Located right outside of Albany, New York in Castleton, is Fast Lane Tattoo. With three full time artists, two apprentices, a piercer/manager, the Fast Lane team is a well oiled machine that has been making the world more colorful since 2001. With a diversely talented group of artists, each equipped with a unique personality, Fast Lane’s goal is to make it more than just getting a tattoo, it’s the totality of the experience that keeps loyal customers coming back for more. Family oriented, completely custom, and with a top notch creative atmosphere to boot, the artists at Fast Lane work tirelessly to give their clients the perfect piece. Owner/artist Patsy Grieco, 43, sat down and talked with us about his career, his shop, and everything in between; read below!
Hey Patsy, thank you for your time. Let’s get the basics out of the way; give us a little background on yourself...
I was born in Hudson, NY and grew up in Valatie. I enjoy being in the outdoors; hiking, hunting, fishing, and riding the wheels off anything with a motor!
Awesome, are you an artist outside of tattooing?
Everybody here at Fast Lane has their own home projects going on, whether it be building cars, painting, sketching woodworking, etc...
Let’s go back some odd years; were you an artistic child? Did you sit in front of the tv drawing? Entered any art contests?
My mom used to line the walls with paper to draw on so that I would stay out of her hair. I used art to occupy my idle hands and my constantly churning mind. One of my teachers actually told me that I would never get anywhere in life just doodling all day!
That must have pushed you even harder. How/when did you realize that you were going to be a tattoo artist professionally?
When I was 14, my dad got a tattoo at the fair by a carny. The smell of green soap got in my soul; I could feel the excitement and energy when I saw others getting tattooed, and I needed to be a part of it. I had a friend that was doing tattoo parties around the country; his excitement for creating tattoos started me drawing tattoos, and one day he asked me why I was drawing instead of tattooing. I knew right then and there that this was going to fulfill my artistic needs.
How long have you been a professional tattoo artist? What was your path; apprenticeship, art school, etc…
I’ve been tattooing for 13 years. I had a friend that was doing tattoos, but wasn’t really artistic. He had a large clientele and was making decent money; he knew more about getting into the business than about the art, so that was my foot in the door.
Tell us about the biggest sacrifices you’ve had to make in order to achieve your dream…
I gave up all my passions for five years to create this business and then after five years, I was able to go back and pursue my outside interests.
What tattoo styles do you prefer to do? Any you excel in? Is there anything that you refuse to tattoo?
I like to tattoo anything that the client is going to let me draw directly on the skin, where I can add my creative flare to it. I love wildlife tattoos; I won’t tattoo a name unless it’s a family member and I really don’t like tribal. I feel that me sitting and coloring black all day is a waste of my talent; with that being said, if the client is willing to let me explore and play around with the design, we can usually come to an agreement of what I’ll tattoo and what they’ll get.
On that note, how would you describe the relationship you have with your clients? Do you build long lasting friendships with your customers? Do people travel to see you?
I have clients from all over the US. I like to ask personal questions to my clients to create a bond so that while I’m designing the tattoos, I’m designing them for that specific person. My customers are pretty loyal; they continue to come back and recommend me to all their friends and family.
Does your schedule permit you to travel? Does Fast Lane participate in any conventions? Which do you prefer?
I prefer to tattoo at our shop; we all have a large following and would prefer to tattoo our clients in our shop than to go and tattoo on strangers who may or may not know or love us. I feel it’s unfair to have our clients wait weeks or months for their tattoo, while we go tattoo people we don’t know.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations in the tattoo industry?
Tony Ciavarro was one of the first artists whose work I fell in love with. I love that he uses all the basics that are learned in an apprenticeship, like a good, clean outline, and color saturation. I still to this day use his design books as lesson plans when training an apprentice for our shop.
Do you have any memorable tattoo stories or experiences that you’d like to share?
I had a client who owned an assisted living home. He said he had a woman that was on her deathbed and wanted to know if I would tattoo something beautiful on her so that she would have something to look at while dying. Of course I said “YES!”, who wouldn’t go out of their way to fulfill someone’s dying wish. Anyone that has tattooed the elderly knows it’s like trying to stretch wet tissue paper. The tattoo went great, I learned a lot about the life she lived; this is what really drives me to tattoo, other peoples experience. About a month had gone by when the administrator of the house contacted me and said “You’ll never guess what Mary did today. I went to her room to assist her to the facilities when I saw her going across the hall with her walker. I asked her what she was doing, and she said that she was laying in bed, looking at her tattoo and realized she wasn’t dead so she got out of bed. She made a second appointment a couple of months later and actually came in to the shop. I told her she could stay in her wheelchair but she told me that she didn’t come to the shop to sit in her own chair. If this doesn't tell you what tattooing makes me feel, then you just don’t get it.
What an absolutely incredible story. Let’s talk about the equipment you use…
Being a machine builder, I love the traditional tattoo machines. As I get older, I’m appreciating rotaries more because they are quiet and more like an instrument and not a tool. I believe that every tattoo has needs for both, but as long as the artist is comfortable and confident, then that’s what is most important.
Has the economic crunch affected your business in any way? How do you feel about tattoo tv shows and their influence on tattoo culture?
People come into the shop on three wheels and a donut and still want a $500 tattoo, so no. I think all the tattoos on tv has brought the economy of tattooing to a level never thought possible. I also believe that tattoos being mainstream and on TV has educated the client and they’re more likely to get quality tattoos and not just get tattooed by anybody with a machine. The commercialism of the tattoo industry has allowed for some of the top artists in the world to get proper recognition.
There are clear distinctions, but we all use the principles of putting ink in skin. With so many styles out there, the big jar of ideas is very vast.
Where do you see tattooing headed in the future? Is there something that hasn’t been done yet? Will boundaries continue to get pushed? What keeps artists motivated? What would you change about the modern tattoo atmosphere?
With an open eye and ear to the future, I hope to see great things coming from the tattoo industry. I don’t want to see it become automated, although I do see that as becoming part of the culture. It’s already being done with livestock, so it’s not that far off. I’d like to see more regulation for people tattooing out of their house with stiffer penalties for not being in a professional and sterile environment.
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? What about an artist looking to break into the industry?
Focus on what style of art you want to get, then choose an artist that will work with you and communicate your ideas with them. They should enhance your ideas or lead you in the right direction. The artist should not tell you “no” or “just let me do it.” For the tattoo collector, the best honor that you can bring to an artist is a basic idea and an open mind. You’re buying permanent art so the cost shouldn’t be relative to the value. Artists need to go to a quality shop and be trained by a professional. An artist’s style will evolve through tattooing, and shouldn’t be forced.
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?
When the client looks in the mirror with tears in their eyes because of how well I put the piece together. I love when I’m out of the shop and hear great conversations about myself or my artists.
What are your immediate goals for your place in tattooing? What about long term? What do you hope to accomplish?
I’d love to open another shop at some point. My immediate goals are to constantly be improving my talent, and trying to make a work environment conducive of creating not only quality artists, but quality human beings.
Sum up your philosophy or outlook on tattooing as a whole; where does it stand in the trajectory of art? how has it evolved? How it has affected your life?
Tattooing has brought more to my life, emotionally and financially than I could have ever imagined. The ability to create art for a living is second to none. Art is in my soul, it’s not a choice; tattooing is how I choose to share my art with others.
Thanks Patsy. What an inspiring interview; passionate, dedicated, talented and a genuinely good guy, Patsy and the gang at Fast Lane will surely be around for a while. Check out Fast Lane Tattoo at 1522 Columbia Turnpike, Castleton, NY, 12033.