Adam Romano

Adam Romano grew up in his family-managed carnival business, working the game booths on the midway, and as a kid, travel around the Chicago area. He started tattooing when he was eighteen, working in Arizona, Southern California and Florida and Tennessee. He also made the rounds of the tattoo show circuit, eventually finding his way Lake Havasu City, Arizona where he found a home at Handsome Devil Tattoo Co.

“Growing up in the carnival business was a weird lifestyle. I was surrounded by a different kind of people, and that includes fully tattooed people,” Adam says. “I always wanted to make tattoos. . .I always just saw myself doing something different with my life.”

Adam, 29, found an early mentor in the tattoo industry, Thad Jackson, in Arizona, who not only tattooed him, but after some pestering, showed him around the craft.

“I started leaning traditional, then advanced to black and gray, cover-ups and larger scale pieces. I focus on a lot of different styles because I want to be able to provide that service for whatever somebody might want,” Adam says.

More recently, Adam has taken inspiration from some of his favorite surrealist artists like Salvador Dali, and combined different tattoo techniques to product some amazingly realistic portrait work.

Some of the most popular pieces in Adam’s portfolio are historical figures including Sigmund Freud, Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein. The portraits themselves are done in black & gray, their “story” further told through background elements and splashes of color. John F. Kennedy’s portrait, for example, morphs into an American flag, while Einstein peers contemplatively into a swirling vortex of time and space.

“It’s a challenge to make (the portrait) really look like the person, so I wrack my brain on making it as technical as I can,” Adam says. “My focus is on the person’s main features, and the soul of the person that you see.

“I come from a traditional background, so I like to make pieces that hold up well over time, but I also put a lot of soft tones in the face and features. There may not be an outline around the tattoo, but it’s still held together pretty well though the shapes or background around it.”

“I like to get people to think a little more,” he adds. “When you look at a piece you want to be intrigued by it and brought into that world. . . thats what I put into the tattoos that I do.”

It’s no suprise that Adam swept the portrait, realism, and black and gray categories at the Laughlin Tattoo Convention. He’s also won awards at tattoo shows this year in Phoenix, Tuscon and Lake Havasu.

“It’s cool to win awards at the shows and to be judged by your peers,” Adam says, “but it’s really validation in eye’s of future clientele. If somebody comes into the shop and sees the awards, it inspires them to be more interested in the new tattoo that they’re going to get.”

Even more than trophies, Adam finds personal satisfaction in being able to give back though his art. He recently took part in an benefit art show with proceeds going to help a child battling cancer. Adam is also member of the Allied Arts Council of Lake Havasu City that promotes the next generation of artists by awarding scholarships to young people who display talent in art, drama, dance, or music.

“I like art so much, and what I get to do,” Adam says. “More than anything, it’s a great feeling getting to be able to share my passion and to go to work every day and tattoo clients who trust me.”

Adam Romano
Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Handsome Devil Tattoo Co.
Instagram: @adamromanotattoo

Po Zhang

Tattoos have a long tradition in China. But for most of that history they were stigmatized, associated with prisoners, vagrants and the criminal underworld. Po Zhang, aka Popo, was none of those things, in fact, he was a graduate of the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts where he studied oil painting, and then body painting as an art form.

“Tattooing is in a really grey area – most people get their tattoos in jail, but if you want to get a tattoo (out in public) you’ll need to go to somebody’s home,” Popo says. “In China, they block all of the social media, and you can’t see anything. Little by little, I learned about tattooing by reading magazines and watching videos.”

One way around the grey area associated with tattooing was to have a tattoo “art” convention. That was where Popo was introduced to the photo realism style when legendary black and grey artist Bob Tyrell inked on him a portrait of his mother. When Popo’s father saw the tattoo, he reminded him of his own talents. “He said, you can draw people even better than a picture . . .you have the technique so you just need to transfer it from painting to tattoo.”

In 2002, Popo opened his tattoo studio in Tianjin, a metropolitan hub, in northeastern China. The studio was aptly named WEN SUO WEI WEN; translation: “Popo Tattoo Studio.” Even then tattooing wasn’t totally accepted, but by operating in a professional manner, the authorities would leave the artist alone to practice their craft.

Fast Forward through a trip that includes international tattoo competitions, and many awards, and Popo now has a permanent station at World famous Tattoo Lou’s, in Long Island , New York. He may be more than six thousand miles from home, but his art is still influenced by his native culture.

Popo explains how the new-school “Asian traditional” blends Japanese and Chinese styles; Japanese being identified by bold solid colors whereas in China, the style is more flowing.

“The Chinese style has its rules, but gives you more freedom to make it your own,” Popo says. “A cherry blossom flower is usually red, for example, but you can do it in white or light blue. You can also put in more detail than you can with Japanese which is more simple and bold.”

As an artist at heart, Popo sees tattooing as simply another medium to express his creative vision.

“The difference is the canvas and the tools,” he says. “In drawing, you’re using a pencil, pen or brush, and the canvas is paper. If you want to be a tattoo artist, you only need to know how to use the tools, and technique of how to make the art on the skin. If you know those two parts you can be a tattoo artist.”

Speaking of tools, Popo has partnered with Kuro Sumi to produce a 4-color greywash shading set. One fact that Popo has learned is that because the human body is made up of water, if the mixture of pigment to water isn’t just right, the pigment will have more of a tendency to fade out over time. Kuro Sumi uses a special machine to get the mixture perfect.

“If you use a good greywash set you’re tattoo will heal really well and look very good,” Popo says. “Also, if you do a large piece that requires many many sessions, then a pre-made greywash set not only gives you consistency, but it is also safer because when you mix your own, and put it back in the bottle it will get a lot of germs and cause problems.”

For color pigments, Popo relies on those made by World Famous Tattoo Supply. “It’s amazing ink,” he says of the World Famous brand for which he’s a member of their Pro Team. “It’s especially good for photo realism because it’s not too thick; it goes into the skin so easily. It also heals really well and the colors stay fresh.”

When it comes to mastering the photo realism style for which he has become know, Popo states that it starts with drawing skills. He puts great emphasis on artistic ability.

“Not tracing or copying. . . drawing. If you have that skill, you can start training yourself to be a photo realism artist. If you don’t know that technique then you should go to school and learn to draw,” Popo states.

“If you don’t know about art, and you just know how to make a tattoo, then you’re only a tattooer, not a tattoo artist,” Popo adds. “When you make art, you make it special for one, and don’t copy. . .if you copy, then you’re just a machine; the art must come from your brain. . . if you only make what the customer wants then you’re just a worker. To be an artist it must come from your own soul.”

Po Zhang