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As I’ve been catching up on the episodes that Jake and the crew filmed at the Space City Tattoo Expo in Huntsville, Alabama, I can’t stop going back to episode 94 and Jake’s interview with Evan Qualls. Just 5 years out of his apprenticeship, this young artist from NiteOwl Tattoo in Tampa is doing some really impressive work. However, it is his light hearted and fun loving attitude that makes me really like the guy.
It may just be the massive amounts of antihistamines and decongestants that are flowing through my allergy burdened system right now, but the shout out counter really does make this episode fun. Normally I have to watch my well-worn copy of the Big Lebowski to get this kind of entertainment while under the influence of cold meds. Shout out Evan!
All joking and shout outs aside, there is one quality that I see in Evan that I truly like; that is his lack of ego. Evan shows this in the best way possible, in his discussion of a collaboration he did with Aaron Springs from Red Dagger Tattoo. Before I discuss collaboration on a general level, I should step back and talk about the ego.
Jake and I had more than one conversation when I first started meeting with him about doing this blog. One of the things I brought up was the negative role of an artist’s ego, particularly the tattoo artist’s ego. All artists have some degree of ego that they wrestle with every day. Tattooers seem to have the biggest egos in the art world. Some have the skills to back it and some do not, but even the most talented artist in the world can have trouble finding a shop to work at because their ego won’t fit through the door.
Although small towns seem to be the worst in my experience, overblown egos are not unique to any tattoo environment. There is always a competitive element between individual artists in a given geographic area. It can get downright cutthroat with trash talking people that an artist perceives as a rival. This is the thing though, a city or town can only support a finite number of shops, but if you are a good artist, then you are always going to have work. If you are a good artist with a good attitude, you will be able to build a clientele that respects you and follows you regardless of where you are working. However, to see your fellow artists as competitors is one of the biggest mistakes that our ego can let us make.
It is a bit of a dilemma. Tattooers are members of a select group of people, an exclusive club if you will. It is important to have peers that we can not only commiserate with, but who push us to be better artists as well as to grow and develop. When the ego gets involved, then we end up just being clickish and only hanging out with our fellow artists at the shop we work at. When the ego is not involved, then you truly see things like I discussed in my last post, things like sending someone to another shop because you think an artist will be a better fit for the customer’s needs there.
Putting the customer’s needs ahead of your ego is a sign of an artist with their ego in check. This shows that you have a loyalty to the art form and the customers it serves. This leads a stronger and more supportive community. However, getting back to Evan, the true example that you are part of a community of artists above your ego is the willingness to collaborate.
If you haven’t checked out Evan’s collaboration piece, I highly recommend it:
Collaboration shows a willingness to forgo your own insecurities, to show trust in another artist, and to have fun with a project by opening yourself up to ideas and techniques beyond your normal arsenal. You create something beyond what either artist would normally do by feeding off the energy that you both put into your work. Evan describes the process they went through and it was almost a two day ordeal, but one that leaves a clear look of satisfaction on his face when he talks about it.
This is not limited to tattooing. Lots of artists in many areas do this. In all actuality, graphic design is the highest form of collaboration in that you quite often have large projects that utilize multiple artists under one art director who keeps continuity going between each individual’s styles. As far as tattooers go, I love some of the collaborative activities you see at larger conventions. I think I recall years ago, a group of headline artists at the NYC convention being given a design assignment on a specific sized drawing area. Each artist had a certain amount of time to start their work before rotating to the next person’s peace. By the time they were done, everyone had contributed to everyone else’s composition. Then they auctioned them off for charity. How cool is that?
So I instead of my usual call for feedback, which is still welcome, I’ll leave you with these questions to reflect on:
- Am I putting my work ahead of my ego?
- Who do I admire as an artist and would I be willing to approach them about doing a collaboration?
- Would I put my customer first and send them to another artist that may not be at my shop if I think that artist will do a specific style or design more to the customer’s liking?
- Am I willing to accept criticism from other artists to help me get better at what I do?
Contemplate young grasshoppers, then go forth and conquer.
Till next time,
Also, to the person who was kind enough to comment on one of my previous posts, I wasn’t being a jerk and not responding. We just had a glitch when we moved over to our new domain and some of my posts had to be redone. I lost you. Sorry.
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