|Photo by Xindi Pictures|
Name: Sean Herman
Location: Daphne, Alabama
I grew up being involved in punk rock and hardcore music. I have always been one to say that punk rock saved my soul. All that being said, my first exposure to tattooing was seeing all the tattooed punk rock kids, and I immediately knew that was something I wanted. Seeing the tattoos scrawled on Henry Rollins arms made me go, "I want tattoos, that's awesome". Then I came upon a piece on Paulo Sulu`ape that changed everything for me. He spoke of tattooing as a connection between people, and spoke of it having magical qualities to it. I fell in love, I knew that was everything I wanted. When I was 16 I started getting tattooed. I wanted, with all my soul, to be able to be involved with the tattoo culture, and with this magical art. I never thought I would be lucky enough to one day be tattooing.
How did you get into the industry?
It's kind of a long story, but I will try to make it short. I was heavily involved in Christian ministry and preaching. I was actually on my way to becoming a pastor. While in college, something basically snapped in me. It was during Sept 11th, 2001 that my mind really changed. In order to keep my scholarships, I had to keep going to a church. I had the hardest time finding a church that had the answers I wanted (all the time forgetting that the true answers were inside of myself). I eventually started handing out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches downtown on Sunday mornings. It was something I did on my own and viewed as church, though it was a little over zealous at times. One morning I walked up to a group of men talking and offered some sandwiches. Most either declined or said thank you, but one man just looked at me with fire in his eyes. He said, "Who do you think you are? Do you think you are better than me? You think you can give me a god damn sandwich and everything will be ok?" He continued to grow louder, the expletives growing increasingly more and more aggressive until he got in my face and I felt a warm pressure in my side, and he ran. He had stabbed me with a small shank. It wasn't horrible, it was just a cut, and it bled, and it was enough to make me step back and really look at what I was doing. I had a knock down drag out fight with the idea I had created of God, which is kinda funny to imagine a screaming match with an idea you had created what it was. The next morning I had to speak in front of the Southern Baptist Convention board about my scholarships for the following year. I told them that I was no longer a Christian, and I wasn't going into the ministry. I lost my scholarships and had to leave school.
Tattooing was always a passion of mine, through everything. I was actually getting pretty heavily tattooed at the time of all this going on. Another passion I developed at that time is one that is still true to me today, Anarchism. I ended up being homeless a bit, bumming around here and there and finally ended up in the Mississippi delta, near the cross roads, where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. During all this time I had gone to the tattooists that had been tattooing me, trying to find an apprenticeship, and time and time again I was turned down. Which I understand, it should be difficult, tattooing is difficult, and sacred. I had one tattooer tell me I was "to nice". At the time I didn't get it, but looking back on it now, I completely do. So while I was in the delta I got a phone call from Kele Idol. Kele had tattooed me for quite a while, and had been really the main tattooist I had harassed about an apprenticeship. He said that if I still wanted to learn, he would teach me, I just had to move back to Birmingham, which I did. That is still one of the greatest days of my life, the day I was given the opportunity to learn how to tattoo, and I am eternally grateful to Kele for that chance.
Was it hard to find an apprenticeship?
It was. I had gone to all of the tattooers that I knew and trusted in the area, and no one wanted to teach me, which now, looking back on it, I completely understand. It's a crazy thing, tattooing. It's the most difficult, beautiful, stressful, fulfilling thing you could do, but it's not just something you dabble in, it has to be inside of you. I have people ask me all the time how to get an apprenticeship, and I always tell them, "If you are supposed to be tattooing, if it lives and breathes in you, then you will get an apprenticeship, not because you want to, but because you have to. If you know you have to be tattooing, than you will put every bit of your energy into making that happen." I was very fortunate to get into the situation I did. Kele apprenticed me at Aerochild Tattoo, which is owned by Justin Kontzen, whom I also learned a ton from. I am eternally grateful to those two for the opportunity they gave me.
How many years have you been tattooing?
I have been tattooing for over 9 years now.
What inspires you?
To be honest, my clients. Based upon my interaction with them, I can figure out where the tattoo is going to go. The tattoo is theirs to wear forever, so I just like making sure it is going to fit them right. Almost all of my clients are now multi session pieces, one after the other, so I tend to see the same people, every month, for years now. You develop a relationship and a knowledge of each other. From there is where I will usually start to base how we will do what we are doing, and then comes their idea. If they don't have an idea of what they want, I will just usually talk to them for a bit, and something always ends up coming up. Tattooing is a symbiotic relationship, and without the client, you wouldn't have the tattoo, and the tattoo is the most magical thing we can be a part of.
Who are your favourite tattoo artists?
I look up to a lot of tattooers, for many different reasons. I love the simplicity and raw illustration in Deno's work, or Gore, I love both of their work so much. Then I really love the amazing illustrative qualities in Sung Song's work, it always looks so dynamic and correct. Justin Weatherholtz is another one like Sung that his work is now so clean, so accurate and correct, it's a beautiful thing to see. I love when tattooers take a change and do something new, like where Nathan Kostechko has been going with his work, pretty much abandoning the color he was using and focusing on black and pattern. I love the richness and simplicity of Jeff Ensminger and Timmy B's work. They are both very different, but they both have the ability to make one object, or multiple objects, seem so interesting and dynamic. Honestly, the list could go on forever.
How would you describe your tattoo style?
Ever changing. I just keep looking forward, trying to figure out the next piece, and how to make it cleaner, age better, and simpler, while watching how the older pieces are aging, and learning from all of it. I don't really shoot for a style or image, I just want to create tattoos that my clients will love and that will look good in 20 years. Tattooing is a learning process, so I think that's why it will always be changing.
What have you learned in your years in the industry?
I have learned that I have a lot more to learn. With tattooing, every time you think you are getting it, the field opens up to a much larger picture, and you realize that you have so much more to get. It never ends, it's a continual learning process, until the day you die. Every thing in life is like this, but I think tattooing brings it up into your face much more. Everyday is spent trying to learn and figure out something else that is essential to making a good tattoo, and that will never end.
What advice do you have to people considering careers in tattooing?
Only get into tattooing because you have to, because it lives in you. Right now, there are a lot of people interested in becoming tattooers, either because they saw it on TV or it seems like something they could make money off of right now. Those people will get chewed up and spit out of this industry. Tattooing is the most difficult thing to be involved in, but the greatest things truly are that, difficult. The amount of thought that goes into every single piece, every single hand movement, everything thing you do, is immense. In my opinion, I don't tattoo because I want to, I do it because I have to, because I couldn't imagine anything else. It's a magical demon inside of me that has to be exercised, and that's the only thing I want to do. I couldn't imagine not doing, it's like breathing. It will always been involved in my life. If you have a true love for the craft, a respect, you will find you're way to get involved. If you are just trying to make easy money, there are plenty of jobs you can choose from. I mean, if you are looking for easy money, why not go into politics? :) There is a sang that I love in the industry, "Respect, Honor and Give to tattooing, and it will do the same back." To me, it's just really a great life lesson, like everything involved in this craft.
What are some of the best things you have experienced as a result of your career?
Hands down is the interactions with people. From clients to other tattooers, I have been so fortunate to learn and grow so much because of this amazing industry that I am a part of. I have been able to see the world, and have conversations will some of the most awesome people. From late night bus rides to Stockholm, to jumping off of buildings into pools, to hiking on Mt. Tam, all of these things come from tattooing, and are the most amazing things for me. I am excited for the next experience, because I am sure it will be the best…well, until the next one after that :) The very best one will be on my death bed.