I got interested in tattooing in 2010, as a way to develop my skills and keep myself fresh after 20 years of illustrating and working on comics. I’m still really enjoying it. Tattooing creates an opportunity for creative freedom for myself and other artists, and it’s social—something you don’t get if you’re working isolated in a studio.
But after five years, I’m starting to miss the technical freedom of illustration. There are lots of rules about what you can and can’t do in tattooing that you don’t have with pigment and paper. Working on paper gives more room for developing a concept over time, and you get more than one opportunity to get it right.
It’s hard to find time outside of tattooing to keep up my illustration. In the custom tattoo industry, the day is spent in the studio, and the nights designing for clients. I’m really only able to accept about one percent of the illustration work that I’m approached about, which means it’s important to carefully choose the projects I want to work on.
The work I’ve been doing recently puts high-end local products like craft beer or chocolate with low-brow art. In the past, I’ve done graphic design work for products where the original concept becomes so watered down I didn’t feel great about the final product, but these days I don’t waste time on designing for companies that don’t reflect my own philosophy. I want to design for businesses that are as passionate about their product as I am about my work.
In 2014 I was approached by Anton Hart from agency Double Fish about designing a series of Ed Roth (Big Daddy Roth) style beer bottle labels. Panhead’s head brewer Mike Neilson is keen on hot rods and car culture, and the monster-inspired work I’d been showing at Manky Chops Gallery in Wellington was the kind of look they were going for. It’s been a great match, my style with Panhead. More recently, I’ve been working with them on the Canheads, a limited edition series of beers in cans where the label and the story are as important as the brew itself. We wanted to create something that was as much a work of art on the outside as it was on the inside, and I think we’ve done that. The result is something that’s hard for people to throw away; they want the illustration on the can as much as the beer inside.
In terms of medium, the Canheads were pretty straightforward. I worked up the illustrations from pencil sketches and finished them in ink, using Sharpies and architects’ fibre-tip pens for the more detailed parts. The branding on the design is pretty minimal, so the final product is about the beer inside the can and the art on the outside and not the size of the logo. The process for developing the Canheads reminded me of my comic illustration days; working with a team of people on the style and the concept for the characters, and then developing their back stories. If you imagine that the beer is the comic, you could think about the cans as the cover.
Drawing and designing is my passion, whatever the medium. Between tattooing and illustration, I get to choose who I work with and what I spend my time on. Nothing beats the buzz of seeing something I made on a shelf and being truly proud of it. That’s job satisfaction.