Tattoo.com had the incredible opportunity to talk with owner and artist Johnny Jinx of Broken Clover Tattoo in Tuscon, Arizona, about his tattooing experience, early life, and refreshing outlook on the modern tattoo industry. His unique take on the tattoo world is a breathe of fresh air; the man is forging his own path and setting a standard for up and coming tattoo artists everywhere.
Hey Johnny! Let’s start off with some background on your shop! How long have you guys been open? What kind of styles do you specialize in?
We opened up our operation on March 17, 2013, in the historic Iron Horse District in Tuscon, Arizona. There are three of us. We have a wide skill set, but I think its safe to say we try to take a painterly approach to tatting, especially with color work. We all go through phases where one month someone will think art nouveau is where it’s at, and then the next month it could be something like traditional japanese, but then right when you think you've found a style you want to commit to, a customer comes in with a killer idea or you see something online that sends you exploring a new style.
It’s good to switch it up. What sets your shop apart from others in the area?
There are 14 tattoo shops within one radial mile. Its a small shop and if you don't know where we are, chances are you won't happen to stumble in. Without walk-in traffic, a piercing station, or even a shop phone we focus mainly on taking appointments, drawing without distractions, and zoning out on a tattoo without having to entertain potential customers. I have the only shop in the neighborhood that charges artists booth rental. Most of my competitors take 40-50% and think I'm nuts. It changes how the artists work and they're more inclined to hook up their regulars with more work without having to worry about a manager breathing down their neck about pricing.
That’s a pretty unique way of running things. What’s your background? How long have you been tattooing?
My highschool years were spent in Las Vegas. I graduated from the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies and Performing Arts and began my formal art training under the instruction of Carol Treat. I began my tattoo career when my military service came to an honorable end in 2005.
Wow! Military huh? Why did you start tattooing?
After serving 6 years doing military work I thought I'd earned the right to explore a high risk career. I was burnt out and overdue for a fun job, even if it was just for a little while. I figured I could always fall back on my GI Bill if my apprenticeship didn't work out. It was a total 180 from the military lifestyle I grew up in, I think that was part of its charm.
What your favorite style to tattoo? What are you best at?
I like color tattoos. Color realism is amazing to me, but this year I'm trying to put a focus on making my work more fashionable. My friends have told me I have a wide range of styles, but what I crave is dark evil shit. I just tattooed a woman without any skin. It kinda made my whole month.
Describe the relationship with your clients.
We're on texting terms. It took years to get here but they allow me a lot of creative freedom I wasn't comfortable with when I first started in a street shop. When a stranger comes up to you and says "I know I want a tattoo, i just don't know what I want" it can be intimidating and sometimes frustrating, especially since those types tend to only know what they don't want after you've drawn for them. But when someone you've worked with before says the same thing, you already know their style, musical tastes, and personal tastes. You're more inclined to draw something for them without having the idea get shot down. Even if the sketch for a regular does get vetoed, there isn't the added pressure of losing a client, since your friends tend to be more forgiving in giving it another go before going to another shop. So the wind isn't knocked out of your sails, and you know what? The second and third drafts always look better anyways.
Any artists you really admire?
I have a blank arm I've been saving my whole career for one artist. I have friends who get mad they can't have a piece of it. I would pay any of the following artists to sleeve it: Jeff Gogue, Robert Hernandez, Carlos Torrez, Rember Orellana. I'm also a big fan of Guy Aitchison, Emily Rose, Carl Grace, and Joshua Hagan.
How do you feel about the mainstream allure that seems to surround tattoos these days?
It’s true, tattoos won't ruin your life like they used to, and maybe they're fringe charm has been tarnished under the limelight. But as long as people are happy in their skin and free to express themselves, I don't see how anyone in the industry can be upset about that.
How has tattoo culture changed and where do you see it headed?
Tattooers have figured out that you don't get better by beating eachother up. Artists are hiring booking agents, competing for sponsorships, and dating models. So they're getting famous and tattoos aren't as taboo as they used to be. But to be honest, I hope the world always has a couple people who are just absolutely disgusted with it, because half the fun is getting dirty looks.
Any advice for getting your first tattoo?
Go big and be awesome. Don't half ass it with something small you just want to cover up with a real tattoo later on. Do your research and look through portfolios. Look at magazines to establish a basis of comparison for quality. If you're not happy with an artist's work, don't hire them. Artists aren't the same and even though you think your idea is "just something real simple" just take a minute to look at their portfolio. With demand being so high a lot of street shops will hire any jerkoff to get your money.
Any advice for artists looking to get into the industry?
In my shop we have a couple rules before considering an apprentice. The person has to have an artistic background and has to have been tattooed by the person they want to learn under. If your skin's too pretty to get tattooed or you just don't like the artist's style, you need to find another mentor or consider a different career.
To conclude, could you briefly sum up your philosophy or outlook on tattooing?
Being in the industry is a lot like getting a tattoo. Sure it looks cool to you and your friends but its a personally painful process that usually annoys your family.
Here at Tattoo.com, we’d like to thank Johnny for his military service and taking time out of his schedule to give us awesome answers. In an industry where it seems like it’s all been done before, Johnny has created a model that keeps him and his customers satisfied. If you’re ever in the Tuscon area, do yourself a favor and stop by Broken Clover Tattoo; as Johnny says, his shop is “guaranteed to change your life.”