Jason Boatman on dedication, stereotypes and a purple elephant
Jason Boatman believes that dedication is one of the most important attributes of a good tattoo artist. Coincidentally, that's the name of the shop that he owns with Sam Yamini, Andy Canino and Brian Thurow. Originally from Little Rock, Boatman has been tattooing for fourteen years and has been working at Dedication Tattoo for the past year. Westword recently sat down with Boatman to talk about the importance of dedication, tattoo stereotypes and a purple elephant.
Westword: How did you become interested in tattooing?
Jason Boatman: My uncle had tattoos when I was young, and I remember being at my grandmother's house when I was maybe eight or nine years old and him coming in and showing off his new tattoo on his chest, and I thought it was just the coolest thing I had even seen in my life. I was a kid, I was like, "That would be cool. I would love getting tattoos. I want to have those."
As I started becoming a young adult, I thought, "Hey, I always wanted to get a tattoo. I remember my uncle getting tattoos and it being cool." So I just kind of started from there as far as getting tattooed. I got my first tattoo in my living room from a biker. And then a friend of mine saw it and saw that it wasn't very good and said, "You should come and check out these tattoo shops with me." And he took me and showed me a couple tattoo shops, one of which I ended up apprenticing at. That's what kind of pushed me down the road to tattooing.
As far as actually getting into tattooing itself, I thought about it for a while. I started getting tattooed at this shop and thought it would be really cool to be able to do tattoos. And I used to draw in school and stuff. But the shop that I was going to was really small and I didn't feel like they had the capacity to apprentice someone, so I was kind of scared to ask. Over a couple of years I got to be really good friends with the piercer who worked at that shop. It turns out her dad actually owned the shop and he was one of the tattooers there. A few years down the road, a couple of guys quit working there and I kind of felt like it was an opportunity for me to maybe try to get in there and become a tattooer, and I went down and talked to him about it. He didn't really want to give me a job and I just started showing up every day and didn't leave. Finally, after a month or two of showing up every day and not asking for anything and just going in there and working and trying to be helpful, finally the gentleman who apprenticed me decided to give me an opportunity. That was a long time ago.
Do you remember the first tattoo you ever gave someone?
It was on a young lady that I went to school with. I wasn't even technically apprenticing yet, and she came to the tattoo shop. I was there with the guy who owned the shop and I was helping him out one night. She came in with a couple of friends and she was like, "Oh my gosh, I didn't know you did tattoos." And I was like, "I don't really do tattoos yet." The guy who owned the shop was like, "Do you think you can do her tattoo?" So I said, "Yeah I think I can do it." So he told me to go for it.
Man, looking back on it, I don't know what I was thinking. I had no idea what I was doing. I gave her a really, really bad tattoo on her toe. At the time I didn't know that's a really bad place to try to put a tattoo to begin with. It's a really difficult place to do a good job. So I did a really bad job and I felt really bad and I knew it was messed up. I went and asked my boss to fix it and he got a big kick out of it, thought it was really funny. She wouldn't let him fix it. She wanted to keep this really crappy tattoo that I did on her as a reminder of my first tattoo. She's a good sport, man. She's a sweet girl and it was really cool for her to believe in me. Even though I did a bad job, she was still super-happy with it just because of the experience.
Continue reading for the rest of the Q&A with Jason Boatman.