There are so many interesting people in the city, and none more so than Craig Cheape, tattoo artist extraordinaire at Tattoo Don's Nickel City Tattoo in Kaisertown (http://www.tattoodons.net/cheape.html). Granted, i am a little biased on the subject considering that the two best tattoo's that i have have come from Craig himself.
I thought what better way to understand what it's like to be a tattoo artist than to tattoo someone yourself... Just kidding! Interviewing Craig was the best way i could go about finding out more, and i wanted to let you know just how interesting a guy he really is. When you get tattooed by him,youre getting a great tattoo and an interesting, smart guy who's doing it. Now on to the interview.
Queen City Love Afair ( QCLA): First the boring stuff, how long have you been tattoooing for?
Craig Cheape (CC): I started tattooing 15 years ago after about a year of apprenticeship
QCLA: What drew you to tattooing?
CC: I can't say I was drawn into it nor that I fell into it. I was an 18 year old punk with no marketable plan, and I needed something to do, seemed like as good a gig as any.
QCLA:Where you an artsy kid growing up?
CC: I always doodled growing up, instead of playing sports and dating girls and other normal pursuits. I had this sketchbook that I carried around for like a year, and showed it to Ed Walker at American Skin Art after he tattooed my brother one day. Ed looked down at me and my sketchbook and my torn jeans and said "I s'pose you wanna fuckin learn how to tattoo." I said "Yeah, that'd be cool." He looked through my sketchbook and said "Be here tomorrow."
QCLA: Now the more fun stuff,What's your favorite thing to tattoo?
CC: I try to bring the broken dreams of comic book illustration to the pieces I can. Sometimes it works pretty well. I prefer the objective stuff. Figures doing stuff. Nouns verbing. Faeries, angels, dragons, Koi, etc. Lettering was never my thing. When you start, you find out it's a service industry, and that most of the time, you're not going to be doing your art. It's about giving people what they want, within reason, and trying to make them happy with the piece they have to spend their lives with. But it's a delicate dance of ethics.
QCLA: Does it make you nervous knowing that this is going to be on someone forever?
CC: Everybody sweats bullets their first few tattoos. Sometimes it takes months to get over. Of all the first tattoos I've seen, mine was the worst. It was a sad onion lookin rose on my man, Bob. I've since covered up the cover up I covered it with. It takes a while to get over the pressure of permanently changing someone. You get a couple successes under your belt, and start to feel better. Once you get some confidence, then it's just goin' to work. You stop thinking about if they'll like it, and just try to do your best, according to what you know.
QCLA:Have you ever had a tattoo that you thought was a terrible idea, but ended up doing it anyways?
CC: Not every idea can make a good tattoo just like not every story can be a good movie. Most tattooists know what pieces are bigger mistakes than others, and we have a good idea when someone is going to regret their decision big time. Nobody wants to hear it though. Some days I have more fight in me than others. I gotta admit my ethics are inconsistent. Some days I refuse the bad ones- the everlasting jobstoppers - some days I just do it. I sleep better when I don't feel like the agent of peoples' mistakes.. I doubt I'll ever tattoo some 19 year old chick's neck. I don't need that cash.
QCLA: Anything else you'd like to say/would like people to know about you or the shop?
CC: I've been working for Tattoo Don for 10 years, and can't see workin for anyone else. The shop is busy and the job can be stressful, but it's a blast too. The crew is great and I get to laugh every day. It's not what they show you on cable, but it's a good gig.