Brandon Bond Interview
by Traveling Mic
- What did you do before you became a tattooist? School, job, uni, prison…? ;-)
BB - I was a musician. I played in bands from the age of 14-21. I gave
up music entirely to tattoo, because there is no half ass way to be a
tattoo artist. I had to decide. In
tattooing you are not relying on 3-5 other weirdo's for your success,
it is 100% completely internally driven, and that spoke volumes to me.
I miss it every single day however. When I finally do throw my
machines into a Volcano (which is coming), I plan to retire to New
Orleans LA, (the place I most feel like I'm home) and play guitar in
blues bands until I die, for no money at all. I just had to do this
tattoo thing first. Like something that had to get out of me almost.
The more frustrated I got with the studios I worked in, the more
focused I became on "one day in MY studio it won't be like this sh*t".
I do not regret this decision (music vs. tattooing), but it is the
only one I have second guessed.
- How did your interest in tattoos develop? What was your first
contact, when did you get your first one, how was the decision to
become a tattooist made? What did your family think about it?
BB - I was always fascinated by tattoos. I used to draw all over
myself and my little sister, and in fact got in trouble for that in
school and with my parents. Little did anyone know I was actually
practicing! I got tattooed in a shop for the first time when I was 16
and the first tattoo I ever did was on myself with my dad's pocket
knife (FTW meaning F*ck The World). My family hated tattoos, and still
to this day does not have a single tattoo. I am the only one.
- Did you enter a formal apprenticeship? In hindsight, was this
decision/opportunity the best way for you? Or would you wish for
yourself to have gone any other way?
BB - I did an apprenticeship yes, two of them in fact. 3 total years,
studying all aspects of the industry I still work in. This is the only
way to get involved in tattooing as far as I'm concerned, if for no
other reason, just for the safety of the public and so years of wasted
experiments don't make us all look bad. The traditional aspect of this
whole thing is my favorite part of it. To deny yourself an
apprenticeship is to negate your involvement in our rich history. And
to take shortcuts has never been the path of success. The only place
success comes before work (in English anyways) is in the dictionary.
- What are your thoughts on young people now entering tattooing? What
to do and what not to do…
BB - Do an apprenticeship, and don't be one of those retards with no
tattoos, it's like a dentist with no f*cking teeth. Do this because it
is what you love and do it as best you can every time, or go do
something else. Do NOT do it because you like Kat Von D, and your
parents told you to get a god damned job.
- How did your own career develop? On your own? Shops? Where did you
work and how did that influence your career?
BB - I worked in over 50 studios in America. Everything was VERY
different 20 years ago. We lived in a bubble.
No Internet, no cell phones, hell that was even before beepers
existed. If I wanted to see an artist's work, I had to actually
physically drive, or fly, to where that artist lived and look at the
actual physical book. Influence did not come easy, and many artists
never left their bubble. I traveled as often as I could afford to. I
spent all my money going all over America, meeting artists, getting
tattooed, asking questions, and looking at portfolios, investing in my
future. Now these kids coming up have it EASY, the Internet allows me
to see a tattoo done in Poland TODAY in real time for example. Artists
were extremely guarded about their secrets. So "influence" was a
different term then.
When I was coming up, what few magazines we could get always had Paul
Booth, Joe Capobianco, Jack Rudy, and Aaron Bell in them. I was
initially attracted only to color, so I got tattooed by Joe a lot
(about 3/5s of my body!) and eventually went to Seattle to work for
My first influence was Jim Wolfe, Tattoo Zoo, Ft. Walton Beach, FL. My
teacher, mentor and later my friend. We still text each other
techniques and tricks to this day. (Congrats on the Grandbaby bro!)
His shop was/is a street shop, because that was really the ONLY kind
of shop back then. I learned to work harder, longer, faster, and with
more efficiency than the others I was working with. I made a lot of
money for that guy for sure! (laughter). I learned how to be a
"tattooist" by definition, a workhorse. It was later that the term
"tattoo artist" began to mean something and shape what I was doing.
I moved to Austin, Texas in search of the great Chris Trevino, and I
got tattooed a lot by him. I worked at a shop up the street from him
(because I was not good enough to work with him) and then I would take
all the money I made over to him, next door, and learn. Learning by
watching him tattoo me. That was the only way in those days.
As I spread my wings and traveled more, I discovered shops like 222
Tattoo in San Francisco, Primal Urge, Everlast, Darkside Tattoo, Last
Rites. These studios obviously had a HUGE influence in the studio I
would later create, but so would Tattoo Zoo. We still to this day have
someone available for walk-ins every single day regardless of what's
going on with tours, guest artists and chaos. A combination of all
that I saw that was good in the tattoo universe is what I built here
in Atlanta, GA. I learned a lot of what NOT to do, but I took what I
liked and made ALL OR NOTHING. It worked out pretty awesome.
- Can you tell me more about All or Nothing? How did it come about and
how did it develop into what it is now?
BB - Over the course of my career, I always knew I was working
towards a goal, a studio that would be something larger and more
fantastic than anything I had ever heard of. That was my focus the
whole time. I worked in over 50 tattoo studios in 20 cities, and any
cool studios where I did not work, I hung out and soaked it in. I was
a stalker. I got tattooed a LOT as well. I had a plan, I was waiting
for the right timing, the right city, the right magic to align.
I got tired of people constantly saying "when are you going to open
your own shop", even my parents were hitting me with that at Christmas
a few years in a row, but the right things needed to be in place. And
my own tattooing was not what I wanted it to be. I knew that in order
to accomplish this almost unrealistic goal of creating a utopia, that
I would have to lead by EXAMPLE, that I had to tattoo in a way that
would attract young artists who wanted to grow, to learn from me, in
the way that I was attracted to studios with badass artists/owners.
I had to become better, more versatile, and able to tattoo any style, on
command. Once I felt I was there, I started doing articles in tattoo
magazines, talking about what was coming. These articles were smoke
signals to the other tattoo guys of the world, guiding them into the
There was also an issue of money. I knew that I wanted to NOT have a
partner or an investor... ever. I had seen the devastation of having
multiple leaders. And don't even get me f*cking started about shop
owners who do NOT tattoo! They are a cancer! So I had to scrape and
work and save enough money to open the studio, 100% independently,
with our first day open being 100% debt free. The time came, the stars
aligned and I found myself in the local licensing office, sweaty and
nervous, about to get my first business license after many months of
arguing and jumping through hoops. We were to be the first studio in
the history of the City of Smyrna, GA, so I was focusing on everything
I had to do to appease the city and convince them we weren't bikers
selling drugs or whatever.
The only thing I didn't have together was A NAME for this entity I was
creating. I knew that my whole career, life, future, reputation, and
financial situation rode on this, that it was everything I had worked
towards for so long. I remember thinking to myself, "here we go, I
guess it's all or nothing now" and ALL OR NOTHING was born. I still
try and remember to celebrate every single year, the anniversary of
- What is the structure of ALL OR NOTHING? How many people work for
you in total, how many artists, what do the other people do?
BB - First of all, I work WITH our staff, they do NOT work FOR ME.
Technically yes, I sign their checks, and have to yell at them when
they act like children so I am the leader yes, but I lead by example.
My staff will tell you, whether they call me, 4 in the afternoon, or 4
in the morning, they will get me, and my undivided attention. I spend
more hours to this day, working on everything shop related than all of
them put together. This is key to what we are doing. We work TOGETHER.
We create together, we promote together, we drink together, we grow
together, and we live together. You can not kill us all.
When it is time for "good cop/bad cop" yeah I always end up being the
bad cop, which sucks by the way. But we live and die as a family. I
may be the Dad in the family, but we are all related nonetheless. I
hate when I hear a studio owner bragging about how many artists he has
working FOR HIM. I just wanna stab someone with a fork when I hear
that because I worked FOR so many people. All the way up to my very
last job, just before ALL OR NOTHING I was working FOR someone, who
did not appreciate me. I vowed to never be that type of shop owner.
So our artists work together not for each other. Extraneous staff
includes graphics folks, my assistant, web guys,
sticker/print/t-shirt/merch type folks, shipping people, video editors,
apprentices, accountants, attorneys, street teams, photographers,
bookkeepers, etc. This is entirely different. I still struggle with the
proper management of these on a daily basis. The least favorite part
of my job. Always an issue somewhere that is no fun to even think
about for me or for them. It's hard to keep everyone moving forward,
but that is my role, so that I what I do. Out of necessity, not my own
To answer your question though, our family is 72 people strong as of
today. That number will change and grow and shrink as we have to go
through a pile of folks to find the diamonds. My current staff is my
favorite of all time at ALL OR NOTHING. We are kicking ass.
- How did it happen that ALL OR NOTHING has become such a huge
business? Would you see it as a model company that others should
BB - Not unless they are absolutely INSANE (laughter). No mine is not
a template, but its own unique sculpture, and no one I know would be
into putting in the hours I did to get all of this stuff to actually
materialize. At least without the use of heavy drugs. (laughter).
- Where do business and art clash? For you personally, but also for
the entire business?
BB - They clash constantly, a war inside my head, a battle I lose. The
two have not one time worked together, only against each other.
Business and art are opposites in every way. And it is damn near
impossible to do artwork at this level after a huge bad day of
bullsh*t dealing with logistics. I am constantly frustrated, and my
artwork has suffered. Because my role as a leader is more important. I
have mouths to feed. It sucks though.
- Doesn't running such a huge business keep you from doing any actual
artistic work? It must be strenuous enough, just to keep everything
together and running...
BB - YES, I have not done one piece of art (not on skin) since ALL OR
NOTHING's birth. The entire family and all that we do is my artwork at
this point, but my personal art withers. This is temporary I believe.
- How do you keep your own artistic integrity, for example, make sure
that you are still doing artistic work, instead of leaning back and
enjoying the benefits of your success?
BB - I think that my continuing to tattoo is vital to the motivation
and growth of our artists. I try to lead by example. I worked for a
lot of folks who either never tattooed or had retired to simply
running a shop, I don't believe this will ever happen, I will tattoo
longer than I will be a boss. Because I love to tattoo, and I hate
being a boss.
- About your own personality... I guess you have an idea that you are
not the average guy in general, and even for the tattoo scene come
across as quite, let‘s say, "open" and even a bit eccentric. What is
your opinion about that?
BB - It is HARD to stand out in a sea of freaks, debauchery, and
artistic innovation without going completely off the deep end. Most
people do not make it to the top of this bizarre mountain with their
flag to plant, and the life expectancy of a tattoo artist has to be
about 48 instead of 78 (U.S. National Average).
I know what you are referring to. This strange morph of lunacy,
unpredictability, gun brandishing, profane, booze swilling guy who
does tattoos. This sells magazines, and makes people watch things on
TV. This attracts a certain demographic of client yes, and of fans.
But it has nothing to do with me.
The way I have been portrayed on magazine covers, and on TV, have
always leaned towards this shock value, attention grabbing,
The world's first view of this came with my first book "WHORE"
www.strangleholdmerch.com and was followed shortly thereafter by
"VICKtory to the Underdog" www.vickdogmovie.com.
I believe this is when all of that really began to change. It showed
more of who I am, and who we are, in real life. I'm not a rock star, I'm
just a street shop hustler who worked my ass off and loves those
around me... oh yeah, and dogs. Yeah, I love dogs. Now stop talking to
me about them (laughter).
- How do you think is it to work with you or for you?
BB - Definitely WITH me not FOR me. That is rule # 1, well that and
don't F*CK with my Money (laughter). I'm just kidding. Our studio and
way of life is not for the lazy, nor is it for the weak hearted, thin
skinned pussies that seem to be popping up all over these days. We are
a tattoo studio first, and there is no crying in tattoos.
I have seen the growth of our generations of artists and I think that
speaks more to what it's like to work here than anything. Their
continued success as they move on and grow as artists and people. It's
hard work, but it pays off, every single time. We have birthed some of
the world's foremost contemporary tattoo artists, and continue to.
- Do you think you have a character that tends to addiction or
BB - YES. I am a compulsive workaholic yes. I do not do drugs, so the
addiction part is different entirely. I drink a LOT, but actual drugs
are far stronger than I am, I realized that at a young age and avoid
them like the plague. I respect drugs because I have seen what they
have done to peoples' lives around me. I have been to a LOT of
funerals... too many. So yeah I don't fuck with drugs. But, I work way
too much and have a hard time sitting down for prolonged periods. I
got it from my father. So, yes I am a compulsive psychopath kinda.
- You do quite a bit of charity work. This might surprise some people,
who have met you, but don‘t really know you. Can you elaborate what
causes you support and how?
BB - We have done extensive work with abused animals
(www.AtlantaPitBullRescue.com is my charity company), Disabled War
Veterans, Feed the Homeless, Haiti reconstruction, fallen police
officers, Mosquito Nets in Malaysia, Special Olympics, Childhood
Cancer, Toys for Tots, and lately I have been very interested in
Charity is very important to me, and all of us here at ALL OR NOTHING.
We have to give something back to the community to actively
participate in its growth. That, and it's the RIGHT thing to do. People
are looking at what we are doing now more than ever, and I want to
encourage others to be a positive light shining in this dark world.
Even crazy tattoo guys can do some good, but we have to work together
to make a difference.
- There seems to be a group (at least that’s our impression in Europe
from far) of you guys doing this hyper (almost sur-) realistic color
portrait work (Mike De Vries, Vince Villalvazo, Nikko, Carson Hill,
you, etc. etc.) What is your connection to them, if there is one?
BB - Yes there is an amazing level of tattooing happening all over the
world, and the Americans involved are pushing each other. And yes, I
have been tattooed by Mike Demassi and Mike Devries. Actually that is
featured in the charity documentary "VICKtory to the Underdog" (I get
a collaborative tattoo of my first Pit Bull who was rescued from a
dog fighting operation by them in my private studio
A lot of that style of tattooing started years ago when Josh Carlton,
Albie Rock, Sean Herman, and I all worked at ALL OR NOTHING. Sean was
pretty much an apprentice back then it was so long ago now. It is
amazing to see how it has evolved and grown. I am in NO WAY taking
credit for any of that, just saying that we were definitely involved
in it, and its evolution. This is a very exciting time to be a
tattooer. Those west coast guys are amazing for sure. But there are
artists all over the world doing that same type of stylized portrait
based surrealism. (Which is what I have been calling it lately)?
- How do you find creativity in portrait work, rather than just
BB - To make a portrait look stylized (in other words recognizable as
in "I know who did that piece") is one of the most difficult aspects
of accomplishing a unique tattooable image from a photo. Elements of
what makes that person who they are or were are key, illustrative
tattoo based applications and drawings on top of the photo, behind it,
and creative color selection are how that is achieved. I am constantly
striving to do more of this and less actual realism. We all are. It is
also way more fun that way.
- How do you like working together with other artists? I noticed that
you do quite a bit of it (with Dave Tedder, Paul Booth, etc.) What do
you gain from it? Do you think collaborative work can advance
tattooing in general?
BB - The single best way to learn how to tattoo is to tattoo with
people you respect. I have learned more from collaborative tattooing
than anything else. It is key to everything we do at ALL OR NOTHING.
- How do you use the Internet to advance your business, but also your
BB - The single most important innovation in modern tattooing is the
Internet. I hate the fact that I have to sit in front of my laptop so
much now. And a lot of artists will argue this point, but now you can
see everything everyone is doing same day, same time, and before we
had to actually fly to go look at the damn black book on the counter.
Nothing will ever be the same again. Also the reference material at
our disposal is f*cking ENDLESS now. The sky is the limit.
- What kind of technical equipment do you personally use? Machines,
colors, needles, etc. Do you encourage or even require your co-workers
to do the same?
BB - My staff uses whatever they want to, I don't care. We all have
different styles and tastes. I use predominately Pulse machines,
Tat-Soul furniture, Waverly Ink, Envy Needles, and H20cean for
- Do you do a lot of conventions? What do you like/dislike about them?
BB - Nope, I did conventions for 15 years CONSTANTLY, I quit 4 years
ago. Now I just go to the ones in cities I want to go see. I actually
have only been to two in the last 4 years. And I saw YOU at both of
them! I like seeing all of my friends from the last 20 years and
meeting new friends (like you), but I hate just about everything else
about it. I like to tattoo in my studio, it's pretty relaxing and
amazing. No distractions. The opposite of a convention in every way.
It is also a distraction for me to be there. In other words my staff
is amazing, they do a LOT of shows without me, and when I am there, my
presence distracts everyone from them. The focus should not be on me,
I'm already "there". My guys deserve the credit, awards, articles etc.
They are better than me anyways. Damn kids.
- Which conventions in Europe will you visit? I saw you in Amsterdam
and Doncaster, two events totally different in nature. How do you
choose the conventions you go to?
BB - By the size of the check the convention sends me to appear
(laughter) Just kidding.
I went to Tattoo Jam because I was invited and was given a pretty
amazing offer, along with a "Lifetime achievement Award", it would
have been rude to say no, and I wanted to see London. Amsterdam was
solely because I wanted to see Amsterdam, which is AMAZING by the way.
I definitely will return to Amsterdam often. Those are the only two
shows I have attended in 4 years.
- Do you have lots of European clients?
BB - Actually yes I do. Our studio provides transportation to and from
the airport, hotel accommodations, food, booze, whatever anyone asks
for within reason and we do NOT charge for all the transportation and
stuff at all. We have a LOT of EU/UK folks flying in and getting HUGE
work! With the $US dollar not being worth much in EU, they are getting
a great super-cheap deal for them as well (laughter). We are always
flattered. I have completed full sleeves and full back pieces in one
single trip before. Actually we do that kind of stuff all the time.
- Can you see a difference in what styles/type of work Europeans
choose to get from you as opposed to Americans?
BB - Not in my studio, but while I was in EU I noticed a lot of black
and grey and those dots they do. I've never done a tattoo in dots yet.
Fascinating, but too technical for my brain to pay attention to for
- How and when did your particular style develop? Are you influenced
by any art outside tattooing? What does appeal to you about it?
BB - That period I mentioned earlier when Joshua, Albie, Dave, Nate,
Sean etc worked together, I believe we all were pushing each other so
much that art was forced out of all of us. That was when it happened
We were doing a LOT of experimentation and collaboration then. As far
as influence, I am influenced by everything my eyes see. Any artist
that denies that is f*cking lying.
- What other art forms/media do you work in? What do you like about it?
BB - Like I said earlier, nothing but tattooing really. My days are
consumed with business related frustrations nowadays. I did do a lot
of work in film though, the "VICKtory to the Underdog" movie was a
good example of that. It is a HARD medium to work with but I loved it.
That is definitely a difficult artistic medium.
- How do you use graphic design and Photoshop software to work on the
photographs of your work? You know that too much manipulation might
work well for publicity, but also raises unrealistic expectations in
BB - We only add a black background behind the body part so all the
photos look cohesive, and yes, people that cheat on a computer are
douche bags. That is a large misconception about our art. Our tattoos
are as bright in person as they are online. My wife just got tattooed
while I was visiting you in EU by Short Parker and Vince Villalvazo
(both are ALL OR NOTHING artists) and her legs are WAY brighter in
person than the photos. I am blown away every time I look at them.
People think we are messing with the images, we aren't. Come check out
my wife's legs (laughter).
- Do you normally like to work in color? Please elaborate…
BB - Nope, my favorite medium in tattooing is black and grey, it is
way easier and more fun. People seek me out for color though, it's
- Do you do a full-scale drawing of a custom design before you tattoo it?
BB - Never. Who has time for that? (laughter) Spontaneity is the spice
of life, and the fuel for art that fits the body properly. Something
laid out months in advance will no doubt not fit the body part
perfectly. I like to create it while they are sitting next to me. The
flow of the art on the body is as important as the design itself in
this level of tattooing.
- How do you go about creating a unique piece for your client? Do they
usually point out some of your pieces they like and want to have
BB - Most of my clients just want something that looks like I did it.
And yeah, they pick out a couple of their favorites, and then I simply
hook them up with what I pull out of my secret files of awesomeness.
I'm spoiled rotten because my clients give me free reign to do what I
think will look best.
- How do the topics come up?
BB - Sometimes they bring it up, but most times I just show them a
piece or two that I am planning on doing on someone and BAM - here we
- Are there styles/topics you would like to work on more than before?
Which way do you want to go artistically?
BB - More Black and Grey and more artistic freedom. I have some
amazing stuff cooking for 2011! I still love color don't get me wrong,
but you asked!
- How should potential clients contact you? Contact info for the article?
www.AllOrNothingTattoo.com is our main site out of the 11 or so we
have live right now, and firstname.lastname@example.org is how you get
an appointment and arrange flights, hotel, transportation etc. Other
key sites are www.AtlantaTattooTV.com for all our online videos (30
pages of them!)
- How do you see the relation between European and American tattoo
BB - It is very different over there. But we are all cut from the same
cloth. I have a lot of new friends over there now.
- What could be done among tattooists to improve the
situation/understanding between those two cultures?
- It would really help if it wasn't such a monumental pain in the ass
to exchange artists in a guest spot capacity, legally. Ever since
9-11-01 it has been a B*TCH! America is a c*ck about letting people
over for tattooing purposes legally, so it happens illegally a lot,
which is just bad for all of us.
- What do you like doing that has nothing to do with tattooing? What
do you do when you want to switch off? Do you ever? ;-)
BB - I wish I had more time to do anything but work on the zillion
pages of sh*t to get done on my lists every day. When I'm not tattooing
or typing, or on the phone or doing an interview like this one
(laughter) I enjoy spending time with my dogs, my wife, my parents, my
family of artists, swimming, riding quad bikes, shooting guns,
drinking beer, not in that order (laughter).
- Again, I am grateful, you are taking the time to do this!
BB - Thank you! I have been a fan of your writing for many many years,
it was an honor to finally meet you in person and I look forward
greatly to having dinner with you at Surf and ink in AU 2011! See you
at the tattoo seminar!