Interview with Kris Masterson

 Hello Kris Masterson! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. How it all started? Do you have any artistic background or you're a self taught artist? I don't have any formal training as an artist beyond some high school art classes. I've always loved art, but I think I started drawing things I saw in comic books starting in middle school. Mostly Xmen comics or whatever I could get my hands on. I own a lot of art instruction books and mostly I practice. I don't have a life, I just draw. That's the only way to get good at something, you have to suck at it for awhile. But I do think with a lot of practice, anyone can teach themselves to draw, it’s not any kind of God-given talent.

Q: How long have you been tattooing? Do you remember when you did your first tattoo? Would you correct it? Hah!
A: I did two apprenticeships where I learned a hell of a lot about paperwork and cleaning, but not much about tattooing. I started my first apprenticeship in 2006, in North Miami Beach. They didn't really teach me much, mostly just threw me to the wolves and let me figure it out. My first tattoo that wasn't on myself was a katana on an inner bicep. I wish I had a picture, I'm sure it was atrocious. Straight lines on the inside of an arm? I did a lot of tattoos that first year that I had no business doing. In hindsight I wish I’d picked a mentor that was better at tattooing, or who actually did art, I would have learned so much more.

Q: How long took you to gain confidence?
A: Haha I STILL don't have confidence in my work! Show me any piece of art I did and I'll point out a dozen mistakes. Show me any tattoo I did and I'll show forty things I want to try to do better next time. I think most people that really strive to improve in art are pretty hard on themselves. I definitely do think art plays a huge part in tattooing. Tattooing is an art form. It’s a lot more than just tracing and if you ever want to contribute anything to or stand out in this industry, you have to work on your art first. I didn’t get into tattooing because I thought it looked cool or because I thought I would make a lot of money (the fact that I pay my bills with it is a huge bonus and I am forever grateful), I got into it because I wanted to create art all day.

Q: If not tattooing, what would you do?
A: Believe it or not I worked for TSA in Ft. Lauderdale for 4 years before becoming a tattoo artist. Yeah, airport security. That was the most miserable four years of my life. At this point I can't imagine myself doing anything besides tattooing... But if tattooing didn't exist, I'd still probably paint or maybe try and work in the comic book industry. Maybe I would design characters for a video game company. Maybe I'd write an illustrated novel. I always thought it would be cool to do special effects makeup and monsters for movies. Getting into tattooing wasn't all that much of a hustle, but learning anything besides bitch work was. I didn't have to suck a dick to get into this industry because I had an art portfolio, but I did do all the cleaning and paperwork and desk bitch duties while the boys learned to tattoo, so I did experience the sexism in that way. I got hazed like most of us did back then before it was considered bullying, but it wasn't anything traumatizing or horrible.

Q: I like the fact that you're focused on one style. Was that always the case or you use to draw lots things until you found yourself?
A: I definitely spent at least a decade doing everything that walked through the door, but pinups were always my favorite. I don't find text and black and grey very fun and there are people who are much better at it than me. I'm just lucky that in the past few years more people have been coming to me for pinups and cute animals and I've been able to do some really cool projects lately. I started drawing a lot of mermaids because they allow for so much more color than the typical pinup, I just love color.

Q: Your style... oh I love it! Funny maybe a bit sarcastic, rebellious? I don't know... but I love all the characters. I think you can create like a comic book for female empowerment with a bunch of cool stories :) just a suggestion:)
A: Yanno, I tried drawing a short comic book once and let me tell you, that shit is HARD. It's like directing a movie, but without the benefit of sound. You have to worry about space and pacing and you have to be able to draw everything from every angle. And I suck at buildings and backgrounds and perspective, so I have a lot of respect for the guys that pencil the inside of comic books. But I appreciate your faith in me!

Q: I bet every day at the studio you have some cool clients with some "unconventional" ideas for their tattoo. What was the funniest request you had from a client?
A: A long time ago I did "Don't Laugh" above a dude's dick. I didn't see his dick but just seeing the font there made me laugh. There was another dude who got the little Indian from the Tootsie Pop wrapper right above his junk. Back in the day if you got the indian on your wrapper, you got a free Tootsie Pop. I asked him what it was for and he told me, "Because I'm a winner, so when a girl gives me a blowjob, she can look up and be a winner too." One of my coworkers got to do The Pilsbury dough boy bending little Debbie over a cupcake, as a tramp stamp on a dude.

Also, I've tattooed two dicks in my career but never a butthole, so my coworker/best friend graciously volunteered his. There was some debate as to how he was going to be positioned while we did this, he seemed to think he was going to be laying back on his back and holding his balls out of my way... but I told him all the girls on Instagram have to be face down ass up for butthole tattoos, so that's how he was going to do it and his nuts would naturally just hang out of my way. So he was face down ass up and two other (male) tattooers volunteered (practically begged) to do the shaving and stretching for me... This is starting to sound rapey. Anyway we tattooed a big pink sprinkle donut around his butthole and it said "Lick, don't stick." It was fun. For me, anyway.

OMG!! I'm oficially, jealous of you!! Hahah You're THE BEST!!

Q: Lots of passion and beauty! Your favorite expressions to "capture" in one cool design?
A: Obviously I like slutty, sexy stuff that doesn't have any kind of deep meaning. I definitely do not think tattoos need to have any kind of deep meaning. But uh, honestly it's not really the facial expression I'm usually concentrating on. Blasphemy is always fun. I enjoy clothed pinups too though, haha. I enjoy color and comic book style human anatomy mostly, but I’m fond of tattooing animals as well.

Q: I like the digital paintings a lot. Many of them are on someone's skin too, it's like every client gets 100% unique piece. Do you sell some of the artworks? I also saw some amazing skateboards, omg! Lovely!
A: I do sell some of the artwork! I used to sell a lot of prints but people just don't buy them as much anymore. At the moment I have a Redbubble store and a Society6... they don't make much money but the quality is usually really good and it's fun to see my art on masks, towels, tee shirts, phone cases, stickers, leggings, all that. I mostly do digital art, since traditional art is so time consuming, though I do miss my colored pencils and paints sometimes.

Q: Being open minded is very important for one tattoo artist. Nowadays, we see more and more unique tattoos even new styles which makes me really happy. I love progress. Copy cats are dying out I believe :)) However it's still good to have few favorite artists that inspire you. Do you have any?
A: Actually I think copycats are even more prevalent now than ever, but that's a whole other rant! I do have some favorite artists. It probably started with Looney Tunes and all the Disney and Warner brothers animation, the Don Bluth stuff. I was obsessed with The Secret of Nimh and The Last Unicorn. Then that progressed to Bruce Timm, Alberto Vargas, Gil Elvgren, Jim Lee, Humberto Ramos. Red Monika might have got me started on my bisexuality. Michael Turner, Scott Campbell, Coop, I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch. When I progressed into tattooing I was influenced by artists like Joe Capobianco, Tony Ciavarro, Jimi Litwalk, I wanted to draw like those guys. Now so many incredibly talented tattoo artists have emerged in the last ten years, there’s way too many to list.

Q: Where do you see the tattoo industry in the next few years? Do you think that we as community need to improve more? What do you want to see?
A: We as a community and as individuals can always improve. I love hanging around other artists that also have a desire to learn and improve. There are some tattooers in this industry that don’t like talking about their tips and tricks and what they use because, I don’t know, maybe they’re worried about giving the competition a secret or an edge. I’d like to see more tattooers look at it as less of a competition. There are SO MANY TALENTED tattoo artists in Virginia Beach and they don’t view each other as competition, they all let their art speak for itself. We all want to learn, so I have learned so much in just the past three years that I’ve been here. If you’re an accomplished artist and I tell you one of my “tattoo secrets” and you implement it into your style or of it somehow makes you better, I’m making tattooing as a whole better. How is that a bad thing?

I’d like to see less greedy shop owners taking on multiple apprentices (who probably don’t have art portfolios) because they don’t want to clean and they want someone to make money off of. I would like to see less tattooers milking the clock and charging clients for lunch breaks. I would like to see better customer service and less attitude from tattooers. I would love to see less copying, less taking advantage of customers in general, it makes the rest of us look bad. But mostly I wish Covid would go away so we can have art nights again.

Q: Any advice for the new artists?
A: No, tattooing is closed. Haha, just kidding. Work on your art. Period. Draw your ass off. There is no one book or class that will make you good, you have to do ten thousand shitty drawings first, that’s the only way to get good. If you can’t do good drawings, what the hell makes you think you’ll be able to do good tattoos? Tattooing isn’t what it looks like on TV and I could write you six pages on the reality of what to expect out of a real apprenticeship. It’s harder than it looks. So work on your art. Tattooing will be easier if you already have basic art knowledge under your belt.
That said, stop comparing yourself and your drawings to everyone you see on Instagram, including me. When you see I posted that nice finished Shibari mermaid, I didn’t show you the twenty failed sketches that I did first. You didn’t see that the finished piece took me thirty hours, or that I had to redraw her hand no less than fourteen times. You didn’t see that the first few times I drew her face, it looked like she got kicked by a donkey. Everyone on social media puts their best face forward, so stop comparing your sketches to everyone else’s highlight reels. And don’t forget to change your bong water.

I’m so flattered you think I'm worthy of an interview.
Thank you so much for the consideration and the thoughtful questions!