A quick interview with Guy Aitchison (questions by Mike Gutowski) 1. I must say your newest incarnation of reinventing the tattoo is, to say the least, quite impressive. Are you happy with the product? How long did it take you to re-edit? How has the feedback been? Where can artists pick up this gem and possibly get a signed edition? GUY: I spent the better part of 3 years on the new edition. Obviously, part of the goal was to bring the book up to date with our other releases, which are hardcover in full color, but also to take the opportunity to review all the material and upgrade it to fit the needs of today's tattoo community. The new format is not only way nicer looking but has been made way more user-friendly. Although every page is packed with information, I've laid it out in a way that makes it easier to digest than if it were all just one massive block of text by bringing in all those sidebars, icons and other college textbook-style goodies. The DVD supplement was also a chance to make the information in the book easier to digest by seeing these ideas put into action. So far the response has been uniformly positive from both newbies and artists who have read the previous edition. I'm as happy with it as I could be- the art form is always changing and it's hard to create material that won't go out of date eventually, but I feel that I've future-proofed this book as much as I possibly could. For the time being, I'm not offering the book wholesale to suppliers, so the only way to buy it is to come to www.hyperspacestudios.com. All books are sent out signed, although if you make a note in out "comments" box when you place the order, I can personalize your copy as well. 2. Given your contributions not only to tattooing, but art perception itself, where do you see yourself fitting in the grand scheme of this industry, or art in general? Where do you go from here? GUY: Does this industry have a grand scheme? As far as I can tell, it's evolving without a plan, much as our whole biosphere did... which can lead to growth in unexpected places. I was one of the early parts of the wave of trained artists that started gravitating toward tattooing 20 years ago, but this would have happened with or without my participation, albeit in a different form. I like to think that my contribution has been toward having a more solid understanding of what makes for good tattoo design, and applying high artistic standards in the execution. The style I am known for is what I do, not necessarily what I teach- these are principles that can apply across all styles. Where do I go from here? For one thing, I'm generally not going to be available for tattoo work. My time is being directed mostly toward either painting or publishing. I see myself putting a large professional focus on publishing, particularly within the tattoo industry, and keeping the painting as a thing I do for myself. If the books are selling, it won't matter if the paintings are popular with the public or not... and I like that kind of freedom. 3. Conventions seem to be morphing at a rapid pace given that there are virtually two or three on any given weekend. It seems as though you need to pick very carefully through the list of which show to attend/support, what are some characteristics you look for in any of these events Im sure you are invited to constantly? GUY: This is a tough one- right now I'm feeling pretty negative about conventions after that bike gang incident in Philly. We were in the lobby when the violence broke out- by sheer good luck we didn't get stampeded. You really need to know that the promoter is not the spineless variety that lets these folks run around in their shows wearing their full gang regaila- that's just asking for trouble, and highly irresponsible. You are endangering other peoples' safety when you allow that element into your shows. History has shown that these very same people, when allowed into the conventions without their gang colors, can enjoy the show without violence being an issue... but bring gang politics into the mix and anything can happen. So that's one of my overriding criteria at this point, and forever more- none of that gang shit. We're fine artists and should not have to share space with that element. I'm also sick and tired of all that freak show/suspension crap. What do fleshooks have to do with art? I know there used to be some sacred ritual attached to it, but at conventions these performances generally consist of a lot of yelling and splattering blood. Seriously, these people really need attention, but why divert it away from the fine art? Do these promoters really believe they won't get a decent crowd without a public bloodletting? I recently had to give a seminar in a room where the carpet was literally squishy with the previous night's body fluids. Our industry has worked hard at self-regulating our cross-contamination procedures to prevent THE MAN from coming in and doing it for us... but this kind of blatantly irresponsible shit is an open invitation to the authorities. I could go on and on about this but I won't waste your time. Bottom line: the focus needs to be on the art. Look at the list of artists attending and see who is giving seminars... also scope out the other activities listed for the show. If it's a freak show and bike expo, it probably won't be as strong of a convention as one that lists seminars, artfusions and gallery expos. 4. I took your weekend Reinventing the tattoo seminar, of course there was plenty of portfolio critiquing. How important is it to bring into the shop setting...say on a daily or weekly basis. Will you be available to critique portfolios at the Tattoo Gathering? GUY: I may have time for some of that- usually I look at a few portfolios at every show- but it won't be in a formalized setting like that weekend seminar. The seminar I'm giving at the Paradise gathering will be quite short- really just an infomercial for the book followed by a question/answer session. Usually when I do a critique I try to really boil it down to a couple of basic things the artist needs to work on, rather than a long laundry list. I just gave someone a 2-word critique this past weekend: "bigger shapes". This makes it easier to figure out where to place the emphasis on whatever you're trying to improve. It's one thing to know you need to improve in general, but another thing entirely to know you need to work on cleaning up your gradients or clarifying your pos/neg relationships. I try to simplify the artistic struggle into digestible problems. It is indeed very important to do a review of your recent work every month or so- the more frequently, the better. This can be done solo or with your coworkers, but will be most helpful if you make it a regular habit. Lay all your most recent work in front of you and take a long look. What needs improvement? It should be something you can see across the whole body of work: weak lines, patchy color, stiff flow... usually, when an artist is deficient in something, it will happen in many of their projects. Keep notes in your journal or sketchbook about these goals and try to apply that thought toward the work you do that coming month, and then do another review. This way you can make a consistent, conscious effort toward evolving your work rather than just showing up at the shop every day and hoping for the best. Doing this in a group setting can be especially helpful- sometimes others will see obvious things that you might miss. With the right attitude and some self-honesty, you can really fast-track your artistic evolution... and of course, having some good teaching materials in the picture can't hurt. 5. I've heard that in reference to life "It's all about love" , and I've also heard people theorize that art is a major aspect of this reality that people may not even realize can make major changes in the way humans conduct themselves, can you speak to that? GUY: Can our art affect the direction of history? Is that what you're asking? Obviously art is quite relevant, since much of our understanding of past eras is based on the art that has survived until today. People wouldn't be going to art museums if they didn't think the ideas presented in the art had some kind of profound relationship with their daily existence. There is that chicken-or-egg problem: do we affect the culture with our art, or is the art a by-product of our culture? I think the answer lies in how cutting-edge an art form might be. Much of what we see in pop art is a response to what sells, what gets attention, what elicits the big reactions. That's obviously art that came as a product of our culture. On the other hand, there are the artists at the cutting edge who are creating the new ideas. Much of this material will also be a reflection of the surrounding culture, but truly original art will present those ideas in a way that is revolutionary enough to affect the larger culture... only to be beaten to death and regurgitated by other artists. One of the reasons I like tattooing as an art movement is that, although we are no less susceptible to outside influence than any other art scene, we also have this magic connection to the immediate needs of our clients, their crazy ideas, and this notion that it's OK, actually desirable, to have something on your skin that is unprecedented. It's OK for it to be attractive only to the client. No outside standard will decide for a tattoo collector the value of their piece. This gives tattooists a base-level realness that is hard to find in other art forms, and which helps to keep tattooing fresh and at the cutting edge. HyperspaceStudios.com