A year or so back, I became friends with a tattooer whose name has been given the upmost respect by the rest of the tattoo community, and who I have come to admire very much as well.
Andy Pho is amnestying incredible tattooer working out of Skin Design Tattoos in Las Vegas currently full time (he does tend to travel a bit so keep an eye out on his social media if you’re looking to potentially book in with him).
He and his amazing brother Robert have been doing technically sound, breathtaking black and grey work that clearly needs no kind of filter of any sort which they rightfully take pride in.
I got the chance to ask Andy some awesome questions below, and I hope you guys enjoy the read.
So first thing’s first – I know you just got tattooed by your amazing brother Robert for a total of SEVEN consecutive days! Can you describe some of the most important parts of that experience for me, and explain some things you want people to know about this?
I went into getting tattooed originally as a collector, but throughout the process I was more fascinated with large scale work, in particular bodysuits done in one style by one artist. After committing to the Angkorian Bodysuit with Robert, I lasered off my previous work, including one piece done by Robert so everything could be cohesive. It’s been a work in progress for over 8 years and we’re far from done. With our busy schedules and now being in different locations, it’s been hard to get time to work on it so Robert suggested a 7 day session and I went with it. It truly is as the saying goes “mind over matter” once you accept your suffering, realizing this is what you wanted, this is what’s being done, and I’m going to enjoy this process. It’s easier said than done and every day was a challenge going into it with some days and areas more or less difficult.
Tattoos are painful; they’re never handed out but earned. How bad do you want it?
What typically goes through your mind as you create the incredible body art you do on a daily basis?
Longevity and long term goals for the client, with a need to experiment or elevate the current piece from the last.
What would you say have been the three most beneficial things towards your growth as a tattooer/artist?
A do or die mentality towards tattooing, making it life force to sustain who I am. Tough love/honesty from my mentor, peers, and myself. Low distractions from anything outside of the shop and high focus on the craft.
What was the hardest lesson you had to learn since being a tattooer?
While we do this every day with different clients, for the individual client these are life changing moments. Respect the client, the process, and the end result. Every mistake, bad heal due to technique/needles, and bad experience has to be taken personally in order to grow as a person.
Biggest influences coming into the industry?
The biggest influences were the artists who’s names I heard often and when I saw their work, stood out as something new and fresh for me, and different than what else I was able to see. These were names that I heard over and over again from magazines, conventions, and artists who worked in all different styles: Robert Pho, Bob Tyrell, Filip Leu, Shige, Robert Hernandez, Paul Booth, Fernie Andrade, and Jeff Gogue.
Any light hearted pet peeves in the industry right now?
The way tattoos are misrepresented in photos/video. Imagine you as a client selecting an artist based on their portfolio, going in and getting a piece, seeing it healed and aging, and it looks nothing like the manipulated photo of your fresh tattoo, being posted and shared on social media. Even if the piece you wear still looks good, it looks nothing like what’s represented and you’d probably feel cheated; it’s false advertising. If I’m editing lighting and photos to that point, it’d take it as being ashamed of my work, the end product of the all the efforts I’ve put into it. Own your tattoos and use it as motivation to level up. I want my tattoos in real life to look like it was edited, for people to say my tattoos look better in real life than in pictures. But whatever lol.
Three biggest changes (positive or negative) that you’ve seen in the tattoo industry from the time you first entered it up until right now?
- Neither positive or negative, more clients switching to rotary and cartridges; whatever helps you create better artwork, go for it.
- Media exposure has gone up; the positive being able to get your work in front of more clients, use the vast amount of artwork in all mediums to be influenced and learn from, and more people want to get tattooed.
- More artists are learning to be more business oriented and financially smarter; I think you can still be true to the art while still being business minded.
Changes you HOPE to see in the industry?
I hope it does become busier with more artists and clients. This idea of “everyone is getting so good so fast all over the world” propels me to keep pushing and experimenting new things while keeping in my own lane of creative direction. I hope the industry continues to share more information, whether free or paid, with artists and clients to keep everyone inspired and educated.
Best/most rewarding part of being a tattooer? Most challenging part of being a tattooer?
I don’t work anymore, I get to draw on people for a living! It’s never taken lightly though, these are life changing moments for clients and there’s a lot of pressure to create something permanent that’s going to meet/exceed their expectation, will age well, and not mess up while I’m at it.
Funniest/most bizarre experience with a client so far?
The most bizarre experience is an ongoing one, that I’ve been able to tattoo my clients, but in particular Patrick (Dr Strange, MMA leg) all over the world, seeing new things, and sharing these experiences. It’s still crazy to realize that we’re creating these kinds of bonds with clients and it’s never just in one place.
I know you make a great living as it is but if you were able to charge 50k per full day session somehow, how many days would you currently prefer to tattoo per week and why?
I’d prefer to work 4 days a week as it would allow me more full days with my family, but also keeps me in the rhythm of tattooing. Coming back from a vacation or extended weekend refreshes me and boosts the energy to get back into it.
Three best pieces of advice for the tens of thousands of tattooers hoping to reach the level you’re at in your career right now?
- Learn how to troubleshoot your tattoos as you work. Question each line, blend, saturation, and composition and figure out how to replicate that technique if it’s good, or change it up if you’re not satisfied.
- Dissect every tattoo and never be satisfied. Your favorite tattoo should be the last one you just did and your best piece should be your next one.
- Live and breathe it. Be excited to tattoo every day and as often as you can. Find people who are just as excited, if not more excited, about tattooing as you are.
What is your biggest dream, and your biggest fear, as far as being a tattooer goes?
The biggest dream is being able to take my family, especially my daughter with me around the world and show her the different aspects and perspectives of tattooing. Showing her what brings me joy, what I can show for tattooing, and what tattooing has shown me. The biggest fear on a regular basis is something happening to my eye sight or right hand where I wouldn’t be able to tattoo anymore.
What do the words “Lead The Followers” mean in your own interpretation?
Showing people a new vision into a realm of doing things differently.
Thanks so much Andy! It is an absolute pleasure to get to know you a little better. Be sure you give this legend a follow if you haven’t already @andypho