I started getting tattooed by Rick in 2008. In the few years I’ve known him I’ve been pleased to watch him grow into a tattooer who respects the roots of his craft while maintaining and expanding his own style; reinterpretation instead of reproduction. Rick approaches his profession and clientele with humility and politeness and at the end of the day seems to be dang glad he got a chance to tattoo you. This interview was conducted via a string of back and forth emails in March 2011.
Keep It Secret. Keep it Safe.
Shawn Porter: Hey Rick.
Rick Lohm: Hello Shawn.
SP: Let’s start with introductions; who you are, where you’re from, all that.
RL: My name is Rick Lohm, I’m 24 years old and I’m from Central Square, NY. I currently work at Halo Tattoo in Syracuse, NY.
SP: You just turned 24 recently, right? So you were fairly young when you started tattooing. Did you go through an apprenticeship or did you start out on your own?
I got my apprenticeship the summer of 06 at Scarab Body Arts in Syracuse; I had been out of high school for about a year and my ex’s sister dated Jeremiah Clifford who worked there. I was always into art in high school and was getting ready to finally man up and go to school for graphic design. After hanging around Jeremiah for a little bit at the shop I found out that art could be more than drawing an apple with a light source.
I’ve always been interested in tattooing. My brother and I were in bands growing up and I’d seen all sorts of tattoos on people but never really thought it would be something easy to get into. At the time, the thought of me putting anything permanent onto someone’s skin was a terrible idea. After meeting Jeremiah I spent most of my time tracing old Sailor Jerry flash and trying to improve on my watercolor skills.
John Joyce (Owner of Scarab) was going away to the APP conference and needed a counter person for the week so they asked me to sit in. After he got back we had a talk about taking me in as an apprentice. John and Jeremiah wanted to take someone in and teach them how to tattoo without them having bad habits already from teaching themselves. So I became their mold.
SP: So were you already getting tattooed at Scarab or was it just the hookup with Jeremiah that brought you in? What kind of art were you doing before the tattoo influence crept in?
RL: Jeremiah really pushed to get me into the shop I don’t think I would of got in if it wasn’t for him. Plus I only had two tattoos at the time and neither were done there. My apprenticeship was basically handed to me on a silver platter. I wish i worked harder to get it, or had cool “I made a machine out of a toothbrush and sleeved out my brother” story, but that’s all there was to it.
As far as art goes I had a few acrylic and watercolor paintings that were decent from school. Mainly what held my interest before tattooing was graphic design. In high school my friend Ken and I would make little comics and i would try to make band t-shirts. I made a really sweet children’s book called “Marvin goes to the Mall” about a cave troll that won a ton of scholastic awards. I’m not too sure how happy I would be now if I stayed on that path. Graphic design was the only thing that gave me the artistic freedom I was looking for at the time.
SP: What was your apprenticeship like?
RL: I ‘d come in early to sweep, mop, and vacuum the shop. Get everyone coffee, answer the phones, set up appointments, put on stencils go over after care and all that jazz. The guys really took it easy on me. I hid under the counter from Mike (another artist at Scarab at the time) once because he had a friend get his ass tattooed just so i had to shave it. He found me after awhile unfortunately.
Jeremiah would come in and give me a new Machine Gun magazine to read, or talk about Dan Higgs or Mike Malone, so i would go home and look them up and try to see why he liked them so much. I felt like a kid in a candy store every time he would bring in a new magazine or give me a task. It was awesome. Any down time in the shop I’d try to draw or paint… I was a pretty hard worker, I feel like everyone saw that so they took it easy on me.
SP: You brought up Malone the last time you tattooed me; he’s a pivotal character in the history of modern tattooing that you don’t hear enough about. What it is that draws you to him?
RL: He was Mr. Flash, working with Paul Rogers to help put custom tattoo machines in other tattooers hands. Malone helped make tattooing what it is today. He helped carry on Sailor Jerry’s legacy. Its not just his artwork (even though the original flash he painted for Halo is something I stare at daily) but what he helped tattooing become that draws me to him. It doesn’t matter if you like American traditional, Japanese, or soaking wet portraits- the machines you use, the flash you paint, all of that has some connection to Malone one way or another. I may be young in the whole tattooing game, but one thing that I think is lacking today is respect for the craft. Many of us wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for people like Malone. He’s probably the most influential tattooer to me and I think it sucks that people don’t look into his career more.
SP: Have you seen the interview that Hardy did with him in Tattoo Time 5?
RL: That book is incredible. There’s quite a few amazing interviews in there; Malone, Thom da Vita, Bob Shaw.
SP: It’s sad that a lot of younger (and hell, older) tattooers don’t really seem to care about what came before them in tattooing.
So. You’re 19. You’re apprenticing at a tattoo shop. You’re not old enough to go out and buy a beer but you’re able to tattoo people; what was it like going from redrawing old designs to actually tattooing people?
RL: When I started tattooing things were a mess. I instantly wanted to do custom “Rick” tattoos. I Look back now and wish I was only allowed to do kanji or 2×2 tattoos. But at the time I thought I was soooo good haha. I wasn’t nervous at all, my hands weren’t shaky or anything. I just wanted to tattoo all day. I was in my glory, doing “cool” tattoos, and my friends kept coming in. The tattoos were cheap so everyone wanted some. Everyone told me how good I was for just starting out, but I probably needed someone to tell me to slow down haha.
SP: By the time I met you you were 20 and already tattooing. I remember walking up to say hi to John and seeing him with some fresh faced kid drinking a glass of milk and thinking oh Jesus… this kid is tattooing people?
RL: Haha I love my milk! But yeah, shortly after my apprenticeship ended
Jeremiah left the shop to open his own studio, then Mike followed suit.
The last 3 years of my tattooing career I learned a lot really quick. I was practically the only walk-in tattooer at Scarab for awhile so I finally kicked myself in the ass and was like “you need to figure out what you’re doing Rick”.
That’s when I started looking more into tattooing. The history, looking at other tattoo artists work, I took a step backwards and stopped trying to reinvent tattooing and started looking into what makes a good tattoo a good tattoo and why all these other dudes tattoos looked so much better than mine. I started using old flash for reference or just copying it. I decided I couldn’t figure out my own tattooing style until i knew how to tattoo in the first place
SP: I think that’s the key; not trying to reinvent it. There’s a reason you shade a rose out a certain way, subject matter is irrelevant if you don’t know how to get the pigment in the skin.
Speaking of walk-ins- you just did a guest spot at 1228 Tattoo on Valentine’s day doing flash pieces on a walk in basis. With the status quo trending towards custom tattoos by appointment, what do you get out of doing whatever comes through the door? Seems like it would keep you on your toes.
RL: Honestly, I enjoy it, and learn a lot more when I do walk-ins. When I tattoo a rose, chances are I’ve found out a way I like it to look. So the next 20 roses I do will probably look similar.
When I do something I like, I know how I like it so I keep everything pretty consistent. When I do a fairy or some tribal I get to play around a little more. I’ll try a new shading technique or new colors or something different because I feel like there’s less pressure. When clients pick something off the wall its going to look exactly how they want it, so I try to keep it interesting and a little more enjoyable for me.
What is your favorite thing to put on people? I still think the Turkey has yet to get it’s day, but… if you get to pick, what imagery do you gravitate toward?
RL: (laughs) The turkey will get it’s day I’m sure. I like doing anything traditional really. I try to put a rose in almost every tattoo I do. If I can talk someone into doing bold outline and few colors to keep it simple I’m a happy man. I have a pretty decent clientele and they usually let me have free range with it. It keeps things interesting for me because if I do a gypsy girl with some roses then 10 more people that see it come in to me wanted something similar. I like the push it gives me to make everyone different but still have the same elements in it.
SP: Now that you’ve got a few years under your belt as a tattooer what do you think about where tattooing is right now? Obviously the reality show/tattooer as celebrity thing has been run into the ground, but tattooing has sort of reached critical mass with more people tattooing/getting tattooed than ever. Do you feel like people are more educated on what makes a good tattoo?
RL: Not one bit!
I’m actually pretty bummed out about where tattooing is right now. There’s more overnight shops/tattoo artist popping up all over town that clients will go to trying to get the cheapest tattoo. Less and less people seem to care about quality anymore. If you’re getting a tattoo that’s that much cheaper somewhere else in town wouldn’t you think maybe there was a reason for it?
It seems like kids getting into tattooing don’t really care about what makes a good tattoo or don’t care about the history of it, hell half of them can’t even draw. But its just tracing anyway right? It’s hard to me to sit here and try to defend tattooing. I’m nobody right now; just some kid that’s been tattooing for 4 years and tries to give a little back and keep myself moving forward…that’s all I really can do. But people think there’s so much money in tattooing and it’s some rockstar job but I’m making less money and working twice as hard because doing good tattoos just isn’t enough anymore. I hope the hype dies down and the people who worked for it will stick around and the ones who didn’t will fade out.
SP: Lyle Tuttle once said “You take care of tattooing, tattooing will take care of you.” Tattooing has given you what we can hope will be a lifelong career. It’s afforded you travel and a chance to get your art out to people who appreciate it. So the obvious question is… what have you given back to it?
RL: What have I brought to tattooing? Not enough. Hopefully as my career progresses I can give back what I have been given. But all I really can do is try to keep it secret, keep it safe. I plan to travel to and get tattooed by artists I look up to, and to keep pushing myself to be a better artist. I look forward to what tattooing will bring to me and what I can do to repay the favor.
RL: Grez, Richard Stell, I probably should give up on it but getting tattooed by Dan Higgs and Chris Conn would be nice. Brian Bruno, Isaac Fainkujen, Seth Ciferri, Jon Glessner, all the guys from Smith St. in NYC, Grime…. I could go on forever. There’s a lot of people that really brought my eye to tattooing that I would like to get worked on by. I plan on traveling a lot more in the next few years and hopefully I can cross some of them off the list.
SP: Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this Rick; your heart really seems to be in the right place when it comes to tattooing. Anything you’d like to say before we wrap it up?
RL: Thanks Shawn! I’m glad you asked me to be a part of this. I’d really just like to say thank you to everyone that’s helped me along my tattooing career so far. I’ve been pretty fortunate to meet new people and get the advice I needed from others to keep myself moving forward.
You can find Rick Lohm at Halo Tattoos in Syracuse NY. | http://www.halo-tattoo.com/