For anyone who has been involved in the tattoo industry or has even been just a fan of it, the name Ryan Eternal should sound familiar. Originally from Stockton, California, Ryan Eternal has currently set up shop in the famed Hart & Huntington Tattoo in Orlando, Florida. During my recent visit to this All-Star tattoo shop, I got the chance to sit down and chat with Ryan Eternal about how he got his start in this amazing industry, his life, and how he sees the current state of the tattoo culture.
I have to start by saying I might have fangirled a little bit. I’m an avid watcher of InkMaster, so getting the chance to sit down with this tattoo legend felt all too surreal. But, he was so down to earth. Here I was, blown away that I was chatting with Ryan Eternal, and he seemed so humbled and actually excited to talk with us. One thing showed right from the beginning of our interview—Ryan loves what he does with a passion beyond just appreciation for his job. He really truly loves the industry and every aspect of it.
Ryan is essentially a self-taught artist. He never attended any formal art schools or had any formal artistic training. He just happened to have an eye for art and a drive to learn and exceed in the field. After being stationed in Korea while enlisted in the military, Ryan found his way to the practice of tattooing in quite an unusual way. Many soldiers on the base kept coming to Ryan asking for him to create drawings for them. They were then taking these drawings to a local Korean tattoo parlor and having them inked upon their skin.
“I was charging $20 a drawing,” Ryan Eternal told me. “But the guys were always pestering me to get into tattooing.”
While he tried to ignore them, a few of his base-buddies decided to take it upon themselves to force his hand. They ordered some materials and brought them to his bunk. And, so he started.
“I went ahead and did it,” laughed Ryan. “And, man, I f*cked him up. But there was one line, right at the very end, and it was awesome.”
Ryan explained that he was hooked. That line, that one single perfect line, grabbed him and ultimately drew him into the career he now loves and adores. He went down to the local tattoo parlor and asked for an apprenticeship. The artist spoke no English, so he immediately refused Ryan’s request. But, Ryan wasn’t giving up.
“I went back to the base and spent all my free time teaching myself to speak Korean.”
After seeing that Ryan had taught himself enough Korean to muddle through lessons, the artist agreed to take him on as an apprentice. Ryan, who was still enlisted, spent all of his free time at the tattoo shop, learning the practice the old fashioned way—including how to mix his own inks and create his own needles and tubes.
Ryan spent a year apprenticing in Korea. He returned home to California and immediately sought after another apprenticeship.
A very popular local shop had posted a search for an apprentice. Ryan showed up at the specified time and date and was shocked to find 50 other people there also applying for the position. The artist, a popular female artist of the time, came in and set three random items on the table at the front of the room. She asked for everyone to draw a New School drawing of the objects in front of them and left the room.
“It was like some Men in Black shit,” Ryan laughed.
Ryan was the only person not to draw exactly what was on the table in front of him. But his artistic skills and bold decision got the artist’s attention. He won the apprenticeship, where he spent another year and a half enhancing his art.
“It wasn’t like the apprenticeship in Korea,” he stated. “She focused on teaching the artistic side—painting, composition, et cetera.”
It was the difference in teaching methods and shop styles which really helped to develop his art and his love of the tattoo culture in general. He left his second apprenticeship, which is virtually unheard of, and headed off to a job in his very first shop.
“I was the only guy, working with five women,” he said. This gave me a good laugh because Ryan Eternal is anything but feminine. He has a very butch, masculine appeal to him—he clearly spends a lot of time in a gym. I asked how that was, working with all women, expecting the typical response… but what I received shocked me, showing me yet another side of this tattoo giant.
“I would see guys come in to get tattooed and they would walk right by all these highly talented artists and come straight to me,” he said, “All because they were women. It was hard to see them hurt—it opened up seeing that side for me.”
Eventually, after putting in his dues and growing his skill set, Ryan worked his way into a guest spot at Hart & Huntington Tattoo for two days. He cranked out an incredible 16 tattoos in one day, with another 9 the next day.
“The average then was like 5 or 6 a day,” he told me. “Then I left straight from there to go on InkMaster.”
While filming the show, he received the call from Hart & Huntington Tattoo extending him a permanent position in the Orlando location.
“I didn’t even go home,” stated Ryan. “I went straight to Orlando with my book bag and like $200. My wife and kids came later.”
When it came time to talk about the industry itself, and Ryan’s feelings on the current state of it, things got really passionate. When it comes to one-trick ponies—artists who only focus on one aspect of tattooing—Ryan is very vocal about his own personal vendetta about these types of tattooers.
“One style artists make us look bad,” he exclaimed. “It’s a service industry. That’s our job. People are getting handed what we fought for and they’re taking off the coating. Have some respect for the industry.”
Ryan stressed that this was a service industry. He explained that it’s a tattooer’s job to give the customer what they want, not to turn people away because it’s not a killer design. A piece is a piece… no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to you.
“That one little thing, that one thing… I’m going to be tied to that person forever,” he affirms. “How f*cking awesome is that? That’s why I’m in it.”
He went on, explaining how new tattooers these days don’t understand the history behind the art form; that they don’t understand the work and the battles that went on before them so that tattooing could once again become an accepted profession. As a tattoo history buff myself, I was wildly impressed with Ryan’s understanding of the background—he was familiar with everything, not just the mainstream side of the industry, but the heavy hitters and the behind-the-scenes players.
“They don’t know,” he said. “And it’s hugely frustrating that these kids just don’t know.”
Regardless of Ryan Eternal’s incredible talent, he is an incredible person. Spending just a few hours with him let me see a softer side of him than you may have seen on his appearances on InkMaster. He is a devoted husband, a doting father. He cares for the industry in a way that not many artists can say they do. He truly feels it—is part of it. He’s deeply ingrained in the history, the skill, and wants to see it continue to rise. And he doesn’t see gender, only the tattoo machine and the level of work that comes from it.
To top it all off, he’s one of the most highly sought after artists in the Central Florida area.
Check out Ryan Eternal’s profile and samples on the Hart & Huntington Tattoo, Orlando website or book your session with this incredible artist by visiting: http://www.hartandhuntingtonorlando.com/artists/ryan.