Freshly Inked Interview with Justin Melton
When did you know you wanted to be a tattoo artist?
I turned 34 recently and I remember when I was back in high school, when I was asked: "what I wanted to do when I was older?" I would answer: own a tattoo studio and be a tattoo artist. It's been a long journey since then. I got my first apprenticeship when I was 18. However, after my apprenticeship, I tattooed for a very short period of time and got really scared and psyched myself out... moved from Maine to Florida and life went in another direction for a while. I did eventually move back to Maine and went to college, received a degree in Studio Art, and shortly after, moved to Michigan to take care of my mother, who had stage four cancer. Shortly after my mother made her physical transition I got an opportunity to jump back into the industry and face my fears. So I went through a short second apprenticeship with a lovely woman, Jenn Dankert. She was kind enough to give me a chance and she also updated me on the tattoo industry because it had been about ten years since my first one. Many things had changed throughout the tattoo industry in the time I had been absent. I was also in a very rough space after my mother passed so I do have to shout out to that woman for hanging in there with me during that time of my life. I think had it been any other studio it would have been difficult for me to succeed and get on my feet... I'm grateful, everything happens for a reason.
You're also a talented painter, what skills did you transfer into your tattoos?
I began painting before I pursued tattooing and definitely brought that painterly style into my watercolor and black and grey tattoo work. Much like in painting, my tattoos have layers of depth to them, often overlapping images and collages of different scenes to create a whole picture, and story within each design. I also practice watercolor a lot and teach it during my apprenticeships. Such similarities can be found in how I operate the tattoo machine, to me the tattoo machine is my paintbrush and the client's skin my canvas.
Where do you find inspiration for new tattoos?
When I first began as a tattoo artist I really was inspired to tattoo everything and that was really driven by my desire to improve and soak up everything that I could. Currently, my clientele comes to see me for high contrast, realism pieces, most of the time they are nature or animal themed subject matter. I would have to say that I really get inspired by my clients who come to me and share their stories. Tattoos have incredible potential to help heal traumatic experiences in one's life. I love doing pieces that are catalysts for forward growth and ushering in new perspectives. As a very intune and empathic person, I have to feel the connection between my client's vision, and experience. If I do not feel that passion I do not take on the project. I have learned through my experiences that If I do take on a project that I do not resonate with or for the wrong reasons, it exhausts me and not in a good way... also the client does not get my best work because of my heart isn't in it. My entire company Flows and Flow Studios is foundationally built off of my passions and authenticity, so it's important to me, as well as an integral part of my company, to be true to myself.
What's the most recent tattoo that I have done?
The most recent project I have done is a nature-themed piece of a mother doe and her fawns. The piece is in all colors and a multiple session project. The client has always had dreams of being a deer.. in the dream, its always peaceful for her and she has three children, so they are represented in the tattoo as fawns. Throughout history, the deer totem symbolizes being gentle with one's self as well as regeneration, intuition, high sensitivity. So the creation of this piece really calls forth these energies into this particular client's manifestation. In life at times we are our own worst enemy, oftentimes being overly judgmental of our not so savory actions. When we judge ourselves too often in our lives this can lead to a repeated cycle and a hard one to break... So allowing one's self to be gentle "like the deer" can allow us to look at our actions from a higher place... leaving the door open to growth.
What's the best advice you've gotten?
The best advice that I have received in my life has really been all of the doubters and ney sayers that I have crossed paths with that didn't believe that I could/ or that it was possible to create a life around my passions. I have to thank them for not believing, because the truth in the matter is, that it inspired me to carry on. Both fortunately and unfortunately I grew up with a mother who did not believe in herself self and as a young child, this was most challenging because this meant that there wasn't enough room for her to extend a healthy love to me... When we do not understand our own worth we tend to create a lot of suffering for ourselves, but also our loved ones around us. So I was fully aware that the doubters in my life unfortunately just didn't believe in themselves and given my background, I knew exactly where that road led to. Knowing that cycle all too well, whenever I was met with a negative response to what I was creating in my own life, I would politely smile and keep at it. If you're out there reading this now and you have folks in your life that just don't believe in what your doing..... GOOD because it's not about them it's about YOU. You don't need them to believe in YOU.. or Validate YOU... YOU need to believe in YOU and if you're consistent with this, then it's only a matter of time before people are knocking down your door seeking to advise for how you achieved what you have achieved.
Who are or who is an inspiration to you?
There are so many people that I have found inspiring over the years. First and foremost for me at this time in my life, my wife, Marissa Melton, has been a huge inspiration. Having a chance to watch her grow into the woman she is today has been, and will always be, one of the most beautiful experiences that I have ever had the honor of bearing witness too. She is one of the most extraordinary women I have ever met. She is a co-artist as well as a co-owner of our studio (Flow Studios). She is also the mother of our soon to be born son (Tahkota Lee Melton.. name-meaning "friend to everyone"). My father Steve Kelley has inspired me in many ways through-out my life. Our journey together has been far from a smooth one but the reality is that he raised me as a single parent and for that he gets the BADASS stamp of approval because there are many fathers who do not step up. I was and am extremely fortunate to have him in my life if he had not been.. my life would be much different than it is today. So poparino, if you find yourself reading this article A BIG CHEERS goes out to you... Love YOU and Thank you. Another man that I find to be a huge inspiration is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. He has come such a long way on his journey and his openness and willingness to be vulnerable is one of his greatest attributes. I resonate a lot with his journey when he was a young man. I actually was asked in another interview earlier last year, "who is one person that you would like to tattoo alive or dead" my answer was "The Rock"... So BIG shout out to Dwayne, if your reading this.. thank you for inspiring me for many years, looking forward to hearing from you soon! Keep up the great work.
As for artists that have inspired me over the years, I would have to say Nikko Hurtado has been someone whom I have followed for a long time. I love the way that Nikko uses contrast in his work. For many years I always struggled with that, especially early in my tattooing career. Megan Jean Morris is also a tattoo artist that has had a huge influence on my work. I admire her strength and ability to freehand much of her designs right on her clients. She also was originally from Maine, and I am as well. There are many other inspiring artists out there and most of them are just everyday folks creating from the passion that's in their hearts. As for me, when I cross their paths, it is always an honor. So for all those reading this now that are home or at your studio creating..... KEEP GOING, YOUR DOING AMAZING! I believe in YOU!
What do I hope to achieve this year and what's your motto?
2020 is going to be a BIG year, as I am writing this we are currently part way through January, one of my goals this year was to get my men's group and mentor sessions started in which I help men bring to the surface old energies and perspectives that are no longer serving them. I have found in my own life that men are often not taught about balancing both the masculine and feminine energies. So in my workshops and seminars, it's all about getting real with ourselves and owning the inner work that is key to growth and forward movement. As Men or Women, if we do not address or open space for our emotions, then our healing will always take a back seat. As I mentioned before in the previous question when we suffer and do not believe in ourselves, unfortunately we pass that cycle down to our loved ones. We see this on a larger scale with our society and world as a whole.. Its time to start healing ourselves on the inside and that will change and extend to our surroundings.. it doesn't work the other way around. Another goal of mine is buying a property as a home for my wife and soon to be little one, as much as it will be a home its also part of the bigger picture for my brand Flow and Flow Studios, where we can host more events that help others tap into and experience their own Flow. I also have a passion for motocross and hard enduro, since I was little I have always dreamed of racing, and this past year I was able to get a bike and start training and at the end of the season, I was finally able to ride on a real track.. A dream come true for sure.. I did take a big crash and bent my front forks but that is the name of the game. So this season I would like to enter a few races and train more, as I have a long way to go, but I love riding and love the journey. Most importantly for this year is just appreciating how far I have come and what I have created in my life thus far. For someone like myself. I tend to always look at the bigger picture which has kept me going for many years and is a great tool/skill to have, but it is a balance because as the things that I have been working hard for all my life have started to manifest one must take a step back to look at all the beauty one has created. If I don't take the time to be present and grateful, then I am sure to miss out on some wonderful gifts. Lastly, I WILL be getting that call from Dwayne Johnson for some tattoo work!!!!! Gotta BELIEVE IN YOUR SELF and Manifest!
And well... My motto, for my Men's group and also with myself is "Get REAL with Yourself" Its a reminder to take a real and non-judgmental look at where I'm at. Sometimes we pile on so much that it can be difficult to see where the root of the healing is... often times our ego gets in the way as well. Real men heal their emotional traumas and don't bury them. Also, my life's work is Flow, I built a brand and company, a way of life that supports inner work and tapping into and experiencing the Flow of life. The expression of allowing energy to flow through you, rather than holding on or forcing... because the latter can create a block. To be in the Flow is..... the moment when you are so tapped into an experience that you are no longer just a participant in that experience... YOU ARE THAT EXPERIENCE. This understanding and awareness have opened so many doors for me as well as many whom I have taught. And will continue to help many others moving forward. Go with your Flow and Get real with yourself :)
Our Instagram and Facebook for Flow Studios is: @Flowstudios11
My personal Facebook and Instagram is: @Justinmltn