Interview with Legendary Tattoo Artist Joshua Carlton

Joshua Carlton is a legendary tattooist and painter from Oregon whose work can very easily be recognized by most people who are familiar with the art and tattoo world.  Joshua has been tattooing for nearly three decades, and his style is truly one of a kind, creating tattoos that look like beautiful oil paintings that are crafted to stand the test of time as well.
In this interview below, Joshua talks about changes in the tattoo industry, the huge benefits of his recent massive physical transformation, what he hopes artists in this era understand if they want to take their career to the next level in this industry, and more.  Hope you guys enjoy the read!


Your style is very apparent in each piece you could do, and I feel like your work can pretty easily be recognized without your name being involved by I’d guess the majority of people who are familiar with your work.  How did you go about developing such a distinct style of your own?  Did it come pretty naturally and with ease or did you have to put a solid amount of effort into creating your own recognizable style of work?
 You know it’s kind of funny I feel like early on I wanted to get away from what people perceive as my style.  Sometimes I felt like my loose painterly style possibly could come across as lazy tattooing.  It wasn’t until I started really tightening up my work that I realize that people were actually after my signature, my vision of what the tattoo should look like.  Much more like a piece of art that you would hang on your wall.  So now I found a direct balance between just loose enough to look more like a painting but tight enough to hold up solid for many years as a good tattoo.  Ultimately at the end of the day it’s about making my client happy and building a tattoo that will last a lifetime. 


 What is the most rewarding part of being a tattooist?
One of the most rewarding parts about being a tattoo artist has the freedom to travel, the freedom to work when and wherever I want.  I have been my own boss for most of my life except for a few pizza shops here and there. 
Toughest part of being a tattooist?
I would say the toughest part about being a tattooist, is being an artist that has pretty severe anxiety and even some depression.  So sometimes a clients demand will weigh on me pretty heavily.
What are the biggest changes you have seen in the tattoo industry from the time you’d say you really entered it up until right now?
Definitely the biggest change I have seen is more educated clients people willing to travel across the globe to collect the work that they truly want.  Instead of looking for a quick, easy, or cheap tattoo, people are doing their research and getting tattooed by the right artists.  This makes me extremely happy! 🙂
Who were some of your main influences as you began to enter the tattoo industry?
I have been tattooing for 28 years.  So my earliest memories of people who really influenced me would have to be Paul Booth, Guy Aitchison and Boris from Hungary.

I know you have been working on your health and making huge strides in your fitness development… In what ways has the progress in that field been helping you in your career as an artist?
I have been extremely focused on my health for the last three or four months as I was recently diagnosed with type two diabetes.  To be completely honest it scared the absolute crap out of me and gave me the much needed motivation to get myself in a healthier state.  I eat very clean now days and try to run at least 5 miles most days. Sometimes I walk half of the time but at least I get it done.  My focus on my health has definitely made me a better artist as well as a better person all around.  I am much more mentally prepared and have stamina to tattoo much longer nowadays. 
Describe the way you currently feel due to your recent physical improvements compared to how you were before you decided to make the adjustments.
The way I feel now days is absolutely night and day.  I just turned 44 years old and I am in the best shape of my life. In fact, yesterday I got the wonderful news that I have actually reversed my type 2 diabetes in as little as three months.  If I had only known how good getting healthy would make me feel. I used to feel like crap and I just thought it was because I was getting older I could only tattoo for about four hours at a time before I was just completely exhausted and wanted to eat.  Now I can tattoo longer days and then choose a healthy meal.
The tattoo industry has been blowing up exponentially lately, I’m guessing due to the fact that social media has helped make it a lot easier to make money in it.  There are a lot of aspiring artists out there dying to accomplish what you have.  What would you say your top three pieces of advice for those artists who are trying to be successful at doing what they love (which is creating) are?
Yeah, the tattoo industry is pretty crazy right now I can’t imagine trying to come up in this climate.  I would say my best advice for any artist aspiring to do their best would be to be completely honest with yourself and your work.  Don’t judge yourself by how poorly those around you are doing.  If you are the absolute best in your shop it might be time to move on to another shop where you’re at the bottom.  Always treat and respect people the way you would want to be treated.  Do not strive to be famous, or to get on TV, just simply be true to yourself, do the absolute best artwork you can, and it will give you sustainability.
Do you have any current pet peeves in the industry right now?
I think if I have any pet peeve in the industry right now it is simply people who tear down other artist to make themselves look better I really think people should stop focusing on what everybody else is doing and just concentrate on drawing and improving their own artwork.
What has been the number one best (tattoo related) moment so far since you started tattooing?
My absolute best moment actually happened to me recently.  I was awarded the Chaudesaigues award in Chaudesaigues, France where everybody in France was able to vote on who they thought the most influential tattoo artist was.   I was fortunate enough to receive this prestigious award.  I had absolutely no idea it was going to happen.  I am only the third artist to receive this award.
Do you have a personal favorite tattoo you’ve done that you are most proud of? (include photo if possible)
I tend to tear most of my work apart.  But I did do a tattoo of a rabbit on my wife’s hand that I’m very happy with.  I get to see it every day and how well it’s holding up for hand tattoo.  So I would definitely say that is one of my top three.
I know you’re in a pretty awesome band (This Patch of Sky)… Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
 Yeah, I am the guitarist for this patch of sky.  We have been fortunate enough to be in a few movies and just did the new McDonald’s commercial.  Which is absolutely hilarious because McDonald’s is the last thing that I should be eating nowadays Ha!  One of my biggest influences growing up was definitely The Cure.
Music has always been a huge inspiration for me.  I hate running without it and can’t imagine tattooing or painting without it.



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