Starting from home, Dustin Stewart of Eastside Tattoo in Athens, Georgia, took a big risk building his professional tattoo artist reputation. Despite the challenges of perfecting the craft all on his own, he followed his passion and learned the culture and history of tattooing along the way.
Now the lone artist at Eastside Tattoos in Athens, Georgia, he talks about old school tattoo artists, culture, and how the tattoo industry is slowly gaining the respect it rightfully deserves.
What’s your work mantra?
I’m not really going to work, I’m going to therapy.
How long have you been tattooing at Eastside Tattoo in Athens, Georgia?
I have been at Eastside for the past three and a half years. I came in pretty much at the beginning. I’m the only tattoo artist, and the owner is Raymond Leonard. He also owns Covington Tattoo Company in Convington, Georgia.
When did you realize you wanted to be a tattoo artist?
I’ve kind of always been an artist, and I’ve always been a musician. People say to define normal, and I’ll give you a definition of crazy. I knew I’d end up being either a rock star or an artist.
What complaints do you think old school tattoo artists have against the new generation of tattoo artists?
I will say this, although it’s hard for me to say. Because I started at home I had difficult time buying equipment. I had to find someone willing to sell it to me. Everyone who can draw and has a machine thinks they are a tattoo artist. There are just so many scratchers on the street now, and they don’t really have the hunger for it.
There’s a whole history of tattooing, there’s a passion and there is a culture. I believe old school tattoo artists dislike that something we’ve had for over hundred years can just be slapped it in the face. We’ve had tattoos since the caveman, some people believe you can’t be seen by the Gods unless you have a tattoo, in tribes you aren’t an adult until you’re tattooed. Tattooing is a tradition and a way of life.
What tattoo style do you tend to specialize in?
I love Realism and color portraits but I don’t want to have a specialty because I like doing everything. That’s cool that some artists do that, but if you’re an all-around artist, that’s what makes a legend. There are American Traditional legends. There are Realism legends. A true legend can do anything.
You come from a long line of preachers. Has that influenced your opinion on religious tattoos?
Religious tattoos should be very personal. I’m a free-thinker. It goes back to my favorite scripture which is to seek out your own salvation.
What is most rewarding about being a tattoo artist?
I’d say giving people what they want in such a way that they could never have expected it. We’re not just tattoo artists; we are therapists, and sometimes we could even be considered religious leaders. We’re a little bit of everything all rolled into one.
How would you like to be remembered?
I’d like to be remembered as an easy person to talk to, a good member of the community, and someone who gives something back.
How has the tattoo industry changed since you became a professional tattoo artist?
The prejudice of tattoos is diminishing and people are much more open-minded.
What’s your take on the stigma of tattoos?
When you look at some tattoo collectors who are often doctors, firefighters and EMTs, when that coat comes off they’re going to save your life regardless. It’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s inside that counts.
You’ve used the term prophetic tattooing to define your work. Describe this.
When I was young and going to church I would sometimes paint during the service. Whatever happened during the service, I felt. Later I would bring the painting to others in the church and they would say it was drawn just the way they imagined. So when a customer comes in, often indecisive about their tattoo, I just listen to them talk and feel the moment. Then I ask them to come back in three days after I’ve drawn a custom tattoo. Ninety percent of the time I hit the nail on the head. To me this is prophetic, almost psychological tattooing.
What’s your living philosophy?
It’s spiritual. Whether it’s Christ, Buddha, whatever you worship I don’t care or judge others, just do your thing.
Whether God is an alien or a big purple dragon floating in the sky, it doesn’t really matter to me. Something is going to happen when you die. I figure if you can be a good person, do well, and have some sort of relationship with something bigger than yourself, why not?
Thank you for your time and passion.
Absolutely. Tattooing is what I live and breathe. It’s my whole life.
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Images courtesy Eastside Tattoo