How I Got Here
By James Connolly
First off, I am honored to have the opportunity to be given an outlet like this for the things that are constantly running around in my brain. Thank you TAM for giving me a place for my rants to be relevant. So here we go…
I thought I’d spend this first blog attempting to tell the readers here with who I am, what I do, and where I came from. I’m not a household name in tattooing like some of the other greats that post here. I am a tattoo artist that is working hard to get better at tattooing and along the way if I can make the people I tattoo happy with a solid tattoo then I’ll be fine with that. If I gain some recognition along the way I’ll take it.
I started as a dude in the right place at the right time. In early 2005, a good childhood friend of mine ended up getting an apprenticeship working in the studio where he started getting tattooed. I was along for the ride to give him my skin to practice on and get some cheap tattoos to help a friend. At the time, I thought it was awesome but it never crossed my mind that I too could get into tattooing. I didn’t feel I had any business learning. I quit drawing when I was younger for other “artistic” interest (mainly pottery and sculpting in high school), so I didn’t possess the drawing prowess that I now tell dozens of kids that ask about apprenticeships that they need. After hanging out at the studio for the better part of the year the owner briefly mentioned “selling” me an apprenticeship. I won’t name the guy but he was the sort that saw dollar signs on everything and cashed in everything and everyone he could. We talked more about it and after agreeing on terms (and a price) that was it, I was in. I’ll tell anyone that asks me at that time I shouldn’t have been anywhere near tattooing beyond just getting tattooed. I basically worked like a mule for months on end with very minimal teaching. It was the busiest studio in the area that supported 6 busy artists, my friend included, so the work load was huge, the teaching was minimal, and a few of the attitudes were total shit. I dealt with it for a while and then I messed it up badly and damn near lost my shot at this all together.
One evening, I was over the bullshit and made up a stupid lie to leave early on a busy Saturday night. Obviously, I got caught, was kicked out of my apprenticeship with no certainty of if/when I’d be allowed back. Luckily for me, I was allowed back into it a year or so later with the stipulation that I was 100% my friend’s responsibility. Meaning that I was apprenticing under a tattooer that was an apprentice mere months before I was. Long story short, it was the blind leading the blind. I didn’t learn much, and what I did learn, I had to spend the first couple years unlearning and relearning after I had moved on from that studio.
After that, I struggled through a couple local shops until I landed in the studio I work for now, Brass Monkey Tattoos (shameless plug). The owner of this studio is a 20+ year veteran by the name of CJ Harper. He has been around and knows his shit. So in late 2008, I started here and was struggling around people who could help me and teach me what I needed to learn. Owners, artists, and now friends that have a genuine care and standards that include more than just making a buck. I spent 3 1/2 years improving and working on the mechanics of tattooing and being taught to respect and value tattooing and everything it stands for. In these years, I grew to love and care for the job I had no business getting into in the first place. I earned my career, gained a family, and grew as an artist, a tattooer, and a person.
A quick fact about me, I’ve lived in Florida since I was 3 years old and I hate it. I’m a big, fat ginger who hates the heat and who is hated by the sun. I don’t do beaches, theme parks are for kids, and people down here can’t drive! I know this doesn’t seem relevant, but please bare with me for a second (it’ll fit into this story I promise). So in 2010, I began a relationship with a young lady from the Carolinas she moved here and hated it, that coupled with my love/hate relationship with the sunshine state led me to move to Wilmington, NC in early 2011. I got a job at a studio called Cape Fear and worked through a really tough year of my life. The relationship I uprooted my life for turned to shit so aside from a few really good friends and coworkers I made there and some great food (I’m a fatty), the Carolinas had nothing for me. I had been in contact with my boss from Brass Monkey the entire time I was gone and at one point was actually going to run a new shop for them somewhere in NC. I contacted them to tell them I made the decision to move back to Florida and would like to get my old job back at my true tattoo home. CJ and his wife, Lisa were happy to take me back so it worked out great. (interesting side note: my own stupidity led me back to the same relation-shit and she came back with me, we broke up again 6 months later).
So I’m back in Florida with a new found respect for this state, I don’t love the weather, the driving, or the bordom but I damn sure love the people I missed while I was gone. After returning some change ups to the staff at my shop happened and I have been lucky enough to be around even more people to work with, a couple younger, hungrier artist that are way more motivated than I was at their stage. It’s refreshing to realize that as a tattooer and an artist that you can learn from anyone. Newb, vet, young, old whatever, the more artists and people you can surround yourself with, the better. Everyone I’ve worked with, for, or near these past 7 1/2 or so years I have taken away a valuable lesson from. I’ve learned and grown and advanced to where I never thought I would be and am in a position I didn’t think I deserved back then. I’m not done yet. Every tattoo I do, every sketch I scribble up, every artist I meet, all the conventions, tattooers I follow on the internet and study are all a part of my continued learning experience. My “apprenticeship” may be long over but the learning has just begun. This is who I am. My name is James Connolly. You’ll find me online @biggietattoos on various social media (shameless plug #2). I am a dude that reads comics, listens to music, and is blessed enough to make a decent living (and a little recognition) doing something that I have grown to love, value, and respect. If you made it through this and I didn’t bore you to death, you’ll be hearing more from me here as time goes so thanks for that. You can find me at online at www.biggietattoos.blogspot.com www.facebook.com/biggietattoos on instagram @biggietattoos and in the flesh 6 days a week at Brass Monkey Tattoos in Spring Hill, FL