Freshly Inked interview with Garrett Harper
Check out more tattoos by Garrett on Instagram! garrett_harper_tattoos
How did you get your start in tattooing?
I was in college trying to get into dentistry. So I was at the time taking biology and then my senior year I had the haunch that I need to be something else. Maybe I’ll get a side hustle and tattooing popped up. The guy who did my first tattoo I thought maybe he’d be interested in letting me work and it happened to be Jose Perez Jr. So then I learned from somebody that’s really good without even realizing it. Yeah I picked it up quick…I was done with the apprenticeship in like six months. Then because I was all ready in college I had people that knew that I was tattooing. The client base developed really quickly and then…yeah it kind of just kept going from there. I got better and better and now we're hearing. I just fell into it kind of.
What are some of the most valuable lessons you think you learned from Jose Perez Jr. about tattooing?
I learned some phenomenal fundamental concepts to how you like apply the tattoo. You
know we kind of differentiate on how we ultimately apply it. I think the underlying thought
process was very sound for him and so when I got there it was very easy for him to like explain
those fundamentals to me, which was then easy for me to implement them. We kind of had a
pretty good relationship where we would feed off of each other so it made the learning curve
What are some examples of the fundamentals you learned?
You know just considering how the machine is running. So at the time it was coils…you had to consider the armature bar, and the spacing, and the speed of the machine. And so to conceptualize this verbally I think is a lot harder than most people realize because it’s timing, it’s movement, it’s a cadence like a metronome. When I first started leaning from him about a lot of circles, which no one really does anymore and then I had seen Bob Tyrrell tattooing I think at the first “Best of the Midwest” convention. He had that kind of painterly brush stroke
that I took to very quickly and then Jose kind of slowly acclimated to it. At some point we were kind of like taking new concepts to ourselves and turning it into something unique in how we approached tattoos. It was nice…it was really good learning from him for sure.
It actually sounds you both learned from each other.
Yeah, definitely. You know I had a lot of artistic fundamentals and he had a lot of application fundamentals. And he always had a natural affinity for art so it just worked really well. And his birthday is like one day from mine so we kind of have similar personalities also. I honestly don’t think I could have learned from someone better at the time. There’s always that point when you are learning and then you have to transition to your own path. It wasn’t the smoothest transition, but I think for what I got out of it…it was perfect.
How did your original artistic style and interest translate from paper to tattooing on skin?
I’ve always been a pencil kind of guy. The interesting thing as a pencil artist…I’m ok and I’m good. I’ll throw this in there…I used to cut hair also…so when it comes to tattooing somehow those two integrate like almost flawlessly because it’s the same pressure sensitivity that you get in hair cutting, but it’s also the same gradation that you get in pencil. So then you combine that and the same movement it literally made for the perfect learning environment for tattooing. But in general I have always been attracted to faces…emotions you know. We’re
trying to depict something sincere. Tattooing seems to be like the closest thing to finding that sincerity so it think that’s where I really blossom as an artist because it’s a medium that felt right to me. I think that also lends to my needs to be sincere. I can’t honestly say that I want to depict an emotion and then kind of half ass depict it. You have to keep the core value of what you are going towards and then execute it. I think its been a big process in learning about myself too because you do these images…it’s like “the magicians trick.” They’ll never enjoy the trick because they all ready know what it takes to do it. So I look at it and I’ll never enjoy these tattoos except those few moments where maybe I just woke up and think, “Oh that’s a dope tattoo.” Then my eyes adjust and then you see the flaws…you know it is what it is. I don’t know where I was going with that.
Do you find the flaws more so in your own tattoos rather other tattoos?
That’s a tough question…I think that my transformation is more seeing the flaws because I have a critical eye and so I can see all kinds of flaws, but I think at this point it’s about recognizing what’s there and then seeing the silver lining. What’s beautiful about the imperfections…how does that add to the beauty of the general piece. So it’s a struggle…because I think I could always sit here and pick apart everything and that doesn’t bring happiness. That doesn’t bring about any real source of connectedness to anything. It’s about like this is an imperfect situation so what can we do with it. Why is it still beautiful and I think
that’s the search right now.
What type of emotions do you think people trend towards with there tattoos?
I don’t think that people really know what they want. So tattoos have an underlying sex appeal to them and I think that most often that people say that they don’t want sex appeal. Then I think also when you think about sex appeal a lot of it has to do with things that we don’t understand. It’s not just, “Oh, that’s a cool jacket, or he has a cool hat, or she’s got great lips or a nice ass you know.” These are all like externals, by themselves they don’t mean anything. So when people come to me there are searching for something by giving key words and I have to decipher you know based on the imagery or the colors that surround that imagery…like what are you getting at. In the end it’s kind of like…you’re being empathic to get a feel for who is this person. And then how can I transform what they seem like they are going for versus what the are emitting to me as their character. Somewhere in there is what I’m going to try and find what works for the both of us. I don’t know if that answered the question. It’s not so much a formula as much as you have to be willing to see who this person is to figure out how to reflect what they are in a tattoo.
Jumping back to dentistry…Did your family support you in that transition to
So, in the transition from being interested in dentistry to going into tattooing I wasn’t met with too much resistance from my family. I think I’ve always been the kind of person you really couldn’t put your finger on. You know it’s like…I’m going in a direction, but you can’t tell me how to get there. So I had always been good at school and dentistry was a logical financial step, but I’ve always been deeply artistic. So when I found a real drive towards doing something are related I think they were like, “Alright he’s always been this way…let’s just get out of his way.” My mom was like, “What do you think God would say about you doing tattoos?” And I said well, he gave me a talent and I’d think it would be a shame if I didn’t use it.
(Mom) “We’ll all right then…” That was pretty much we’re done here and then it’s been open since.
How long have you been tattooing?I think six years…six and a half years. Something like that. It’s been a good time for sure.Do you have any goals moving forward with tattooing?I think so far I’ve met all the goals that I set for myself. So I’m kind of in this weird
complacency state where I’m trying to figure out what the next goal is. Right now I think most people would say I want to open a shop…I really like Mayday right now. It’s a really comfortable situation. Yeah I think honestly my goals right now in life don’t have much to do with tattooing as much as it is just being more sincere about what makes me happy. Tattooing is a very obvious route, but how do I integrate the rest of my surroundings into my tattooing to make my tattoos more. So that’s where I’m at right now.