artist/piercer and owner at Soular, and has quickly proven that he has the talent and dedication to tackle any style from neotraditional, to Japanese, to Polynesian, and everything in between. Talented and intelligent, Gordon has become a well respected tattooer and saught after by collectors from Hawaii and the continental US. Read his interview below:
Hey Chuck, lets start with a little background info. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What do you enjoy doing outside of tattooing?
I was born in Indianapolis, IN, and moved to Breckenridge, CO in 2000 and learned to tattoo there. I moved to Hawaii in 2010. I paint watercolors, murals with aerosol, and I do some graphic stuff; mainly signage and logos. I skate, surf, snowboard bike, hike, crossfit, dance.
How long have you been a tattoo artist? How/when did you realize it was the career path you wanted to take?
I’ve been tattooing for 4 years. In 2003, I was finally done partying away my youth and was ready to dive into a career to help support my future goals to have a family and travel. I always liked painting trains as a kid because it became a piece of art that moved around the world. So I naturally gravitated to painting people who could also move around the world. So in ‘03 I got an apprenticeship at the Purple Lotus in Frisco, CO. It wasn’t until 2009 when I began tattooing so I had a very long apprenticeship.
Were you artistic as a child? Did you sit in front of the tv practicing? Who or what initially inspired you to be a tattooer?
I was always naturally talented as a child. I was drawing and coloring and painting stuff but never really showed interest in tattooing because the the tattoos that were being done at the time weren't really appealing to me; bikers, Tribal, barbed wire armbands. So I never gave it any thought until I started seeing more progressive stuff. Martin Lacoste, Dave Fox, Grime. That’s when I was moved to learn because it seemed more like art instead of a novelty.
You mentioned you went through an apprenticeship; elaborate on that more...
I apprenticed to learn body piercing in 2003 under a guy Name Josh Anderson at the Purple Lotus in Frisco, CO. I was shit all over by everyone who worked there except for my friend Jeff McNaughton who was a tattoo apprentice. I was hoping to get an apprenticeship for tattooing after him, but when he was done, I was denied over and over again. I was constantly drawing, painting watercolors and studying what other guys where doing with tattooing. It wasn’t until 2008 when Piotr, a visiting artist from Poland saw that I should be tattooing and let me begin tattooing my friends to learn. He was soon turned off by the war path of learning that I was on; I was dropped from my apprenticeship.
Sounds like a little jealousy from some big egos! What happened next?
My old friend Jeff McNaughton, who had apprenticed before me at the Purple Lotus moved to Daytona Beach, Florida and opened Shamrock Tattoo, invited me out to do a kind of a crash course apprenticeship. After a month of getting my ass kicked around that shop I was pretty much set. I came back to Colorado and found a new job at a Dynamite Tattoo where I was for about 6 months and polished up my skills before moving to Hawaii in 2010 and opening Soular Tattoo.
What have been the biggest sacrifices you have made in order to achieve your dream? The biggest sacrifices have been my family life.
I spend countless hours drawing and researching reference to create my pieces and this definitely dips into my time with my family at home.
What tattoo styles do you prefer to do? Are there any that you excel in? Do you have any restrictions on what you will or will not tattoo on somebody?
I just like to do good clean tattoos, I prefer to have a good amount of black in the design. I also like to design the tattoo to fit the body. As far as the style, I’m into all kinds of stuff but I like Traditional American, Neotraditional and Japanese stuff the best.
What’s your relationship with your clients like? Do you build long lasting friendships with them or is it more professional?
I do connect with many of my clients and have built lasting relationships with many of them. I have many people traveling to collect a tattoo from me now. I live in one of the most beautiful corners of the world so it makes a good excuse to collect a beautiful piece of art while visiting.
Does your schedule permit you to travel anywhere? Conventions, guest spots?
Since I’m solo I don’t travel as much as I’d like to but have plans to soon when I hire some people. Since I’ve opened the shop, I’ve closed for a few weeks every year so I can vacation, guest spot, or attend conventions.
Are there any artists that you really admire? Who are they and why? Have you ever met and/or worked with any of them?
I really admire Nick Alvarez at Guru Tattoo in SD. He’s a beast tattooer and a good friend. Eckel who I think is now tattooing in Brighton England. Lately I’m in Love with the work of Emily Rose Murray from Melbourne Australia. I’ve met and been tattoo by Nick and Eckel, but not Emily yet.
Do you have any memorable tattoo stories or experiences? Be it somebody you tattooed, somebody that has tattooed you, or anything in between...
Tattooing my dad. Right wing conservative guy from the Midwest who doesn’t get tattoos. Now he has three from me and he’s so proud of me. Whoow! I would have never thought I’d tattoo him.
How do you feel about Flash vs. Custom Designs? Do you prefer one over the other? Is flash dead? What is your preparation process like for a new tattoo?
I have recently realized that there is a couple different types of clients. Collectors who want a nice piece of custom art created by me, people who want me to copy “their design” on them, and someone who just wants a quick souvenir tattooed on them and is willing to pick from some flash designs.I just have to get into the right head space for each client. The real soul food is drawing and tattooing a custom piece for a collector. Someone who gets my art and trusts me to put a great piece on them. I usually spend a lot of time drawing these things so when the design time is figured into the process I don’t make as much money but the tradeoff is that I get to create a beautiful piece that’s one of a kind for someone who will wear it proudly for the rest of their life.
There are so many styles of tattooing around today. Do they all blend together and borrow from each other, or are there clear distinctions?
Because I do so many styles collectively, I find that one style lends itself to another. For example the boldness and heavy use of black and the flow and movement of the polynesian tattoo is very relevant in the Japanese background. The textures and applications of the realism I create will find their ways into neotraditional and Japanese traditional designs. The patterns and lines in traditional american cross over into the sacred geometry styles. They all lend to each other in my opinion.
From your experience, how has the tattoo industry changed over the years? The amount/quality of artists, varying styles of tattooing, shop aesthetics and public acceptance, etc…
The industry is growing rapidly as is the demand for the work. We are seeing more and more “artists” becoming involved in the growth and though the demand is growing as well, the education of “what is a good tattoo” should be promoted more on these tv shows.
Where do you see tattooing headed in the future? Is there something that hasn’t been done yet? Will boundaries continue to get pushed?
I think the significance of the tattoos people get will get less and less pushed and the quality and brilliance of the tattoos created will be held at a higher priority so that we’ll all be seeing a lot more big work that’s mind blowing because of all the talent that’s coming in today.
Do you have any advice for somebody looking to get their first tattoo? What should they take into account when searching for the perfect design and artist?
Look at many portfolios and find someone whose work really vibes with you. Sometimes what looks good in a portfolio will later in life spoil if there isn’t enough black or things aren’t spread out enough etc. Get a referral from a collector. Go into the studio and do a consultation with the artist and do some research about what they like to tattoo and ask them what they’d like to do. Give the artist some freedom and you’ll most likely leave with a much better tattoo. As an artist, I’m greatly appreciative of clients who give me some freedom.
Can you say a few words on how your tattoo work has affected your clients’ lives? What has been the most rewarding part of your job?
I love seeing the smile on the clients face when the final pain of the tattoo is over and they made it and their mind is blown by the outcome of the tattoo. Taking the stencil to another level is my style and I love that they trusted me to do that.
What are your immediate goals for your place in tattooing? What about long term? What do you hope to accomplish?
My immediate goals are to find a solid staff of tattooers, one at a time, to take some of the load off of me at my studio. Upholding the quality and service that I’ve done thus far at Soular tattoo. This will help me to have more family time and be more selective about the tattoos that I choose to do. Long term I will evolve to a position where I can give people a list of ideas that I will tattoo on them. They don’t choose, I choose. I do what I want. They get the tattoo they deserve. Everyone is happy.
Any closing words?
Just because it’s your first and only tattoo doesn’t mean that it has to have everything that has ever meant something to you involved in it. Remember, as a human you may change your mind. Just get something from someone that you think looks good and will stay looking good for some time. These things aren’t forever but we do take them to the grave with us.