Dots A Lot
By Amanda Harth
Photos by Felton Kizer
I got my first tattoo when I was 27 years old. It was a few days after New Years in 2016 and after a lot of research-about 3 months to be exact-I finally decided on my first piece. I chose the first few words from a bible scripture out of the book of 1 John chapter 4 verse 18 (KJV lolol).There is no fear in Love. I called around a few shops and ended up getting it done in Pilsen by an artist named Micha Paul St. John-go figure. He had small hands which was fine with me because I wanted him to be able to see what he was doing. I decided I would get the scripture along my left collar bone. I was a little concerned about the needle going over the bone of my collar, but I took it like a champ. It wasn’t as bad as I thought and a few months later I got another tattoo on my wrist. Can you guess what it says? That’s right JESUS with the infinity/fish symbol around his name in navy ink. That one hurt like hell ironically. I think of tattoos as a permanent accessory that for some mean as much as a family heirloom. Every tattoo has a story and every time you get one it seems to represent where you are in that moment. Well at least I think it should.
Fast forward to my most recent adventure in tattoos with the artist Anthony Medrano. I met him through a few of my favorite creatives last Fall and we ended up collaborating in March on the Color Theory Installation for Runwayaddicts with one of my other favorite creative souls Kyle Kniffin. Anyone who knows Tony knows Tony smiles a lot. Like A LOT. It’s the type of smile that makes you smile when you don’t feel like it. It’s infectious. I spoke to him about getting another tattoo but I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I ended up choosing to get my last name HARTH, black ink, all caps, times new roman font, and I wanted it to curve behind my left ear. Right before we get started Tony starts grinning and wincing.
“Wheeeeeew!!! You sure you want it there??!! It’s gonna hurt!”
“You got your head tattooed, it can’t be that bad.”
…..NOW I’m nervous.
AH: How did you get your start doing tattoos?
AM: I’ve always been super drawn to art (no pun intended lol)...since a kid I took every chance I could get to draw. Most of my school notebooks were filled with drawings and doodles rather than notes. When I turned 18 a really close childhood friend of mine tragically passed away...it hurt me alot but also sparked my interest in getting tattooed. My first tattoo was based around the idea of being a constant reminder to me of why I’m so fortunate to wake up every morning and have another day to enjoy this beautiful thing we call life. After my first tattoo session in the chair (receiving end) I knew almost instantly that that was my calling. There was a sense of therapy and bond in the pain and the beauty that was happening all at once that made me fall in love with it right away.
AH:How long have you been a tattoo artist?
AM:I started tattooing when I was 20 years old, mostly only on myself for the first year or so. I’m now 26 years old so about 6 years.
AH: What was the first tattoo you did?
AM: The first tattoo I ever did was on myself. There’s lots of them for that matter haha. The first tattoo I ever did on anyone was on my pops, which was actually really special to me being that it was his first tattoo ever. Growing up my dad called me Mack, because he said I had a big head like the bulldog on a Mack semi truck lol. It meant the world to me to have my dad trust me and support me enough to let me tattoo this Mack bulldog head on his arm...he’s gotten many more since then. My OG is a cool cat, lots of love and respect for him.
Our friend Kyle was visiting Tony and sat in on my session. Kyle doesn’t have any tattoos.
I told myself “Don’t cry, no matter how bad it hurts.” It took longer to set up not including the time we took getting caught up on each others lives. None of us really had a chance to speak to each other since March, it was the end of April.
AH:What has been some of the most challenging things about being an artist?
AM: The tattoo industry can be really cut throat. It’s become a very saturated market, especially with social media + amazon….virtually anyone can pick up a machine and get on their way to be the next up with the right hustle and social media push ( I DO NOT recommend people getting machines and tattooing people without proper training/certification + bear minimally being comfortable tattooing themselves first ). That being said, like any other form of art there’s always someone that might do a tattoo cheaper but you pay for what you get. It was also always difficult to get into a shop I really enjoyed because I noticed that the big shops that I really admired only took people with a huge following and the small shops that wanted me to work at there didn’t have a consistent customer base/had artist that treated me like I was below them just because I was younger (not cool)...this is why a private studio has always worked best for me.
AH: What is one misunderstanding about tattoos?
AM: I think the biggest misunderstanding about tattoos in 2019 is that people imagine it to be like drawing or painting and it’s not. The reason why I say this is that tattooing even in history is a sacred thing that people practice and get really good at and it’s a specialty form of art. It’s not something people should pick up as a hobby or for fun because it’s VERY permanent and needles that are not properly handled can really hurt someone. I’m not saying this to say that I’m anything special...but put it this way, I’ve been tattooing for 6 years and I’d say it’s really been in the last 2 years that I feel super comfortable tattooing and I feel like i’m still learning and growing everyday. If your serious about wanting to learn how to tattoo, don’t go online and buy a machine, don’t practice on friends. Understand that it can take years to get OK and it takes a lot of time, hard work, studying, reading, practicing on a weighted pencils, etc. If that’s something that sounds doable for you then find someone in the industry whose work you’d admire ( s/o my artist and mentor @mannyhotsauce ) and really try to learn. I say this not to discourage people but to hopefully help weed out the people that are only going to hurt people/give people bad tattoos and to encourage people that are serious about it to chase it and chase it hard.
Tony sets up the table and we’re ready to get started. He told me it was going to take him 5 minutes to do the tattoo.
I layed on my right side (of course Kyle was sitting directly in front of me) and the tattoo gun turns on.
As soon as he placed the needle my skull and started writing I wanted him to stop. I have a high tolerance for pain most of the time, but I seriously thought I was going to die. Thank God my last name is five letters. He was two letters down and gave me a break. He told me we were half way there. Then he started again and I can feel my eyes start to water but I couldn’t cry. It was the strangest type of pain I’ve experienced in my tattoo life thus far. He was on the last letter, H, and off of my skull bone technically. All flesh which was worse.
AH: What are the most popular tattoos people request?
AM: I’m lucky enough that I’d like to think I’ve really started to develop a style for myself and people come to me to get custom pieces that I do in the only style I tattoo. The style in which I tattoo doesn’t involve any diluting of ink and is only in black ink which I think makes my pieces classic and will hold up for a very long time (important). I also use a pretty specific thickness for my line work and use a pepper shading technique that gives it a beautiful grainy look.
AH: What is it about tattoos that makes people continue getting them?
AM: I think having tattoos is like being apart of a big art family. Being able to talk about the pain and the experience and the meaning behind it. Comparing artist and making a connection with your tattoo artist really is a beautiful thing. People asking you to put your artwork on them for life isn’t a light thing and shouldn’t be dulled out due to the increase of popularity...it’s such an honor to do and creates a bond unlike any other form of art in my opinion. I have developed countless really meaningful relationship with my clients just from tattooing them and really getting to know them and what these pieces mean to them. Staying true to who you are in your work usually draws good clients and good clients are what can make tattooing so rewarding.
It only took him four minutes to finish my tattoo. I’m proud of it. I’m proud of him. He’s a brilliant young artist with an infinite amount of potential to create as much as he chooses to do so and I couldn’t be more honored to have him put my family name on me permanently.