I am writing a series called The Best Jobs in the World. This series is dedicated to people who have rare or interesting jobs. My aim is to give options, hope, or motivation for people who do not feel the need to get a nine-to-five.
In this edition of The Best Jobs in the World, I interviewed Jeff Kees. Jeff has been a professional tattoo artist for seven years and opened up his own shop, HandCraft Tattoo and Gallery, in the middle of last year in Cincinnati.
EC: Did you always want to be a tattoo artist?
Jeff Kees: From as far back as I can remember, I was fascinated by tattoos. My great grandfather had full sleeves, chest, and back tattoos, which only fueled my fascination. With that being said – yes! I just lacked the confidence in my art until my to-be-mentor saw an interest in my artwork!
EC: How do you practice to get better?
Jeff Kees: There’s no better way to practice than to actually do it! However, painting and especially drawing everyday will help dramatically. It really helps to have a solid foundation and an understanding of the piece to be tattooed. Especially, if it’s not a piece of art that you’re already familiar with.
EC: That leads me to my next question! What are the daily struggles of being an artist?
Jeff Kees: Sometimes learning new mediums to push yourself artistically can be a struggle. I personally struggle often with what I should draw or create. It can sometimes feel like you’re in a rut where the quality of the art isn’t progressing and it can be difficult to decide what to draw. There are tricks to overcoming these struggles but they’re still struggles most artists come to face often.
EC: If someone wants to leave the tattoo business, what related fields do you think they could do?
Jeff Kees: There are multiple creative fields that a tattoo artists can merge into as most started out in some kind of creative field before making the decision to become a tattoo artist. I feel like most commonly you see tattooers that were graphic designers, web designers, ex-military, etc. It’s not uncommon to see companies seek out tattoo artists for illustrative needs. I’ve seen the automotive industry, the comic book industry, as well as other diverse industries seeking out tattoo artists on a semi-regular basis.
EC: How does your family feel about your profession? I know it’s not the usual thing kids strive to do.
Jeff Kees: I feel like they expected it to be my profession! I’ve always loved creating art and loved the idea of tattoos. It was a little difficult in the beginning because you don’t just start out being really good and have a solid clientele. It takes a little time to make it to that point. They did a great job of taking that into consideration and giving their support to ensure I followed my dream and pushed through the hard times.
EC: What other responsibilities do you have besides the tattooing?
Jeff Kees: I have a few things going on outside of tattooing but I try really hard not to get my attention too far from tattooing. Throughout the year I will work on a few projects for some graphic/ web design clients to keep myself current with the design world. I’m not personally a fan of tattooers that use it as an “in between” kind of thing. I see tattooing as a very serious form of art that deserves the tattooers utmost attention.
EC: Do you have plans to expand the business?
Jeff Kees: I do! I’m planning on opening another location in the next year or so as well as a second out of state location in the next few years. My fiancee and I have already started scouting out some locations and I am ready to do this!
EC: That’s extremely exciting! OK, what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever been asked to tattoo? Picture not body part.
Jeff Kees: To be honest, I haven’t really had anything completely “off the wall” come in. I’ve seen a lot of different odds and end type stuff so nothing really sticks out to me.
EC: What are some of the perks working for yourself?
Jeff Kees: I would say the number one perk is the freedom of making my own schedule! If I’m sick or the weather is terrible, I don’t have to worrying about making a boss upset or getting fired. My second big one would be the freedom of making my own decisions artistically. I don’t have to feel pressured to take on pieces I don’t really want to do. Traveling is also a very nice perk to being a tattooer! As tattoo artists, we have the luxury of being able to do what’s called “guest spots” at other tattoo studios as well as tattoo conventions all over the world!
EC: Don’t laugh but I’m an awful doodler, is there a way I could still become a tattoo artist?
Jeff Kees: Absolutely! Many people believe being able to draw is a genetic trait or something, but in reality anyone one can learn to draw. Learning to draw is really a process of teaching yourself how to literally draw what you see. In other words, training your left side of the brain to butt out! If you’re interested in learning to draw better, I highly recommend reading the book, “Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain” written by Betty Edwards.
EC: Does the tattoo world have heroes everyone looks up to?
Jeff Kees: For sure! The tattoo industry definitely has some heavy hitters when it comes to insanely awesome tattoo work! Then there are some of the founding fathers that are still around today that have led tattooing to where it is today! Attending a tattoo convention at a city near you will get you in contact with these industry greats!
EC: How many tattoos do you have?
Jeff Kees: I lost count a while ago! When you have as many tattoos as I do they all kind of make one big tattoo.
EC: Fair point. It makes me wonder though, are there artists out there that don’t have any?Jeff Kees: Yea, they are few and far between but they’re out there! I’ve met one tattoo artist without any tattoos in the years I’ve been around.
EC: How much can a new artist expect to make starting out?
Jeff Kees: It can vary depending on a few different factors but if I had to give it my best estimate, it can be $20k- $50k maybe more depending on who they apprenticed under and their location!
EC: Outside of the shop, what are your favorite things to do?
Jeff Kees: I love being outdoors, riding my Harley and taking road trips with my fianceé. If it involves wheels and/or motors I’m all about it!
EC: Well, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I really appreciate it!
Jeff: Thank you!
Stay tuned for the next installment of my series The Best Jobs in the World!