Johnny Mac Howell
True Grit Tattoo – Albuquerque, NM
Specialty? Watercolor, Trash Polka and Japanese. Currently, I am trying to combine Watercolor and Japanese.
You’ve developed an incredibly original style. How did that come about?
By accident. A client of mine brought in a watercolor painting and asked me If I could do it. I did. I posted it online and began receiving more requests for the same style. I really had to sit down and study water color techniques on painting and then try to duplicate that through my tattooing.
How did your peers respond to your style at the beginning as compared to now?
Before, there was a lot of questioning of what I was doing—almost to the point of embarrassment. I was coloring outside of the lines. Not a lot of people understood that, including myself, really. But now I think I have evolved and have my own little niche in tattooing . . . and my peers have now become really inquisitive about it. You see more and more watercolor tattoos today than ever before.
Very true. But not all are created equal. What are some of the ways artists fall short in this style? How can they improve?
I think the reason why some of the artists are falling short is because they are not going back and doing the homework and studying what watercolor does on paper. No watercolor tattoo is the same. Even if you try to duplicate the same tattoo you can’t. Transferring watercolor’s effect on paper to the skin should be done more freeform, spur of the moment.
Are there any particular brands of ink that serve the style especially well?
I really like Fusion. It does what I need it to do. I also love Starbrite blues and white.
Rotary or coil and why?
Both! I’m definitely a coil guy 100% but I love rotary for one purpose and one purpose only: stippling. I don’t use them for anything else . . . I think a coil is a lot more soulful, that the machine itself is the essence of tattooing. I think you should try other things, but I’m an old fashioned tattooer and that’s what I like using.
Any parting words?
Tattooers: Be open to different styles. Explore. Progress. That’s what we’re trying to do in this world; become better people and better artists. Remember that what we do is a sacred thing. I feel like that’s getting lost as the generations go by.