Interview By Freddy Corbin
Freddy Corbin: When it comes to customers, what is it that a customer might do that bugs you the most? What things drive you the most crazy?
Nick Rodin: A customer that you know doesn’t trust you I think is the worst customer.
Like if they’re just second-guessing everything you do. Because then you start second-guessing yourself, and then you start making mistakes. So uncomfortable... Word to your mother, dude. You nailed that on the fucking head.
I can deal with moving, I can deal with passing out. But it’s when they’re just like, “Oh hmmmm, I don’t know…” and they are just looking at the tattoo and their body language changes. I had a guy the other day who I was tattooing and I would dip for a color and he’d go, “Whoa, are you going to put that color right there?” I was like, “(sigh) Yeah. What do you want?” and he said, “I don’t know, do you think it’s best…?”
It’s like, “Yeah, I think it’s best! I was going to do my second best!”
Exactly. I knew my first best wasn’t good enough for you so I’m going to go with my second.
It’s almost like that customer that you draw on wrong the first time because you know they’re going to change it. You want to draw it on the way that you think it looks right so it’s better to just do a fake one at first. That is the worst.
Exactly. It’s such a drag.
So what’s a perfect customer experience like?
Just the opposite –someone who trusts you, someone who’s cool to what you’re doing. Not like, “Oh, do whatever.” I like when they have some sort of angle and then they even push you a little bit. You know what I like? I like when a customer makes a change for the better. It doesn’t happen a ton but every once in a while they’ll be like, “You know, I think you should do it like that.” And I’ll say, “You know what? That’s a really good idea.” I had a customer tell me, “Can you just not put yellow in the center of the rose? I don’t like the way you do that.” And at first I was like, “Fuck you.” And then I thought, “You know what? Actually, that doesn’t look good.”
(Laughs) That’s so great.
So I said that and the guy’s like, “No offense, I just personally would rather not have the yellow in the center coil of the rose, I’d like it to be open.” And I was like, “Because of you I’m never going to do yellow in the center of a rose again. Thanks for having the balls to tell me that that’s not what you like.”
It’s funny that you say that because I was putting yellow in the center of the rose coil because it differentiates it and I saw Scott doing it and he made it look really good.
That’s where I got it from!
As much as I try to copy Scott, my roses look a little bit different. In mine, they weren’t as bold as Scott’s and they didn’t look like it did in Scott’s so I dropped the yellow after doing it for a long time.
He’ll just color in these sections of a rose and he just has this structure of a rose that can handle that and for some reason I just thought my rose couldn’t handle that after this guy.
I think Scott has done a rose every single way you could possibly do it. He’s probably done more roses than any other tattooer out there.
He does the best rose in town, for sure. You have a killer rose too, Freddy.
You have an elegant rose.
(Laughs) Thank you.
I think it’s been really great to watch you come along in tattooing. I remember the day that I popped in when I was in the neighborhood and you were doing this big koi in traditional Japanese style on this guy’s torso with full background. You made a stencil for the koi, which looked awesome –it was drawn perfectly and you were drawing all the peonies and all the water on. Dude, you were reaching some next level shit on that one. I didn’t see the end result but it was just so cool.
Thanks, I appreciate it.
I just have one more little question. I know that you’re still learning, like we all are, and it’s all a process and you reach different levels, but what year –I don’t mean the year that you started tattooing and you knew you could get some straight lines and some solid color in –but what year was it where you started being proud of your tattoos? Because I know that you worked really, really hard at getting your drawing together, which I think is really important. I remember one thing that really impressed me was you had downloaded all that Treviño stuff and made a book out of it. It was stuff he was cool with giving out –not that you were bootlegging stuff and copying it, you were using it as reference.
Magazine articles, I remember.
Yeah, putting together magazine articles and print stuff off the computer and just gathering vaults of really good reference. And Charlie Roberts said something that I thought was really fucking amazing. He said, “Tattooing at this point is not who draws the best, it’s who copies the best.” You can always change it so it’s that person’s tattoo but I think reference and looking at tattoos that have been done correctly and done well and are dynamic and turn you on is really, really key. So we’ve talked about who’s done that for you, but when was it that you felt like “Okay, I’m kind of proud of my tattoos now, and now I’m working to get better.”
I think there are two levels of that. I think when I left where I learned how to tattoo and I went to the first Classic in Upland.
That’s kind of the first phase –not to interrupt and I want you to talk about that –but where you’re kind of like, “Okay, I’m getting this now.”
I think I moved every year to do that. To clean the slate and go, “Okay, I’m going to move somewhere and have new inspiration around me and that’s what’s going to make me do something new or something better than I was doing before.” I think that’s why I moved a lot. Where I am now I feel is the next step. I thought, “Oh, I’m doing pretty good. I work at Black Heart Tattoo.”
Then I got to Black Heart and I was like, “Alright, stop. What you’re doing is wrong. You know how to do a tattoo and that’s great, but now you need to learn how to draw things correctly.” This is how we learned. Eddie Deutsche has told us to look past the tattoo that someone has done and look at the actual koi fish. Go look at a real one. Go look at how they really look. Just because so-and-so styled one this way and you think it looks cool doesn’t mean that that’s what a koi fish should look like. Koi fish should look like this. So I was always referencing other tattoos. That’s what I was doing. I was making books with so-and-so’s magazine articles and the stuff I found on the Internet and I’d print a couple of pictures out. That’s what I used as reference or flash or whatever. But then when I got to Black Heart it was, “Okay, stop looking at other people’s tattoos.”
What a great idea!
“You know how to do a tattoo. You can take a Chris Treviño tattoo and trace and copy it, sure –anyone can do that. Why don’t you go to the source? Go to a koi fish pond and take some pictures. Go.” It blew me away. Fuck yeah, totally. Everyone around the shop was like, “If you want to experiment with some sort of style of tattooing go out and just be in the shit that you’re into.” I like country stuff, I like folk art stuff – go look at that. Go to flea markets, go to antique stores and look at that shit, think about it and turn it into a tattoo. You know how to apply it as far as an eight-line and a nine-mag.
God, that is just a brilliant point and idea...
Nick Rodin can be found at Black Heart Tattoo in San Francisco, CA.
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(From the full article as seen in the upcoming Tattoo Artist Magazine #31.)