Traditional Japanese Tattooing with Chris O’Donnell

Traditional Japanese Tattooing with Chris O’Donnell


CHRIS O’DONNELL: I tell
everybody I’m two years out. Like, I won’t take
a new customer. It wasn’t really
self-promotion. I’ve never been good at that. Like right now, I don’t even
have business cards. I don’t know. I just tattooed a couple key
people, tried to do a good job, and then it just sort
of happened from there. I don’t even really know. It’s all kind of a blur. You just end up– it’s like one day you’re
thinking, wow, I wish I could do a real back piece. And then a year later, you
realize you’ve done three. You know, it’s that
kind of thing. It just kind of happens. You look back and you go, wow. It’s almost like I wished
for it and it happened. I started tattooing in 1993
when I was 17 years old. It was my after-school job. It was my senior year
of high school. My parents were divorced, and
they didn’t really have any money to force me to
go to college. It was just always like, what
are you going to do? How are you going to survive? What are you going to
do with your life? But I told my mom one night
and she said, tattooing? Aren’t you worried
you’re going to make a lot of enemies? I still don’t really know
exactly what she meant by that, or why she
would say that. But I thought that
was interesting. That was literally the only
thing she ever said about it. I’m Chris O’Donnell. This is my art studio, my art
room where it all happens. I’m working on something now– drew a tiger on tone paper so
I could use white colored pencil to make it pop out. There’s tons of stuff that I
could draw that I couldn’t tattoo at first, and still. It’s a lot harder than drawing,
or painting, even. It’s got different
considerations, like leaving open skin. If you fill it solid, it’s going
to be brighter, better. But you’ve got to leave the open
skin to reflect a certain amount of light through it so
it pops off the skin and becomes more graphic that way. If you fill in those dark
backgrounds so completely solid, it just kills
the whole thing. You’ve got to show some
restraint for sure. That’s the hardest thing to do,
is just be able to back off and know when it’s done. Most younger guys get into it
and they think, like, it’s going to immediately
be easy because they can draw or paint. It’s definitely not the case. It’s very technical
process learning. I started at a total biker shop,
just a total biker shop. It was kind of a miserable
experience, but I’m lucky for it. This is almost identical to the
actual first tattoo that I did on a friend. Tribal– tribal was quite
popular when I first started, early ’90s. I learned to do color– I used the single needle in a
seven round, which is absurd now to think about. But again, I started
in a biker shop, so that’s what they did. When I first walked into that
tattoo shop that first time, when I was there, this
was the magazine that was on the news stand. They would get the issues
and sell them. And I didn’t know who any of
these people were at all– like Don Ed Hardy, Dan Higgs,
Alex Binnie, Marcus Pacheco, Elio Espana, Timothy– but these are some of my
favorite people in tattooing to this day. And then there’s this “Primal
Urge” article, and they’re doing really interesting things,
like stuff I didn’t even know was possible. And I would just study this
stuff and think, like, how do you get these effects, and
just slave over these drawings, just racking my brain
trying to figure out how this stuff works. Like, how do you compose
these images? How do you do water? How do you draw fire? How do you color it? It’s so complicated. This stuff blew my mind and made
me– this is part of what made me go, oh, I want to do
tattoos that I drew, that I am excited about. It’s like these four guys in a
private studio just working on cool people, getting whatever
they want to do. So that was my– that was the moment. TIMOTHY HOYER: I met Chris
O’Donnell in Richmond, Virginia, probably
around 1994. I had moved to Richmond
to open a tattoo shop. It was called Absolute Art. He would just come over and
hang out after he was done with his shifts at
the other shop. I think where he was working was
more of a commercial shop, more walk-ins, less
custom stuff. I think he wanted to branch out
and be able to draw and have a little more freedom. And we were at the point where
we were getting more of that kind of clientele. CHRIS O’DONNELL: Before long,
the guys at Absolute Art– which was like the cool guys
downtown, the cool older guys. They had their own shop. And they noticed me, and the
drummer at the time, the drummer for Avail came in
and got tattooed by me. And eventually, that led
to me tattooing Beau, another guy in Avail. But I had to come to Absolute
Art to tattoo him, because he wouldn’t come to my shop. Of course, I jumped at the
chance, just to be able to hang out with those guys
and tattoo him. And then before I knew it, I
was getting hired, and I started working with Timothy. TIMOTHY HOYER: I went through
stage of doing very painterly, rendered– like almost kind of fine art
things, experimental things, just trying a bunch of stuff. So I think that our styles
started out a little farther apart and then sort
of came together. Yeah, he definitely had his
own style even back then. I think he probably had three
or four years under his belt at that point, so it was still
kind of forming, the look of what he was doing,
the feel of it. But it was very, very solid,
very, very clean tattooing, even at that point. It started that way. We’ve always been really good at
kind of pushing each other, and just sort of keeping
the ball rolling. On Monday I’ll see,
oh, you did that. And on Tuesday I’ve got to come
in with something else, and on Wednesday he’s going to
come in with something else. There was a lot of that when we
worked together because it was just me and him. CHRIS O’DONNELL: I started
traveling after I started working with Timothy. He took me to a lot
of conventions. He started taking me
on trips with him. Like, we’d go up to New York
and work at East Side Ink. Yeah, I was really nervous. It was great. New York City is daunting
enough when you’re not used to it. I remember pulling up totally
disoriented, didn’t know where I was in New York. It was obviously the East
Village, Lower East Side. Pull up, and right away I see
Tin-Tin and Elio hanging out in front of East Side Ink, by
the dumpster, smoking a joint or whatever. And Tin-Tin had a cast– it was
just a surreal experience because I hadn’t seen
either one of those guys in person ever. It was definitely an easy
situation to choke in, like, too many good people around, I’m
too young, I don’t really have a developed style
whatsoever. I don’t even really know
what I’m doing. But Timothy was always
really supportive. And it would be like, oh, yeah,
Chris Trevino was here two weeks ago. Here’s all these drawings
that he left behind. And you’re like, well what
am I doing here? Why would I– Dan Higgs was tattooing
there at that time. That’s where I met Dan. Looking back, I’m surprised that
I didn’t just choke and run out of there. But I remember doing a big
Japanese snake half sleeve, and I don’t know if I’d really
want to see that thing now. Had wind– aw man. I used to do that
all the time. I’d draw full tattoos, do color
studies, hang them up in my station, and then eventually
someone would finish a project and say,
what about that? I sort of imagined– I had no idea who I
would do it on. I didn’t have a portfolio
full of stuff. But I knew that I had ideas, and
I knew that this is what it would look like
if I tattooed it. So I hung it up. And I think, like, within a
month, someone had gotten the outline already. It was just a tactic for me to
be able to start doing big work, to prove that, it might
look good if you let me do it. I’ll put the time into it. I’m not really sure what made
me want to strive for anything, really. For me, I just wanted to be able
to maybe take a style and pursue it and be able to kind
of create that kind of life, where you’re just making art
that you’re actually interested in. I think I just looked
up to certain artists that seemed to– instead of sort of being a slave
to whatever this random person that comes into the shop
wants, you could actually develop a style, much like
painting, and draw a clientele based on that, where they would
come to you, and you’re basically creating
your own reality. As far as the Japanese stuff,
that’s kind of complicated. I was exposed to it and I liked
it, but I didn’t really understand it. It was, in my opinion, maybe
too simplistic, to my uneducated viewpoint. And it wasn’t exciting enough. I mean, there was other things
going on that were way more– like Marcus Pacheco was doing
the cubist stuff. Marcus Pacheco, I guess
he had an art degree. He’s a fine painter. But he started tattooing, but
he wanted to see what was really possible for
the art form. All this really good,
interesting work was happening at the time. And I was so young that I really
didn’t have an artistic identity at all– luckily, probably. That’s probably for
the better. And then I started working
with Timothy. And he was doing a lot of
painterly tattoos, of figures and space scenes behind
it or whatever. Really interesting stuff, but
I knew that working with Timothy, they would pigeonhole
me in just being a copy of him, like wanting to be
just like– you see that all the time. You see one really good artist,
and then he works with two younger artists that
just do his style, just bite him to death. I started thinking about
Japanese stuff, and pursuing a little bit, just trying
to understand it. And then I just went that way. The Japanese style of
tattooing, yeah, it’s way more graphic. It’s designed to have a bunch
of big images all over the body and then tie it all
together with a background that will pop those
images forward. Younger kids, they look at
tattoos sometimes and they think they’re too simple. They don’t understand the
science behind making it more readable to the eye, especially
from a distance. It’s incredibly complicated. TIMOTHY HOYER: I would say
it’s become a very– like a refinement of just
classic tattooing, classic traditional styles that
have kind of a timeless edge to them. Japanese, that’s kind of where
he went immediately after the beginning stage of trying to
figure out what you’re doing. He hit on that and just
went with it. CHRIS O’DONNELL: Yeah, it’s
incredibly difficult to start doing the bigger stuff,
especially the first 200 times. Just stenciling the whole thing,
that makes you nervous. I was doing back pieces before
I knew how to draw things on with a pen. So I had to stencil background,
every detail. So it had to be perfect. You’d spend two hours
trying to piece together the stupid stencil. Then you’d just try to get it
on right and hope it is. And then there’d be parts of it
that weren’t in the right place or cut off. Then you’re doing the outline,
and then there’ll be– say it’s a deity with
like eight arms. At least three or four
of those hands are really fucked up. And more often than not, I would
bite off more than I could chew. But then you finish it and move
on, and hopefully you learn from those mistakes. That’s the weird thing about
tattooing, is you do learn from your mistakes, and the
mistakes are on people. The problem with tattooing,
in a way, is that it’s too easy to start. Maybe not correctly, but I mean,
you could get stuff and you could start tattooing, and
you’re just going to mess people up endlessly and
not get anywhere. But you see it on TV. You go, oh, those
guys can do it. I can do it. I’ll just go order
a kit and start. Why would I buy art books? I’ll just buy the kit and
just scribble away and fuck people up. Going off on a tangent. I don’t get really depressed
about it anymore. I used to get depressed about
the state of my industry. But New York is an easy place. You can kind of create
a bubble. The tattoo artists around New
York, they seem to be separated from all
of that nonsense. What I do for myself is mainly
through my friends and everything. I kind of create my own
world, like this room. This is like a safe place
away from that stuff. I have all the books that
originally inspired me, and I go back to that place and kind
of retrigger those ideas, those thoughts. Like, oh, this is what
tattooing is. You could obsess over all the
things wrong with tattooing these days and you just
want to quit, and you might as well. But I just try to stick to
what I always thought tattooing was, and not let
anybody else ruin that for me. I literally try harder every
time, because you get to a point periodically where you’re
so disgusted with your own work that you just
want to quit. And the only thing left to do is
either quit or find ways to become better. For me, I was always striving
for inspiration, always searching for inspiration. So I would want to meet
Eddie Deutsche. I would want to meet anybody
that I looked up to. Ed Hardy, because I would glean
inspiration from that, come away from that and my work
would get way better, because I just was so excited. I always felt behind because
I was always trying to figure it out. And it never felt
like I was ahead of anything in tattooing. I’m always just squeaking by
trying to make it happen, make something– Yeah. I’m always kind of like– I feel like I’m always one of
the last people to get it, of the grouping that I’m in. But that’s just me, I guess. It was maybe a year, year
and a half after I’d moved to New York. I don’t know. I was tattooing and
the assistant walked up, and she goes– she had the phone. She said, “There’s an Ed on
the phone for you.” And I said, “Ed who?” And she
goes, “He didn’t say. Maybe Ed Hardy?” I was
like, “Uh, OK. Let me take it.” And I did, and he said, “Yeah, I
like your work.” In fact, he said, “I like your work a lot. You should really keep it up. I really like what you’re
doing.” I’m losing my mind, because that’s what you always
want, someone like Ed Hardy to call you and say, yeah,
you’re doing it right. You’re finally doing it right. I remember drawing when I was
a kid, or when I was a young tattooer, thinking, man, imagine
if Ed Hardy saw this and said, wow, that’s
really good. I like what you’re doing. And then that’s funny that
that actually happened. It’s funny to look back on
that thought and see it materialize. It was just definitely
encouraging, because the whole time, you’re thinking,
what am I doing? I’m not as good as this
person or that person. You’re never happy with
your own work. But to have someone call you
of that stature and that pedigree, and be able to say
you’re doing good, it’s encouraging. You don’t want more rambling? I could ramble much longer. -No, it was very good. So many gems in there.

100 thoughts on “Traditional Japanese Tattooing with Chris O’Donnell

  1. "But I just try to stick to what I thought tattooing was, and not let anyone else ruin it for me"- yes, that is exactly why I bought a kit online! No one does what I want to do, and most artists tend to dabble in other cultures then say they do "Japanese" or "tribal". Its like going on a vacation to someplace for 2 weeks then saying you know as much about it as someone who has lived there for 10 years…. Anyway, I don't need no bear head with eagle claws (whoops) a thing I most recently saw on a longboard graphic that is in mass production if that is what you think NW Coast is.

  2. all these people claiming this shit isnt traditional. its not. but in order you to actually get a tattoo the true japanese way it will take you months to find the right person. and when you do the tattoo depending on the size, like a backpiece, will take years. you need to earn the tattoo, develop a lot of meaning. this is far from traditional but it retains the same sense and meaning as one. what matters is the ink on your skin. no matter how you got it or from who. it is what you want.ps. hes an amazing artist.

  3. omg probably one of the most boring vice videos ever. this guy's voice is putting me to sleep and showing that guys ass 10 times isn't helping the video

  4. To everyone complaining about the title: Yes you are right. He is not a "traditional Japanese" Tattooer. Nor is that his style. Chris, himself, posted on his blog insisting that his style is NOT traditional. Rather, it is a "blend" influenced by many, many styles including traditional Japanese and Tibetan.

  5. i don't know what is more nerve racking for the artist ? messing up the tattoo or having a big harry butt in front of his face ?

  6. I like negative/empty space on someone's body .For example, I like one sleeve in one arm and the other arm with no sleeve.

  7. 3:25 Marcus Pacheco is one of the guys who started SHARP. He was on a lot talk shows in the 80's talking about skinheads.

  8. all of you who are complaining about a master like chris O'Donnell are what's wrong with the tattoo industry

  9. i guess the spam comments stopped when the hype over the article stopped

    nice article… but stop buying people to "yap".. fucking cancer tactics

    vice is slowly dying, acting a whore & all… not dying in the monetary sense i'm sure: though the people who want to stay informed in an honest manner are slowly being forgotten & thus, forgetting

  10. it means do a good job
    "wont you make alot of enemies" it means do a good job or you might make a bad tattoo and get people mad

  11. Tattoo Artist should call traditional Japanese style tattoo, Western/Japanese style…majority of western artist do not know anything about real JAPANESE TATTOO…. Its cheap/sneaky/disrespectful.. Go do some homework and real training/apprentice and respect the style before you say you understand our culture! .. Majority of you artist probably never been to japan… Just b/c you vacation once or twice for 2weeks is not understanding the Japanese culture/history…. that mentality is the typical Western ego/idiots/lazy/bad habits/bad manners….. Its easy to talk out of your ass, but to actually bring 110% you can't guess your way threw it…. proper guidelines is a essential…. Japanese Culture is all about going beyond 100%. The understanding of work and giving it your all doesn't apply in the US… If you disagree with that, you don't get us Japanese.

  12. I love eating Slim Jims, watching Polka Party on TV, sorting my recyclables and – when possible – incorporating the three into my love making. Now, let me show you my tattoos.

  13. I don't know where people are coming from when they say his work is sloppy and not good. His work is amazing and he does have talent! If you guys think his work sucks how about you try drawing the masterpieces he has tattooed on his clients.

  14. Unless, you move to the West /North-West Coast of the country!. or Hawaii!. There's not many Japanese-Americans, walking around Brooklyn!.

  15. I like how quiet the audio is. No loud blasting rock or anything like that, it really makes me focus on Chris more and hear what he is actually all about. He also seems like a really humble guy that just wants to give the clients the best that he can give.

  16. These are really gorgeous pieces! Wish I still lived on the East Coast, I would totally get my back done.

  17. 14.43!!! What an honour!! I'm probably one of the only Ed Hardy T shirt wearers. / owners who already knew who he was before I bought the T shirt!! 2000 Dragons!!!

  18. I think his work is average!! Not to mention he comes off as a cocky dork!!  His wind bars average !! He is an average tattooer.

  19. how dare a white person ever do anything right? good lord, so many retards in the comments who want to act like they're some sort of expert or like they have any sort of authority to say what is and isn't traditional Japanese tattooing. You are not gate keepers or cultural police. You're a bunch of lame ass losers with nothing better to do than bitch about everything because in your real life you work minimum wage jobs and dropped out in the 10th grade and have no future. Go work hard and be somebody.

  20. I don't even understand all these no lifes in the comment section talking shit about Chris when he has a skill they'd never have a in a million years. Seriously, this guy has mastered the technique of drawing on human skin and turning it into a piece of art for over a decade. Most of you don't even know how to boil water and you want to talk about his race, or his style, or whatever. Go back to pushing buttons, idiots.

  21. U can tell this guy is fallowing his heart, and when u do that with faith your dreams come true or "materialize" as he put it. And not all of us arw born to become famouse, just the smallest simple things can be fallowing your heart..

  22. I would have to agree that tradition Japanese can only be done by a Japanese person, because its not just a tattoo. There's culture behind it.

  23. Is the drawing at around 2:38 an actual identifiable character in Japanese mythology/history, or is it just a random drawing in the Japanese style?

  24. Nice rebuilt shader for sale

    https://rover.ebay.com/rover/0/0/0?mpre=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ebay.com%2Fulk%2Fitm%2F392179716270

  25. Great artist and tattooist. I just can't get past his non-traditional color palette for traditional Japanese tattoos. Regardless, that's just me, I hope he's kept up the great work.

  26. Used to see Japanese tattoos made in Japan … they always seem amazing
    Don't know what's going on with these ones, but they seem ugly… can't say why!

  27. Timothy Hoyer has done both of my Japanese half sleeves. One is 10 years old the other is 5 years old. To this day I get complimented on them by random people just walking around. These guys are all extremely talented. It is an honor to get tattooed by such talented artists.

  28. how is this traditional? you white bro.. you can have our tattoo or trying to be like us , but end of the day you still white lol

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