Exclusive Interview with Sean Herman by Iva Kanceska 12/12/2011
Q: How long have you been tattooing? What made you to become a tattoo artist?
A: I've been tattooing for over 8 years now. I grew up being involved in punk rock, and there were always tattooed people around me. So of course, it became something I wanted to get, but it was hearing Paulo Sualepe talk about tattooing in a documentary that really made me fall in love. I knew that I always wanted to be a part of tattooing, I just never thought I would be lucky enough to be an actual tattooist. It's still crazy to be that I get to tattoo everyday. Life took me down many corridors, in many directions until I was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship. I am still thankful everyday to guys at Aerochild Tattoos, Justin Kontzen, and Kele Idol for the opportunity and the life I have now.
Q: Do you have an artistic background growing up?
A: I grew up without much money and couldn't afford art classes or supplies. As a kid I was able to get rolls of butcher paper from the newspaper press my dad worked at and draw with pens from around the office. From that paper I was able to bind my own stretch books and indulge my love of drawing constantly. I made little comic books every week, and was always drawing. Life went in different directions and art wasn't much of my focus when I was working towards my major in college. It wasn't until my life turned upside-down ,leaving college, and I had become homeless that I realized how important tattooing is to me, and it became my everything. From there my focus became tattooing, completely.
Q: How old were you when you did your first tattoo? Do you remember the first experience? If so, share some thoughts with us.
A: I was 20 when I did my first tattoo. It was a solid black monkey head that was a logo for the record label No Idea, on my friend Matt-O. It was an amazing experience, definitely life changing. I remember just wanting to do that over and over again, and it was all down hill from there.
Q: What your family and friends thought about your getting into the tattoo business at the time?
A: At that point, when I first started tattooing, I was a little disconnected from my family but all my friends around me were supportive and expected it because of my obvious love of tattooing. In fact I did all my first tattoos on those friends. Eventually, my parents got to see a lot of the tattoos I had done, years later, and now are really into it.
Q: Some people say that it is possible to be self though artist. What are your thoughts about this? What is the best way to learn how to tattoo?
A: I believe you should learn how to tattoo through an apprenticeship. It's like a samurai, there should be a lineage that it can be traced back through. I think you need someone who knows the industry to teach you the in and outs, respect and proper technique, so you don't mess up on someone, because it is on them for ever. I think it's also incredibly important to learn that you have to respect tattooing, be good to it, and it will be good to you.
Q: How has your work developed over the years?
A: I am constantly trying to learn. I think it is important to also keep learning because as soon as you think you've learned it all you re dead. I am always taking all the things I learn and applying that to every tattoo I do on my clients. To me, it's always something new to add to the bag of tricks, something new to use in every piece, to make it cleaner and more dynamic.
Q: There are many tattoo styles... Which style you find as most challenging?
A: All of them. I say daily how difficult tattooing is, it's the hardest this I've ever tried to do in my life. Everyday I look over at the guy that shares a booth with me and say, "Tattooing is really hard Pete" and he just laughs at me. But it's true. Like I said before, I think "styles" should be something like a bag of tricks, where you take elements of different styles to every tattoo, making it something new and unique.
Q: Seems like your passion is doing color tattoos. Most of them have strong lines and great highlights. Do you consider this style of work as your specialty?
A: Well thank you very much, I appreciate the kind words. I don't know if its as much of a specialty as much as I am focusing on creating a high contrast in the pieces I create, so color tends to be the route I go. I think contrast is key in tattooing, however you go about it. For me, I can develop higher contrast in color work, using a muted palette and a bright palette. But, it's different for everybody, and some people go about it completely different ways. It all comes back to the same, creating a long lasting, readable tattoo.
Q: Portraits are maybe the most remarkable designs in your portfolio. Do you remember when the impression for this kind of work first began?
A: It's funny because I don't consider the work I do to be portraits. Reason being, that some of my close friends are phenomenal portrait artists and I don't do what they do and never could. I remember working my first convention with my friend Nikko, it may have been his second convention, and that was the convention that everyone started to take notice of his work and were going crazy over it. I remember watching every artist I looked up to, one by one, walk up to his portfolio and talk about how much they loved it. I leaned over to him and told him "I think you may have just change the whole ball game." He really did, between him, Mike DeVries, Mike Demassi and the guys at Art Junkies, they made it to where everyone started to take interest in portraits. Before them their was only a few artists doing color portraits, Cory Cudney being one of them, and his work was amazing, but after Nikko and Mike really came out portraits became a huge part of the tattooing community, to where now, color portraits are considered it's own style.
Q: What would you say that is the most difficult in doing some color piece?
A: Regardless of what type of piece, every tattoo is difficult. There is always some element that challenges me, the illustration, the client's skin, it can be any number of things. In the end, everything comes back to a good illustration and shading. Stoney St.Clair said it best in "Stoney Knows How", "It's not about the color, but the shading. Good shading makes a tattoo look good, color or not." It's all about having a good illustration, and a good use of black, then the color is just icing on the cake, making a tattoo look great.
Q: The clients could be crazy, weird, when they came into your studio. What was the crazies reaction from a client? Any memories to share whit us?
A: Emotional responses are definitely more of what I get from people, because you are making a connection with them, for hours, putting them in pain and then giving them something to remember. I remember one client came in and mentioned how his brother had recently passed away. The client wanted to get a portrait of him on him chest, to always have his brother close to his heart. I told him to bring me an 8 x 10 reference photo of his face and we'd take care of it. He came back with a 4 x 6 picture, where you could barley make out the face. He told me that they realized it was the only photo they had of his brother, so I said "okay" and made it work. After some stressful hours of tattooing, hoping the portrait was up to par, we finished up. He took a look in mirror at the finished piece, and I was nervous for his reaction. After a a long silence, that felt like forever, he turned around with tears running down his face and told me it was perfect, it was his brother. That meant more than I can ever express, that is tattooing.
Q: Have you ever refused to do someone's tattoo?
A: When I know another artist would give the client a better tattoo than I could, because of it being something that artist specializes in, I send them to that artist. The most important thing for me is to give the client the best experience and the best tattoo, and I am the first person to say that there are people far better than me, and that people should go to them.
Q: After your long tattoo journey, is there any "dream piece" undone?
A: Honestly, every tattoo is my "dream piece". I am just thankful that I get to do this everyday. So no matter what it is, I am going to be happy tattooing it.
Q: Art could be a great influence on someone's personality. What is your major excitement in this job?
A: My favorite thing about tattooing is tattooing. Honestly, there is nothing like the feeling of pulling a clean line, the sound of a shader, or looking at a finished piece. Those are the most exciting things to me, tattooing it self is constantly exciting to me. My aim is just to continue tattooing, until my hands won't let me do it anymore.
Q: What are your feature plans?
A: More and more tattoos. Like I said before, I am just going to keep on tattooing until my hands fall off, hopefully that won't be anytime soon.
Seanherman.com / Royalstreettattoo.com