If you’ve spent time in Canada and you’re involved with the tattoo industry at all, chances are you’ve heard of Black Line Studio. The shop is currently boasting the rating of Toronto’s number one tattoo, piercing, and removal company and they don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Constantly adding new and exciting artists, featuring guest artists from around the world, and expanding in their endeavors on a seasonal basis, they’ve definitely got the high-end tattoo market cornered in the Toronto area. Recently, I got a chance to sit down with one of their resident artists, Damon Hojjati, and chat about his journey into tattooing, his affection for black and grey work, and his thoughts on the mainstream opinion of the tattoo culture.
I see that most of your work appears to be larger scale pieces. Do you work on smaller pieces as well? Do you have a preference for the large pieces?
I don’t really work on small pieces unless it’s a friend or a good customer of mine that’s gotten a lot of work done by me, then sometimes I’ll do the piece for them. when it comes to the large pieces, I enjoy doing statues, warriors, faces, animals, anything cool really.
You state in your bio on the website that you prefer to work with black and grey realism. What is it about that style that draws you in?
I think I prefer black and grey, besides the fact that I don’t own a single piece of colorful clothing, lol, mainly because it has a classic, timeless look. Also because in our reality, everything is in color, but when I tattoo, I have the opportunity to create or manipulate outside of that reality, while still keeping my art in the realm of realism. In a sense, I think the art is more powerful, especially when you use a lot of black. Mind you, I still have a ton of appreciation for color tattoos, especially realism. Some artists can do some amazing things with color.
Do you have a least favorite style of tattooing?
My least favorite style of tattooing is easily tribal. I just find it boring and tedious.
If you had to pick your favorite tattoo out of your portfolio, what would it be and why?
I get asked that question a lot, and really I don’t have a favorite. My newest tattoo is usually always my favorite. If I had to pick one, I would say maybe a sleeve I did with Perseus on the top of the arm. I just really like all the different components of that sleeve, and how it all came together was very organic.
Okay, so let us know… what type of machines do you favor? Rotary, Coil, or the new Cartridge machines?
Right now I’m using rotary machines, mainly the Dragonfly. I sometimes use the Cheyenne, which is a cartridge system, but most of my work now is with the Dragonfly.
Every tattoo artist has at least one horror story… what sticks out for you the most in your career?
I’ve been pretty lucky I guess. I’ve never had a horror story. I mean, I have had some bad clients, but I’m pretty easy going. I just roll with it.
Do you feel as if you ever face biased opinions from the general public because of your career?
You know, surprisingly not. I thought I would have, and sometimes when I meet older professionals, such doctors, lawyers, and corporate guys, I think their reaction to my profession will be negative but it’s actually quite the opposite. They’re super intrigued and excited. They asked me all these questions, kind of like the ones you’re asking me now, lol, and they always tell me how they want to get a tattoo and what they want to get. I guess for them, what I do is so outside their realm that it’s interesting to them. Also, although the stigma around tattoos is still somewhat present, it’s so widely accepted and so many people, including professionals, have them that tattoos are becoming the norm.
What would you say to someone looking to pursue a career in the tattoo industry?
To anyone trying to pursue a career in the tattoo industry I would say it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Guys trying to get into the tattoo game think they’re gonna be rock stars but its long exhausting hours. It’s mentally and physically draining and when you’re not tattooing your drawing and preparing for your upcoming pieces. It’s a lot of sacrifice and dedication. Everything else takes a backseat. And that’s when you’ve already “made it” to a certain level. Before that, it’s all that without the reward. You need be tough, and relentless. You’re gonna experience a lot of disappointment, rejection, frustration, criticism, and more. It’s not for everyone. I guess it all depends on what your expectations are of your work as well as your income. If you want to be successful, you got to work your ass off.
Do you have any formal training?
I learned to tattoo the old fashion way. I did a traditional apprenticeship and by traditional I mean, cleaned toilets, scrubbed floors, took apart machines, made thousands of hand stencils, was the first one in and last to leave, scrubbed and autoclaved tubes every single day—which most artists these days don’t even know what that means now that all tubes are disposable. I was basically a slave and if I didn’t like it, there was the door. I feel like these days guys trying to get into the industry are whiners and complainers. They want everything to come fast, and easy with as little work as possible. There’s no appreciation for hard work and climbing to the top of the mountain, they want to take the high-speed express train, with someone serving them cappuccino. I just think that’s the world we live in today. The young generation wants instant gratification.
Where do you find inspiration for your art? Is there a go-to for you when you’re having a hard time creating?
I find my inspiration from different things but mainly from paintings and sculptures. My go-to is looking at art from the Baroque period like Caravaggio or my favorite, Bernini or from the Renaissance era artists like Michelangelo, or Raphael. Their work is so inspiring and has huge influence on my art.
Some shops/artists will tattoo any design that comes in the door. Some will refuse tattoos which violate their morals. Is there anything you absolutely would not tattoo on someone, regardless of price?
I do sometimes refuse tattoos, mainly because I feel the design would just not look good. A customer sometimes comes in with an idea that I believe needs to be designed a certain way for it to look good and for me to do the best job possible, but sometimes they’re simply not willing to budge or compromise on the design. In those instances, I nicely tell them that I don’t think I’m the right artist for them. I just don’t want to be associated with something I think they’re not going to be happy with or I’ll be proud of. I’m never mean or rude about it. Sometimes you just can’t come to an agreement. Other than that, I wouldn’t tattoo things that I believe are morally wrong, like racism, or terrorism in any form, or penises lol.
Do you have any artists/tattoo artists that you idolize and/or look up to? If yes, who and why?
Ya, of course there are artists that I look up to. Every artist does, no matter how good you are. There are so many great ones and artists that do great work, but right now to name a few, my three favorites are Carlos Torres, Ivano Natale, and Josh Duffy.
If you could tattoo anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
If I could tattoo anybody dead or alive, it would probably have to be Bruce Lee. Just because I would have loved to just meet him, let alone hanging and tattooing him would just be a trip. He was such a charismatic, interesting, influential person. I think it would have been a lot of fun with deep conversations. Tupac is up there with him for the same reasons.
Let’s say you were offered to travel to any country of your choice—all expenses paid—to work for a month, what country would you choose?
It would probably have to be Australia. I’ve always wanted to go there. I’d want to go in January – February to escape the Canadian cold. The weather there is great, and they have great tattoo artists. So I think it would be an awesome place to travel to and work.