One of the things many people who aren’t tattooed – and even some that are – don’t understand is that tattoos are an art form and that the artists are talented with a range of canvases – not just on skin! We bring you Jimi May’s story. New to the tattoo world, he’s absorbing everything and has a unique story to tell about becoming an artist.
I always had a natural ability to paint and draw, and art was my favourite subject at school. I have exhibited in a number of art shows around Sydney. After school I studied Fine Arts at the National Art School and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, majoring in painting.
I have always been interested in tattoos and tattooing. I was spending a lot of my spare time in tattoo studios around Sydney, as well as playing music and painting as a hobby. I realised one day that I wanted to build a career in something I felt passionate about. So early last year I move back to the northern beaches and took my portfolio to Dee Why Tattoo. They suggested I start by coming into the shop during work hours to see how I fit in, so I took advantage of the offer and spent my time drawing there. Eventually I managed to get an apprenticeship. It was a year last July since I started.
All the drawing classes from art school probably helped to an extent, especially when understanding the quality of lines and how they can change value to different aspects of a work. However, it was hard getting used to the different medium of skin. I don’t think my training could prepare me for that. I’m still learning every day. The last thing you want while tattooing is to fight against your stencil. The skin moves in so many ways so you can’t really guess your lining. I’m a visual person so I like to draw it all out first and visualise how it’s going to look on the skin before I start the tattoo.
I’ve always had two major loves in my life, art and music. I’m influenced by music in my art and vice versa and tattooing is a culture that reflects both these passions. It’s great being creative and being able share my art with – and on – people. Tattooing allows me to ascend all areas of my art. It’s the perfect job for me.
When I’m not tattooing or playing in my band Gypsy’s Gift, I’m painting. Most of all my inspiration comes from two things, music and art of the old masters of the 15th and 16th centuries. The artist Caravaggio is one of the major influences in my art – he is known for his dramatic lighting and settings.
After researching his painting techniques I stumbled upon a school in Florence called the Angel Academy of Art. They were running a summer workshop on Caravaggio’s painting techniques. I applied and once I was accepted I booked my flight.
The school was in Florence, which is the heart of where the Renaissance took place. I also knew that the Uffizi Gallery in Florence displayed original works of Caravaggio, which was a massive incentive. I learned more than I expected in both art and the history of the city. I’ve also been inspired by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. I’ve always wanted to see the Statue of David, which I finally got the chance to do. Just being there and seeing the buildings, architecture – even the old ancient carved doors – was mind-blowing.
It was right in the middle of June and there was a heatwave. Apparently it was one of the hottest summers yet. The days were a little draining and long. The course went for 14 days from 10am to 4pm. During the evenings and weekends I tried to experience as much of Florence as I could. I went with a list of things I wanted to do and I managed to tick most of the boxes. A bottle of Jack Daniels was only 16 Euros, which didn’t make my mornings easy!
But I went because I wanted to develop my painting technique. Since I have returned, I realise how much I have learned from my experience. I think my art has developed in quality and concept. It was the perfect experience and the most influential trip I’ve ever been on.
As with my painting, I would absolutely travel overseas to learn as much as I can to master my art. I think each country has a slightly different style of tattooing and I’d love the opportunity to develop my versatility. My band has spoken of plans to move overseas so I’d love to kill two birds with one stone.
I look up to talented artists who take pride in their work. One of my art teachers at the National Art School was Leslie Rice who is a very well known artist. He has won a lot of prizes and has been hung in the Archibald and has won the Doug Moran prize twice – I really looked up to him. When I found out he was a tattooist, I checked out his work and thought it was amazing. I went into his studio the next day and booked him to do my sleeve. I realised then it was something I really wanted to do. I also look up to the talents of Jeff Gogue, Johan Finné and Nikko Hurtado.
I’m pretty particular about who tattoos me. I like to research my artist first and get the best person for job. It’s always good to watch someone who inspires me while they are working. You can learn so much from them.
I got my first tattoo on my 18th birthday at The Illustrated Man. I wanted tattoos way before then, but had to respect my parents’ wishes, and I’m glad I did. I think it is wise if kids wait until they’re 18, even if they have their parents’ consent. What I considered awesome when I was 16 is definitely not cool now I’m older. I had Les Rice do my arm but my most memorable tattoo experience was getting tattooed at LAInk. I was there recording with my previous band and it was a true rock ‘n’ roll experience. I got to meet Kat Von D, which was awesome – she’s way hotter in person.
For now the plan is to keep progressing with my tattoo career as well as getting my name out there as an artist. I’d also like to do some more travelling. I just opened an art studio in Brookvale; I would eventually like to put together an art exhibition – I’m actually looking for life models if anyone’s interested! I also have my band Gypsy’s Gift, which has been bringing great things into my life. I’ll keep myself busy with music and art and see where they take me.