TAM Artist Profile: ERIC JONES, Costa Mesa, California. Interview by: MARCO ANNUNZIATA
Originally from Southern California, born in Long Beach. Since being a tattoo artist, Eric Jones worked in both Southern California and New York. He currently resides in Costa Mesa and works at Port City Tattoo.
What are your first memories of tattooed people?
My first memories of tattoos involve the movie ‘The Illustrated Man’, based on the novel by Ray Bradbury. My father enjoyed the movie quite a bit, so, as a child, I was exposed to the concept of skin art. When I was a teenager, we attended the Renaissance Fair, here in California, and there was this man who had his entire skull cap tattooed. I do remember my father thinking poorly of his decision.
How did you get into tattooing?
I got my first tattoo done when I was eighteen. That is the legal age in California, and my friends in high school were getting them before me, so I had been looking at magazines for a year prior. One of the magazines was an International Tattoo Art featuring Dave Gibson and Mike Wilson. That was the defining moment in my decision to start drawing tattoo designs, or my redraws of these two great artists style. I redrew one of Gibson’s swallows that ran a banner with the name of his shop. In place of LUCKY, I had the name Jesus in the banner, that part of my life included christian belief.
I went to a local Orange County shop with my Dave Gibson redraw in hand, the artist traced the piece of art pad paper, stenciled it and sat me down. A couple more visits took place, same thing, me referencing Wilson and Gibson, with a twist of my personal life. After 6 or 7 months of me getting tattooed with drawings in hand, the shop called me up one day and asked me to come down to talk shop. I apprenticed under two guys, one specializing in black and grey, the other in color. Believe it or not, the first tattoo I did was off Dave Gibson’s flash, an eight ball. Not an easy place to start, doing a circle, but I was able to correct it a few more times. The client was a shop friend, whom had also been tattooed by Eric Maaske.
Did you go to art school? Who are the painters that have influenced you the most?
During my first couple years in the shop, I continued on with junior college taking art classes. I moved on to Cal State Long Beach, majoring in Fine Arts, lasting only one year due to a divorce. A few visual artists I appreciate and reference would be painters Robert Motherwell, Georgia O’keefe, Picasso, David Hockney, Alice Neel just to name a few. My favorite illustrators are Robert Williams, R. Crumb, Rick Griffen, Greg Irons, Stanley Mouse.
Is tattooing a form of art?
The art of Tattoo is no different than any other form of art, and that includes the individuals involved in this subculture. We use symbols and signs to illustrate our emotions and connections to the society around us. The title is a just mask like any other we wear throughout the day, given the situation we have placed ourselves in, permanently marking another person is no different than a painter marking a canvas with a brush.
What is your typical style and who are your typical customers?
I have been a traditional style tattoo artist my entire career. The furthest I stray away from the simple palette is into shallow waters of the Japanese format. I like to sprinkle weird into my stuff whenever possible, spiritual twists, low-brow humor, simplified over-thought concepts.
A typical client of mine are best described as the average individual. You or me, correct? I don’t have high profile customers, or at least none have asked to be treated as such. We try to treat all our customers as best as possible. I’m no longer as young as I like to mislead myself, so I’m softer and more approachable in my 30 somethings.
Are there any difference between the tattoo scene in Los Angeles and Orange County?
I’ve never worked in the Los Angeles tattoo scene, but I’ve been tattooed in a couple shops there. It seems to carry more weight with history, and a few major tattoo artists have come from the scene. Orange County shops have started to take on more of a community minded culture, similar to the New York scene I was in. Shops willing to work together to create a direction for whats taking place in the art, meaning art shows and participation in each others events.
Do you paint? How important is painting for a tattoo artist?
Painting is a large part of my practice, and is a stone for me to sharpen my skills upon. I don’t return to it everyday, but I will carry my supplies with me just in case there is a moment in the day to paint. Sometimes, its twenty minutes to lay down red that I’ve been meditating on, or 2 hours of concentrated discipline. Either way, it continues the training.
What do you do when you take off your artist mask?
When I am not making art, I like to act old. Books are pretty awesome to read, hiking is glorified walking, meditating is mind blowing, and my wife is chill as can be. I also motorcycle ride my Harley.
Are you saying that you don’t watch any TV? What do you think of tattoo TV shows?
Tattoo TV shows have become a regular part of our culture. It’s almost guaranteed you have one friend that participates in it, or watches it. I have to admit, I disliked the idea in the beginning, having nothing but harsh words for it and the people involved. About ten years has passed since the original shows started airing, so now, who cares. Honestly, it has neither positive or negative value, its simply entertainment. Each member of the audience has the right to take from the show what they will, some end up in one of our shops getting tattooed as a result. Some want to become a tattoo artist, its no different than me picking up a magazine and wanting the same thing, isn’t it?
Do you travel? Which are your favorite conventions?
Traveling is always a huge bonus to this industry. Doing conventions allows us to meet fellow tattoo artists from around the world, often inciting invites for guest spots. Currently focused on the shop, I have scaled back my work trips. New York Adorned is a stopping point at least once a year, along with the San Francisco Convention hosted by State of Grace Tattoo. Musink Tattoo and Music Festival is a local event that we like to support.
Do you have anything to say to the new generation of tattoo artists?
Any advice I can give to the new generation has been provided to me by way of my peers and teachers. Being young and new to the game, the individual can become overwhelmed by the need to feel worthy, skilled, and up on the latest trend. Enjoy the butterflies, the tribals, the tattoos in between your style changes. Never treat customers poorly, they are paying the rent.
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