Freshly Inked interview with Pony Lawson

What’s your favorite style of tattooing. If you could tattoo any style all the time what would it be?
I can’t do it, but my favorite style is Neo Traditional. Like some really good Neo Traditional I like that a lot, but I can’t do it you know. I do the easy stuff…the realistic stuff.

What’s your favorite tattoo that you’ve done in your career so far?
I think the Walter White I did a few years ago kind of carried me pretty far. I like that one and I love Breaking Bad.

Are there any tattoo artist that you see as a role model or gain influence from in the industry?
Yeah man, there’s a lot of them…Steve Butcher, I keep my eye on because his details are insane. Dave Paulo, I like his originality and creativeness. Nico of course…I’ve been following him forever because he does similar tattoos to what I do…I feel like I can relate.

For those who don’t know what’s the background on how Mayday started?
I started Mayday almost four years ago and I was kind of an accidental startup. I wanted to start a tattoo shop that had a great walk-in score. I wanted to have a lot of walk-ins, but it didn’t work out so I had to end up tattooing in my apartment for a little while. So I could only take on friends and close clients. In doing so it helped me when I transferred over and opened Mayday. I was doing private tattoos so I kept the windows closed, blacked off, and didn’t keep an open sign because it was all ready what I was used to. Then I got a group of great people.
Garrett is amazing…he’s so good. All of our work together and there’s no drama in the place. I love the shopman it’s a great place to be and I like it. I like being there more than anything. I don’t want to say more than home because my dog is there (laughs).

How did you get your start in tattooing?
I was fourteen when I first started tattooing. My dad took me to a tattoo party in a garage and he got the Zig-Zag Man tattooed on his right arm with a weed leaf behind it. So they set me up in the chair and I didn’t know what I wanted. My dad was just like, “Put some initials on his arm!” They went away for like fifteen minutes and I had no idea what they were doing. I realize know that they went back to go smoke. They came back and he started drawing on my arm. He drew it crooked and then he fixed it. For like the next the two weeks…three weeks at school I’m walking around with my sleeve rolled up. I thought I was a badass because at fourteen years old…freshman in school and I was the only one with a tattoo. So one of my buddies offered to sell me a tattoo machine that his dad had. I was assuming it was going to be a real machine, but it ended up being a homemade tattoo machine that would plug into the wall via AC adapter. You know it was made out of a toothbrush and a Bic pen. I wrapped my own needle with thread, broke apart a Bic pen, emptied the ink out of there…fucking up all my friends in the garage for quite some time. Until I was working at this coffee shop and I saved up a chunk of my money to buy a real tattoo machine and real tattoo ink etc. out of a Huck Spaulding magazine if you’re familiar. It was quite some time ago…I think I was seventeen when I bought that shit…sorry I was sixteen when I bought that machine. I was tattooing out of the house for a couple more years. Then me and the local guy, Woody…we hated each other. You know because we were the only two tattooers in town. The work that I was doing was coming into his shop. We didn’t get along…we never met each other, but we never got along. I was working at Little Caesars and Woody came through and was like, “Hey man if you want an apprenticeship…if you want me to take your under my wing come see me after work and bring your portfolio.” So, I was stoked…I was ecstatic. I had my mom pick me up and bring me over there and he hired me that day. It was not really an apprenticeship since I had already been tattooing for a while. It was kind of just refining the things that I had already had known. I got my first paying client from someone I didn’t know and that was a cool experience. I was about eighteen years old so I’ve been doing this for a long time. Yeah, I think it was a good start and it was cool. It was kind of shitty and not the way that you are supposed to start, but I learned a lot of what not to do throughout of it and fucked up a lot of my friends (laughs).

Have you ever tattooed yourself?
Way back when I was sixteen years old, if you were bored, or even when you were in a tattoo shop and you didn’t have anyone to tattoo. Before Instagram, before all that TV shit came out you’d be waiting for walk-ins and you’d just get bored so you would throw your arm in between your legs and for on your arm or work on your thigh. What good tattooer hasn’t tattooed themselves right? It’s just been awhile.

Do you remember your first tattoo from someone that paid?
Yeah for sure and I still have the drawing back at the shop. It’s this tribal piece…it wasn’t that bad. It said his daughter’s name. It said Madeline down the middle and had tribal down either side of it. You know I custom drew everything…it was a good experience. Not that I would do that now, but yeah I think I made eighty bucks that day (laughs). I had to give forty of it to the shop. What was the process like of developing your style to what it is now?
I was tattooing everything…anything that came through the door whether it be traditional or new school. And I think I geared myself more toward New School initially looking at Tony Ciavarro’s work and his flash work that was at at the shop. That’s what captivated me and what drew me into that…so I tried to do that for a long time. I thought I was doing good, but then the magazine came out and I was Nico’s work and I was like, “Holy shit you can do that on skin.” So that’s when I tried to tackle portrait work…and I still remember my first one, which was
probably like ten years ago.

Going back to the Breaking Bad tattoo how would you describe the process of creating that tattoo.
I mean that was only six hours. I never got to finish it because the guy never came back and he said it hurt too much. Yeah, it didn’t take that long…nowadays tattoos take me longer and I don’t think I get as good of a result. But whatever I think I just got a good photo on that one. I tattooed that one in the tattoo shop that I tried to open…the first studio. I tattooed that in private, that was one of my first private tattoos.

Earlier you mention that everyone gets along at Mayday…How did you build that dynamic in the shop and you all know each other prior to the shop?
No, we didn’t. Josh (Herman) who is no longer with us…he’s in Denver now. Josh and Garrett knew each other beforehand. And Josh knew of Carolyn…I think they had just met each other. So when I first opened up the studio Josh was waiting to get a job, so he was the first one that I hired. Then he got a hold to Garrett and let him know what was going on. Carolyn came to the shop and now we’ve got Yugin, he’s there a couple days a week as part-time. And Gary of course…duh! My business partner is Gary. The dynamic between all of us is that we get along great. We bounce ideas back and forth off of each other. When we put a stencil on we asked each other if the stencil looks good or if there is anything its (tattoo)
missing. Which is crazy because I feel like most shops should be doing that, but they’re not. You know you really need to vibe off each other and you know four eyes are better than two always. I love where it’s at right now.

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