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Jeff Johnson on His New Book Tattoo Machine

Posted on 29 July 2009 by Tim

“Rich and horrifying” is how Portland, Oregon based tattoo artist Jeff Johnson describes his first experience tattooing a customer. Jeff is an interesting guy and a natural storyteller. He is co-owner of the Sea Tramp Tattoo Co. and has been a tattoo artist for over 18 years. Although we weren’t able to see during his speaking event at Powell’s Books, Jeff is not only an artist but a customer and he cracked a few jokes at his own expense about how wimpy he is when getting a tattoo.

TIME magazine says, “…the Portland-based inkman shares some of the weirdest, wackiest and most disgusting details of his profession, from cleaning up after chudders (look it up) to the time he tattooed a serial killer (he thinks).

Jeff Johnson author of Tattoo Machine

Jeff’s Book: Tattoo Machine

Jeff introduced his book talking about the day he received his brand new tattoo machine and the excitement which he could barely contain as he opened the package and laid everything out in the kitchen. He goes on to point out an interesting tradition where the artist tattoos their inner right thigh. Apparently, it’s a great place to hide that first (read: amateurish) tattoo. Then, in order to test out the equipment, Jeff called up one of his buddies and invited him over the check out the new equipment. After a few drinks, his friend Miguel ended up leaving with his first tatt – the Star Trek logo.

In the book, there is much more about Jeff on the road to becoming a tattoo artist. But, another funny story Jeff shared from his book was about his foray into tattooed portraits. He grabbed some magazines and sketched up some samples for customers to see. Although no one decided to buy any of the portraits Jeff had posted, one guy asked if there were any tattoos he could get for free. Seizing on the moment, Jeff offered to do a portrait. The satisfied customer was soon sporting a portrait of Bill Murray, from the movie Ghostbusters. Soon after, another guy comes in looking for the same portrait. Jeff later found out that these two were prison inmates on a weekend pass.

Before opening up for questions, Jeff read a part from his book about a tattoo gone wrong. One lady came in, a few days before her wedding to get her husbands name tattooed on her shoulder. No one knew that the woman incorrectly wrote down her husbands last name which was fairly long and of Greek origin. After the session was complete, the woman was beaming with loving pride at the tattoo. At least until her mother-in-law saw it and mentioned that the spelling was wrong. Jeffs description of this tragedy was hilarious. One of many chuckle-friendly stories you’ll find in Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, and My Life in Ink.

From Random House:

In Tattoo Machine, Johnson lifts the curtain on an art form that has undergone rebirth and illuminates a world where art, drama, and commerce come together in highly entertaining theater. A tattoo shop is no longer a den of social outcasts and degenerates–it’s a workshop where committed and schooled artists who paint on living canvases develop close bonds and bitter rivalries, where tattoo legends and innovators are equally revered, and where the potential for disaster lurks in every corner.

The book signing went really well. The audience at the event was a diverse group – young, old, tattooed, and the curious alike. Everyone enjoyed the friendly, conversational atmosphere and Jeff’s humorous style.

Around the Web:

Jeff Johnson Author of Tattoo Machine

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