Currently reading : An interview with tattooer James McKenna

An interview with tattooer James McKenna

9 February 2015

Author : reba

James McKenna is the Australian tattooer whose work is going from strength to strength with its gorgeously rich colours, clever patterns and characterful animals and women. Tattooing from WA Ink Tattoo in Freemantle Western Australia, Sang Bleu have asked him a couple of questions about his work, what the elusive SOOS is and what inspires him.

How did you start tattooing?

I knew I wanted to get into tattooing once I’d got my first tattoo in 2008. I loved everything about it, the studio, choosing a design, booking an appointment, getting the tattoo and the satisfaction once it was finished. It was a simple thought process from there, i enjoyed drawing, painting, getting tattooed and wanted as many tattoos as I could get so becoming a tattooist seemed like a great idea.

Once finishing school I went to study fine arts at university, after 3 days I dropped out knowing it wasn’t the right place for me to be. I got an apprenticeship in a street shop through a mate’s older brother in 2008 and have been there ever since, it was definitely a right-place right-time situation for me. Looking at my drawings from then I don’t know how I got the job but I’ll always be grateful to them for the opportunity.

What is the tattoo scene like in Australia? What is good about it and what is not so good?

Tattooing in australia at the moment is really exciting. The artists are ambitious and I think theres of a lot of talent here. Working at some of the shops and conventions around Australia, I’m inspired. There are so many local and international artists that I’ve met, who’s experience has taught me a lot, and have made me feel like there is a real sense of community here, which I’m proud to be apart of.

Who in the tattoo world do you really respect or admire?

I like anyone that can lay down black and a solid tattoo. I really admire and respect a lot of people in the industry. Most of all would be Pari Corbitt and Capilli Tupou, both close friends of mine. They’ve taught me about art, drawing, tattooing and a lot about life outside the industry. I definitely think I produce my best work when those guys are around.

I’m also really into the mavericks in the industry, like Ron Henry Wells and El Monga. Anyone who’s independent in their work and ideas, someone who pushes the envelope.

What music do you like to listen to while working, could you name us three songs to listen to in the studio?

I like listening to lots of different music while I’m tattooing. At moment I like a lot of easy listening, classic rock, and bands like Bongripper and The Dears.

Could you tell us your who your favourite painter is? And a painting?

I don’t really have a favourite painter, it changes all time. but my favourite painting would be the Les Demoiselles d’avignon, by Pablo Picasso, 1907.
Is painting and drawing an important part to the process of your work?

Drawing and painting are an important process of my work. I usually paint for fun, it helps me think freely and to test out some new ideas on paper to see if they’ll work on the skin. Watercolour painting has a really similar process to tattooing, design first, outline, black and then colour. Its great practice I think everyone should do it.

What is your opinion about how the Internet is effecting tattooing?

I haven’t been around long enough to comment on how the industry was before the internet started effecting it, but I can definitely see how it has its pros and cons. The internet helps tattooists display their work to a wider audience of clients and other artists. It creates a forum where artists from around the world can easily communicate with each other.

At the same time the accessibility to tattooists work on the internet can make it really easy for anyone to reproduce their custom designs, a compliment to the tattooist but I think its a negative effect of the internet on the industry.

Could you recommend to us a new tattooer that you think is promising?

He’s not really a new tattooer, but someone who I think people should pay more attention to is Daniel Octoriver, he works in Melbourne. He’s an awesome dude and is a great tattooer and painter.


What is SOOS?

The SOOS is a order of tattooists, it was started by a group of friends in europe whom shared similar ideas about tattoos. Everyone in the order has a different version of the Dan Higgs druid tattooed on us with SOOS written above it which is given to you by another member. I think the order is about trying to produce something new and different in your tattoos, new ideas and concepts.

Follow James McKenna on Instagram here

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