Interview by Katie Sellergren
Doug Hardy: I was in Hawaii for six years. I was there from April ’92 to April ’98. And it was great. I loved working with Mike. He was incredibly patient and an incredibly good teacher. I mean, he had a temper, and so did I, but he would always show me how to do something the right way. And I was not the best apprentice...
There were times when I really didn’t get it, when I didn’t know what to do, and a lot of times it was like, “All right, show up at nine in the morning, and I’ll come in in the afternoon, and you can hit the road.” So there were times when I was just there by myself. After I’d been tattooing for a few months, in September of ’92, Scott was really into scuba diving at that point, and Kandi was into it too, and they convinced Malone to go with them. So all of a sudden I was by myself for like five weeks, I think. It was like, “Ohhh God!” [Laughs] I’d been tattooing for a few months, and here we go. But it helped me, you know?
It helped me deal with people. It was a rough neighborhood, and you had to toughen up. I mean, this is still a weird fucking craft, and you have to be able to deal with people. But I was there for six years, and I consider my first five years there to have been my apprenticeship...
Katie Sellergren: That’s good.
DH: And China Sea, even though it was a tiny little place, and it wasn’t super busy, it had a good, decent clientele, and Malone always made sure there was something to do. if there wasn’t tattooing to do, then we could do something else. He taught me everything. I owe him so much. It was a great life. And it was great having Scott there as well. Scott is such a great street-shop artist. You come in, and if there’s something on the wall, he can do it. He’s incredibly versatile, and I always admired that. Because we were a street-shop, you know? Here’s your eagle, here’s your big Hawaiian stuff. And I remember one time, this guy came in, and he wanted an artist palette. And he was very specific.
He wanted it in this soft black-and-gray, and he wanted it in fine-line. And Scott whipped it out. It was like, “Wow,” you know? So you had to be versatile. And seeing these people doing this stuff was inspiring. Malone was always like, “Turn two, get faster,” and he made sure that I was being very efficient. You put on a good tattoo, and you do it well, but you do it quick, because there’s gonna be other people waiting. And occasionally it would be busy. I’m remembering one of my favorite times working there.
So Malone was the morning guy, because he woke up at like two, three, in the morning, and I was the night guy. But one morning I get a call from Mike, and he said, “I’m sick as a dog, you gotta go in and open the shop.” So I get there, and we’d completely forgotten that it was RIMPAC, one of the biggest Naval exercises in the world, and there’s all these fucking sailor, dozens of them, waiting for me.
DH: So I just kept going. Everything is easy to get now, and there’s disposable everything, but we had to make our own needles back then, and back then we were using carbon steel. And we’d scrub them, and then autoclave them, and re-use them. Because you could use them like four or five times. And I was doing that between clients. Like, “I’ll be ten minutes!” You know? And I’d go scrub some tubes real quick. And Malone came in at around 11 at night, and I was just finishing the very last one. And he was like, “You been here this whole time?” And I was just like, “We’ve been busy!” [Laughs]
He was pretty happy with that. Because of course, you know, I was giving him a big chunk of change. That too. So he was pretty happy all-around. But that’s a street-shop. You had to do it. And Malone taught me not just how to tattoo, but how to deal with people too, and how to have a little bit of a hustle, a little bit of a carny thing, which I’d always seen, when I was younger, with my Dad and Zeke and all those guys, but which I hadn’t known how to do. You don’t hustle people, you’re not trying to fuck them over or anything like that, but you have to be able to guide them in a certain way, and get them thinking a certain way.
KS: It’s a learned skill.
DH: It is a very learned skill. People say, “Oh yeah, learning how to tattoo, that’s tough,” but the technical part is just one little thing. One of my good friends is this guy Ben, who lives in Japan, Hori Beni. And Ben is a great artist, he’s so fucking good.
When I met him he was in Minnesota, and he was this punk rock flyer-maker. But he was also a transvestite, occasionally. He liked to dress up in princessy stuff. One of his nicknames now is “Princess Black lung.” But that helped him in tattooing, because Ben was already in the practice of having people stare at him. You know, you’re getting these weird looks, and you have to brush them off, and you have to be able to brush off all this weird stuff that people are gonna throw at you. I mean, I was never made to wear a dress or anything like that, but you have to be able to deal with people.
KS: You have to get into character.
DH: You have to get into character. You have to put on that face, like, “Hey! How’s it going? That’s a great idea, but it’d be cooler if we did it like this!” And I just love that.
KS: I think a lot of people, when they first go into tattoo shops, they think, This is the way these people are. But it is a learned skill, and it’s an aspect of tattooing that people really take for granted when they’re first starting to learn. But being able to learn that stuff from someone like Rollo, or your father, that street-shop mentality, it sort of defines tattooing before 1995. After 1995, and especially 2000, it seems like the tattooing world went in more of a custom, gallery-oriented direction. And a lot of modern-day artists don’t really have that foundation of being able to cope in a street-shop environment.
(Doug Hardy's full article can be seen in Tattoo Artist Magazine #27)
Doug can be found at Ed Hardy's Tattoo City in San Francisco, CA.
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