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Any tattooist knows that tattooing isn’t just about the art on the wall or the art on a person’s skin: It’s also about the tools he uses. Famed California traditional tattoo artist Owen Jensen is a man who put his mark on the world of tattooing both through his art and through his design.
Prior to being a tattooist Jensen was a machinist. This gave him an eye toward how tattoo machines worked as well as how they were designed. The “Special” from Owen Jensen is still widely copied today, as is the Model #3.
More than just his work on tattoo machines, Jensen’s imprint can be seen on the world of flash. His flash work is very black, heavy and dark, with bright and vibrant reds. A sheet of hearts and roses pops out, but also shows his ability to adapt such simple, staple tattoo art into a myriad of different forms: roses with snakes, hearts with laurels, hearts with horseshoes and so on.
Skulls are another area where Jensen’s work shows some considerable adaptivity. No two skulls on his flash sheets are alike and not just because one might have wings while another has a cap on. He puts work into the structure of the skull itself, making each one an original all its own.
Particularly influential are Jensen’s women. Today the world of traditional, old school women in tattoos bears his unmistakable stamp: Big eyelashes, dark, curly hair, and a pressing gaze that comes right off the page or the skin.
Jensen tattooed all over the world, but perhaps most importantly, he was a huge mainstay at The Pike, the famed center of tattooing in Long Beach. In fact, Jensen was there long past the prime of The Pike. He was often worried about the increasing crime in the area, going so far as to carry a Derringer pistol in his pocket even when he was working.
Sadly, it was the increasing crime in the area around the Pike that had Jensen meet his end. One night, he was jumped by several thugs who stabbed him in the back and beat him, taking the princely sum of $30.
Tattoo flash is the stuff on the walls of every tattoo shop. A lot of people who don’t have a lot of tattoos think those are your only options. And indeed, in times past, what you saw what was you get. Flash in the old days would have a price right next to it, with a chart showing customers how much a tattoo would cost on different parts of the body, as well as how the price would be adjusted for size.
The point of this was originally to save time. While not quite industrial in scale and speed, tattoo artists didn’t want to spend a lot of time drawing up a Hula girl every time a group of drunken sailors came in. Hence, having flash around to trace a design from allowed them to make more money for their time. Minor modifications could easily be made on site. A lot of people wonder where the word “flash” comes from. One theory is that it relates to the history of tattooing done in back rooms of bars and barbershops. When the heat would come down, tattooists would have to be “gone in a flash.” Flash sheets tacked on the walls could be easily removed for a quick getaway, so that the artist would not have to recreate their work after the fact.
Nowadays, people get tattoos based on flash all the time, even when the work itself is custom. This is because tattoo flash forms the basis of what is now called traditional tattooing. Many of the old school tropes found their first expression in flash sheets: Pin-up girls, hearts, skulls, crosses, roses… the list goes on. The bold lines, bright colors and basic designs all found their first expression on the walls of bars and barbershops.
Stick with us as we work our way through the meanings of traditional tattoos here on the Alchemy Tattoo blog.
Alchemy Tattoo is now home to a rock star: Jake Cavaliere of The Lords of Altamont, formerly of such bands as the Bomboras, the Finks and the Fuzztones, joins us this month. He’ll be guesting with us until the Lords leave for Europe on October 10, returning at the end of their tour for a full-time position starting November 5. Europeans looking to get tattooed by him can contact Jake through the store.
In addition to playing with his band and tattooing, Jake is something of a big deal among motorcycle enthusiasts; He’s penned articles for Dice and Powerglide, as well as written forewords for books regarding classic bike and car culture.
But let’s talk about his tattooing for a minute. This Indian girl head displays a nice elegance to it, with just enough detail to set it apart from the pack without making it too complicated or busy:
Or this Indian girl that’s a full body piece on a skateboard with a few tattoos of her own:
We were also fans of this larger piece of a mermaid sitting by the sea. A black and gray piece, Jake brings a mournful scene to life without a lot of detail. You can almost see the tears streaming down her face out of the shot.
Stepping a bit outside of the realm of American traditional, check out this heavily detailed and decidedly elegant shoulder piece that’s basically really cool jewelry you can’t ever lose:
Hurry up and book an appointment with Jake before he hits the road with the Lords — otherwise you’re going to have to wait for his return.
Rockabilly Rockout is a new four-day rockabilly festival in Sin City, Las Vegas, Nevada from October 2 – October 5. Alchemy Tattoo is going to be there in force offering traditional tattoos alongside the old school music.
All told, Rockabilly Rockout weekend includes 16 bands and seven record hops, with more of the latter to be announced. Records will spin both between bands and on their own. Deke Dickerson will be MCing the entire event. Gold Cost hotel plays host to the event, adding a touch of old school Vegas character and charm. No car show, but there will be a parking lot on hand strictly for classic cars, giving vintage gearheads the opportunity to play a little show and tell.
Headlining bands include Wild Records recording artists the Rhythm Shakers, Carlos and the Bandidos from the United Kingdom, Young Jessie, Great Britain’s The Jets and Deke Dickerson and Eccofonics. Don Maddox of the Maddox Brothers will be joining Step It Up and Go as a special guest. Venues will remain open until 7 a.m. in most cases, letting you rock all night long.
There are going to be a lot of vendors at the Rockabilly Rockout selling clothes, shoes and records, but there’s only going to be one tattoo shop on hand — Alchemy. Save your cash and make some time in between bands to get that piece of old school flash you’ve been thinking about or something a little more unique and custom.
You can get your four-day ticket pass at the Rockout Rockabilly website for just $120. See you there.
The black panther tattoo is one of the most identifiable images in the history of traditional tattooing. A testament to the old adage that “bold will hold,” it doesn’t get much more basic, simple and stunning than a traditional, old school panther tattoo straight off the flash wall.
Don Ed Hardy has one of the most recognizable traditional panther tattoos out there. In fact, he even traced the lineage back to an Asian book of legends. “It’s like the earth moved,” he says, discussing when he first saw the panther in the old book.
While Hardy started seeing panthers on people in the mid-1950s, it was when he saw a Bob Shaw (who trained under Bert Grimm, featured in this earlier article) piece converting the panther to a tiger that he really became inspired. It was one of the first times he considered how minor changes to a tattoo can make a big difference.
Since then, Hardy has made werepanthers, robotic panthers, panthers crossed with roses, panthers as battlefield nurses and panthers praying to butterflies. It was the first design that really clicked in his mind as something adaptable. Still, throughout the 60s and 70s, it just wasn’t that popular of a design motif, with customers preferring black and gray or Asian-style tattoos over American traditional.
Hardy found that the first people to really pick up the design were Japanese men in the rockabilly scene. Initially, he considered Japan too traditional for American traditional tattoo flash to really take off. Fortunately, Hardy was wrong, allowing him to make big bucks tattooing overseas, preserving this tattoo legacy for generations to come.
We’re proud to announce the arrival of Justin Boyle here at Alchemy Tattoo in Silver Lake, CA. Justin has worked around Chicago and Seattle. Of course we were looking for someone with top-notch old school traditional tattoo work and he didn’t disappoint.
One place where Justin excels is tattooing women. He breathes life into his creations, going beyond the standard old school lady tattoo, while also being firmly rooted in that tradition.
He’s also a man who loves color and knows how to make it pop. This hand is an excellent example of his coloring skills — there’s a lot going on here, but he manages to make it all balance, coalescing into one seriously bold and beautiful tattoo.
We also dig how he does animals. In fact, it was hard to pick just one example of his wildlife, but we finally settled on this lion here. Bold and will hold, with excellent dynamism in the mane.
One thing about traditional tattoos: You’re working with old themes that have been done a million times. You’ve got a lot of historical competition and you’ve got to make them look great every time. In testament to Justin’s talent in this area, we humbly submit this killer anchor Navy sailor tattoo:
And how about this rose that he did on a walk-in? Clean, crisp, bold lines, great coloring and pitch perfect lettering.
“Hold Fast.” It’s got eight letters, so that makes it a candidate for your knuckles. But what are the origins of the term? What does it really mean and where did it come from?
When you think tattoos, you think sailors. And you probably already knew that “Hold Fast” was a nautically themed tattoo. However, its origins are deeper than that: It’s also the motto of Clan MacLeod on Scotland. It appears on the crest along with a bull’s head the founder of the clan slew. You can still go visit the horn at one of their three castles in Scotland.
However, the nautical origins seem largely unconnected to the Scottish Clan. And while “Hold Fast” sounds like it might have the connotation of digging in and hanging tough (it does for the MacLeods), it means the exact opposite to a sailor: Stop whatever it is that you’re doing.
The origins of “Hold Fast” are in the Dutch “hou’ vast,” which means “hold fast” and is also the origin of the term “avast.” It’s roughly equivalent with the Spanish term “¡Ya basta!”
As with most tattoos rooted in a particular culture, “Hold Fast” has a specific meaning for those who have lived life before the mast. A “Hold Fast” tattoo signifies one who has worked as a deckhand in the same way that a fully rigged ship once indicated rounding the Cape Horn, hula girls are associated with time spent stationed in Hawai’i and swallows indicated just how much time a sailor had done at sea.
Like many sailor tattoos, there’s an element of superstition involved in the “Hold Fast” tattoo: Deckhands got it in hopes of getting a good grip.
In 2014 you don’t have to be a sailor or a deck hand to get a “Hold Fast” tattoo, on your knuckles or anywhere else. If you’re interested in getting a traditional sailor tattoo of any kind, head on down to Alchemy Tattoo in Silver Lake.
August Guest Artists Alchemy
We’ve got a bunch of killer guest artists coming through Alchemy Tattoo in Silver Lake, CA this month from some of the top traditional tattoo shops in the country.
Coming from Downtown Tattoo in Las Vegas, Eric Ayala specializes in the bright and the bold. His flash sheets are straight out of the old school with tigers, ladies and flowers galore. Of particular interest is Eric’s ability to breathe life into animals from butterflies to tigers. There’s just enough detail there to make them pop without overcomplicating the design.
Catch Eric at Alchemy Tattoo in Los Angeles August 12 and 13.
The first of two artists coming through from American Standard Tattoo in Fort Collins, CO, is Shawn McDonald. His work is firmly rooted in the American traditional tradition, with a heavy emphasis on Japanese themes and influence. There’s a tension between the beautiful and the grotesque in his work that we really dig.
Shawn will be at Silver Lake’s Alchemy Tattoo from August 20 to 23.
Joe Van Amber
Joe Van Amber is our second artist from Colorado’s American Standard Tattoo for the month of August. One thing that really stands out about Joe’s work is the coloring — if you’re looking for something that really pops, come see Joe.
Joe’s here from August 20 to August 23.
Finally, we’ve got Bryan Randolph from the legendary Spider Murphy’s Tattoo in San Rafael. Bryan’s color work is killer, but he also knows his way around a black-and-gray piece. In fact, we love how he uses black in color pieces. In addition to traditional, he does amazing geometric and dot work tattoos.
Come check out Bryan from August 24 to August 25.
Few names are better known in the world of Los Angeles traditional tattoos than Bert Grimm. The man’s name defines old school tattoos on the west coast. Grimm started hanging out in Portland, OR shops when he was just 11 or 12 years old, getting his first tattoo machine at the age of 12. His home, however, was the famous Pike in Long Beach, where many of the legends on the early Los Angeles traditional tattooing scene were known to hang their hats.
Bert Grimm’s traditional tattoo flash fetches big bucks now and it’s easy to see why: It’s so close to what you would find in an old school tattoo shop today, except it wasn’t done today — it was done 100 years ago. Anchors, dice, flowers, patriotic themes, chicks, knives, horses, Indians and crying babies — Bert Grimm did it all. His “Homeward Bound” and sailor girl pieces are imitated on just about every wall in every tattoo shop in America.
Much of what we now think of as American traditional tattooing was pioneered right here in Los Angeles by Bert Grimm: Thick lines, bold colors and tattoos that are built to last for years and years. Grimm also trained fellow LA tattoo legend Bob Shaw, another mainstay on The Pike and Nu-Pike down in Long Beach. Known as The Coney Island of the West Coast, Grimm tattooed near such greats as Lyle Tuttle, Bob Roberts and Don Nolan.
Still, Grimm often broke outside the confines of traditional tattoo tropes. A bull riding lightning through the clouds evokes a strong Asian influence and stands out from the rest of the pack. His “As You Are I Was / As I Am You Will Be” momento mori is striking in its simplicity. A skull with a Mexican Day of the Dead-inspired sombrero stands as an early example of Latin influence on American traditional flash art. A snake wrestling with a tiger exhibits dynamism in the largely static world of early American traditional.
Grimm eventually retired to the small town of Seaside on the Oregon coast, but the art of tattooing was too much in his blood to stay away for too long; He did about 10 tattoos every week from his home, passing away in 1985.
Check out heaps of Bert Grimm’s traditional tattoo flash art over at Lucky’s Tattoos Museum.
“What does that mean?”
It’s a question you’re bound to get asked all the time when you get tattooed. So we’ve decided to explore some of the actual symbolism behind traditional tattoos. Of course, you don’t need a special meaning to get a tattoo. But you might find that a certain meaning resonates with you and that, in turn, can inspire you to start down one design path or another.
Today, we’re talking about roses. So what does that rose tattoo mean?
Back in the old school, roses were symbols of femininity. As most people getting tattoos back in those days were sailors, soldiers and convicts, the rose often signified a woman left behind. This could be a girlfriend or wife, for sure, but it could also be a mother, sister or daughter. Add a simple stem to the rose and it carries a further connotation of a “one true love.”
The stem carries an additional symbolism: The thorns on a rose are a clear marker that love, while beautiful like the rose’s bloom, also comes at the price of pain and suffering, signified by the rose’s thorns — to say nothing of the pain that comes from getting the rose tattoo in the first place.
There’s also a story about how the rose tattoo first gained popularity during the First World War to symbolize a nurse who saved the life of the tattooed. This meaning is immortalized in the old timey song “The Rose of No Man’s Land.”
Texans love their yellow roses, while a white rose can symbolize innocence, as can the pink rose. Blue roses are traditionally an aspiration toward the perfect or impossible. Black roses, unsurprisingly, symbolize death or loss, often as memorial tattoos for people who have passed.
2854 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Mon-Sun 12pm – 9pm