Article by an apprentice at All or Nothing Tattoo
I met Josh Lindley when he did his first guest spot at All or Nothing Tattoo. As he walked in through the lobby, he dropped a small photo book at the front desk. There were photos of maybe 20 tattoos. The images ran the gamut of American Traditional imagery—from whip-shaded tigers and ships to a water colored set of praying hands, themselves covered in traditional tattoos. The lines were clean; the imagery was bold and solid. The tattoos were very nice and done in a style totally different from anyone else who currently works here. He didn’t have any appointments booked. He was here to cover walk-ins, and that he did.
He didn’t trace reference or computer-print any letter. He drew nearly every tattoo presented to him; the wait per tattoo was barely longer than had the clients been getting flash. I saw him put some of himself into every tattoo that he crafted during that guest spot, and I was floored. He was here for a few days, then left straight out for a convention. Several months later, he returned for nearly a month. During that time, he did some cool tattoos on a few of us, and Dave Tedder offered him a position as a resident artist.
He’s been working here full time now for a few months now. In that time, he’s produced consistently solid tattoos and a stack of hand painted flash several inches thick. I interviewed him over the course of a couple of days in the shop and a couple of nights out drinking. He shared with me a portion of the story that tells how he became the tattooer he is today.
CF: So, I’ll just start with the basics: How long have you been tattooing, and how would you describe your style?
JL: I’ve been tattooing for seven years and some change. The first three, I worked in some biker shops and wasn’t really progressing as fast as I would have liked. In maybe my fourth year of tattooing, I began traveling more. Around the same time, I began focusing more on American Traditional images and techniques and learning to paint. That’s when I became aware of how to really focus and progress with tattooing. In these last years, I’ve been constantly working to make every tattoo better than the last one. My tattoos are all based in the American tradition. I use a slightly expanded color palate and more variation in line weight than found in the typical traditional tattoo. One of the most important things is that I create a tattoo that it built to last. I want the client to be a satisfied ten years down the road as they are the day they leave the shop. I just love doing clean, solid tattoos because those are what will last the test of time.
CF: So, you didn’t always know that you were going to be a tattooer. What did you do before that?
JL: I made fixtures for CNC equipment in a machine shop. My dad was a metal fabricator. So, if I wanted to spend time with my dad, I’d go to work with him. Your dad wants free help, so what do you do? You pick things up. So, when I turned old enough to go get a real job, it was like, “Can you read a ruler? Cool. Can you read a micrometer? Cool.” Then I walk in and, “Oh, that’s an old such-and-such lathe.”
“Can you run that?”
“Oh yeah. I’ve been using those for years.” So that’s what I did.
CF: But you were getting tattooed while you were working as a machinist?
JL: Yeah. I had just turned 18. I was working in that machine shop, and I had a pocket full of money. I was a punk ass kid, and I had no bills, so it wasn’t shit for me to go hang out in that tattoo shop—all the fucking time. I was getting tattooed a lot. I thought tattoos were the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
CF: But, you’re from South Carolina, and tattoos were illegal there at this time. Where were you getting tattooed?
JL: In South Carolina, at the time it was all bootleg tattooers. I mean there were good tattoers, you know, that secretly tattooed in South Carolina. The ones that were local to me were awful, you know. Augusta was thirty minutes away, and tattoos were legal there. When I first started, I never got tattooed in South Carolina. I just never wanted to get tattooed out of somebody’s house. I didn’t know anything about quality at the time, but I knew to go to a shop. So, I started driving to Augusta to get tattooed.
CF: How did you first become interested in tattoos? What was the first tattoo that you remember seeing?
JL: I mean my grandpa had a few tattoos, but he wasn’t extremely tattooed or anything like that. He was an old Navy guy, so he has some cool old tattoos—nothing fucking fancy—letters on his arm. Something on the top of his forearm. I mean… I rode skateboards. I was into hot rods. There were definitely people I looked up to with tattoos, but I can’t nail down why exactly I started getting tattoos.
CF: When did you start thinking that maybe you wanted to learn to tattoo?
JL: When really it took a turn into me actually physically tattooing, it was around 2004. I was right at 21 when I did my first tattoo. I was getting tattooed by this guy, and I started drawing my own tattoos. I drew better than he did, so I figured that was a good idea. He started asking me to draw other shit for him. I don’t know if he tattooed it on people or kept it for himself. Then he started, you know, explaining some things to me about what he was doing when he was tattooing me. I was just trying things I’d watched him do on me.
CF: So, you were getting tattooed by this guy, and he was showing you a few things, and he pretty much disappears. But, right around that time tattooing became legal in South Carolina.
JL: Well, yeah, he was on drugs or whatever, and he stopped showing up at the shop. I got tattooed a few other places in Augusta, but I wasn’t tattooing in a shop there. Tattooing had recently become legal according to the State of South Carolina, but it took a while for counties to get regulations in place and shops to begin to open.
CF: Shortly after this guy stopped showing up—stopped showing you things, you were approached by someone opening a shop in your home town?
JL: Yeah. I’d been tattooing for nearly a year, on and off. I went to work in that little biker shop in my hometown. I worked there for a while. Maybe eight months. It wasn’t even a year before I realized that I needed to work with better people. You know, to learn. So, I quit that place and started driving an hour and a half to work in Anderson. That shop was better. Not great but better.
CF: So, there were better artists there? Or was it just a better work environment? How did moving to that shop benefit you?
JL: It was another biker shop in a way. There were some people who I learned things from there, but the biggest thing I learned was that I could travel. I’d found out that I could travel. I could go places and learn things from other people. If you don’t have someone better than you to feed off of, then you don’t grow. I stayed on the road most of the time that I worked at that shop. I met more people and tattooed more different places. I was doing conventions regularly and working all over the country.
CF: And you were learning from people everywhere you went? At the same time you were getting more into traditional tattooing and traditional tattoo imagery?
JL: Traveling opened my eyes to all the different things that can be done with a tattoo and how many different styles people really work in. I learned to take what I could wherever I was and try, in my own way, to make it better. You’ve either got to shit or get off the pot, you know. That’s when I knew I had to do this, and I had to do it right. Or at least give it my all. I wanted to take a more serious approach to my tattooing. I knew that I wanted my tattoos to look tougher and that I wanted to design them in a way that they would last forever. It was a pretty natural transition into drawing, painting and tattooing traditional shit. I focused on simplifying images and tattooing them cleaner and more solid all the time.
CF: It sounds like you were traveling a lot and that you didn’t spend a lot of time in the shop where you were a resident artist during this time. Despite that, you worked at that shop for a few years. Did it feel like a home to you? Or, when was the first time that you worked in a shop that felt like home?
JL: My buddy Debo called me around April of 2010. He said he was opening a shop in Anderson, and he wanted me to work for him. I finished out the rest of what travel plans I had to and then sort of dropped everything—we both did—to open Boulevard Tattoo. The two of us built that shop ourselves. You work in other shops for years, thinking about how you’d want your own to be. This one was exactly how we wanted it. I only worked there for a year, but that shop is home. Art and original flash sheets from my personal collection are what’s on the wall there right now.
CF: If you felt a real sense of home at Boulevard and in Anderson, what brought you to All or Nothing?
JL: I was getting settled at Boulevard and was gearing up to start traveling again when I did my first guest spot at All or Nothing. I’d met Dave sometime after Christmas of 2010. He told me that I was welcome to come spot whenever I wanted. I finally made it down in the spring. After that first guest spot, Dave let me know that there might be a place for me at All or Nothing. If you stop growing, then you aren’t doing anything for yourself or for tattooing. All or Nothing is the kind of place where you can learn some sh*t, you know? So, of course I ended up moving down here.
CF: That sounds like we’ve covered pretty much everything. Have you got anything else you want to say?
JL: I want to thank everyone who has helped me get where I am. Everyone has always been really helpful and open with me. If I were to name names, the list would be huge. The thing I love about tattooing is that it will take me anywhere in the world. It’s amazing that I could go work in nearly any city anywhere in the world with the freedom to do it at any time. Or not. This is a freedom that few other lines of work have to offer. I love that they’re permanent. I love that you can’t change it once you tattoo it: that you only get one shot to do that tattoo right. This is different from drawing and painting. That you affect someone’s life permanently with something where you only get one try is profound. The best part, though, is that if the tattoo is applied properly, it will look great for the rest of your life. Tattoos are the coolest thing in the world, but I also enjoy beer, smoked meats, and cigarettes. Oh, and you can keep track of me at jlindleytattooer.tumblr.com.