This morning, laying in bed beside my husband - we were just discussing the state of the world, the upcoming election in the States, this story of a woman who got 20 men to buy her an iPhone which she then sold to put a down payment on a house, priorities of people in general. This led him to mention the thing he loved most about being an artist, the constant struggle. It's the exact opposite of a 9-5 office job, every day you're faced with a new mountain to conquer, regardless of your mood, how you're feeling, it’s not a job where you can just turn off, tune out. It’s not like writing, where you can stare at a blank page for hours and justify it by being ‘uninspired’. As a tattoo artist, you have to be inspired every day, sometimes for 8 hours straight, there’s no creative block break when you're dealing with skin that fucking hurts.
I mean, if you've ever gotten a tattoo - a fifteen minute break feels like you're pouring acid on a fresh wound going back in. Your body starts healing, starts trying to recover and going back in is an always unpleasant SURPRISE to your system.
I’ve watched him get up some mornings lost, frustrated and tired. He drags his feet, drinks his coffee slowly while mentally trying to find some motivation to tackle the day’s tattoo, regardless of size. It's not something you can paint over, or half ass and hope for the best - every client comes in expecting 100%, no one wants to pay for some artist to not give a shit. I've watched every single one of the guys who work in our shop, come in on sick days, with bags under their eyes or a world weighing on their shoulders and still sit drawing a design with meticulous dedication and immense effort even when they struggle to finish breakfast. The love for what they do is something I've never seen with any other art form.
Each tattoo they bleed, they pour a piece of themselves into each finished product, and every time when they are finished a piece; you can physically see the pride, then the complete self loathing wash over them as they appreciate their successes and then immediately hate their work. No matter what level these artists are on, be it the top tiers or the first few weeks of their careers, all good artists go through an immediate conflict of immense pride in their work, they wipe it down, take a photograph, wrap it up and send it out the door, they pull out the camera or phone and their immediate satisfaction you can actually watch wash off their face like the ocean’s tide. They pick apart every detail, every line or white highlight, every texture or blend - like it’s not quite smooth enough, not quite sharp enough, not quite dark enough. That’s the thing that drives them the next day - their failures, more than their successes. They want to be better, they push themselves to be stronger with every single tattoo they put out.
i know, my husband comes home and sits on the couch beside his children and his wife and stares at his tattoo that day, cursing every mistake made and asking for my ‘honest’ opinion, and when I tell him what I see wrong, almost always alerts him to at least one more thing to hate. Eventually giving up on that piece with frustration, tossing aside his phone with a silent resolution to fix that mistake next time. It’s always next time.
I think that’s what makes a successful artist - the perfect balance of self confidence and complete self hatred, like somehow these artists manage to function with the two polar extremes of a personality type co-existing and feeding each other. It’s one of my favourite and yet most infuriating things about my husband, his obsession with personal and artistic growth, but how do you fault someone who is never satisfied with good enough. You watch them every single day scroll through Instagram with the sole purpose of seeing better artists than them, and picking apart HOW they made that blend so smooth, how they made that texture look so real, how they came up with that idea. When he finds a piece similar to something he’s done - he pulls them up side by side and dissects them like a mad scientist searching for some major breakthrough - the answer to some question, comparing details that the client is more than likely completely unaware of, and the average person has never even considered.
I think what it boils down to at the end of the tattoo or at the end of the day is it’s never quite good enough, but rather than rolling over and accepting defeat - they learn and push themselves harder to do bigger, better art. They force themselves to become stronger.
If that’s not the definition of loving something with every inch of your soul - I don't know what the fuck it is.