Interview with Realism/ Surrealism Tattooer Kyle Cotterman


I got the chance to ask the highly talented and respected, world-class tattooist/artist Kyle Cotterman of Dayton, Ohio some questions.  Find out how he handles being in high demand, (my words not his- he’s as humble as he is talented somehow) how he has developed a unique/recognizable style of his own, and more.  Kyle is most known for his color surrealism, but he is a master at standard color realism, black and grey realism, and so much more.  I have been lucky enough to collect two awesome pieces by Kyle as well by the way, and can honestly say he is one incredible and awesome human being on top of being an elite artist.  Hope you guys enjoy the read.


Your style is one of a kind… I can tell who did it without your name being attached.  How did you go about creating this route for yourself and creating such a distinct/recognizable style?  Did this come with ease or with a highly conscious effort?

Having a style is something Ive struggled with for a long time.  Do I have a style, how do I make a style, when will people be able to see ME in the tattoo.   The truth is, I realized that my whole journey of trial and error was a part of my overall style.  Your style is always adapting and changing, but is always your own.   I dont think this came with ease, but i dont think i put every bit of energy into developing a style.

Your photos on social media are honest, pure, and beautiful of course.  You don’t seem to be the kind of guy that battles for 40 minutes to take the perfect photo, yet the point still gets across perfectly fine, and the beauty of your work is seemingly effortlessly expressed in your photos.  Your work looks the same in person as it does in photos, meaning they heal fantastically and your methods are true.  What is a key piece of advice for other color realism artists as far as creating pieces that are built to hold up and last?

Thank you man!  I think its important to keep in mind a lot of things before even starting the tattoo.  What kind of tattoo does the client want?  Will the colors and composition work with their skin tone and flow of the body?  I also like a lot of contrast, and complementary colors working together.  I’ve done my fair share of tattoos that don’t hold up over time.  I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes and put just as many dark colors in a piece as well as light colors.  Also, my shop has a ton of lights with a very natural tone.  So ambient light is everywhere.  It makes it almost easy to take pictures.  

Has social media helped or hurt the tattoo culture overall? How so?

I think it has helped a lot more than it has hurt.  Only judging by how far tattooing has come in the past 10 years. From the supplies to the artist, everything has vastly grown and social media has been a first hand look in to our day to day lives.  Just being able to see what your favorite artist has been doing that day is pretty cool.   I’m sure half the people out there may think it has hurt the industry, but I try not to focus on the bullshit.

In an industry where your clients very well may be the death of you because of how high maintenance and unreasonable they can be at times, how do you stay sane and keep the energy to create at such a high level?  How many days do you tattoo per week?

I usually only work 3 days a week.  I feel like it’s a nice pace for my life at the moment.  I choose to tattoo what I want.  I dont give in with requests that dont fit my agenda of placement or style.  Some people may think that sounds snobby, but hey that’s what I choose.  I also have sort of a blanket statement that goes over all kinds of stuff.  It basically says that I will take into consideration what you want, but at the end of the day, I will be in control of the final imagery and placement etc.  I give you the option to bail before we go any further in case you aren’t comfortable with my process.  If you have the ability to do something exactly how you want to, then do it.  Don’t worry about what people will think.  Do exactly what you want until you can’t possibly do it anymore.

Influences in the industry growing up?

It started in my dads garage.  Looking at the half naked ladies in his tattoo magazines he hid in the toolbox, haha.  Marty Holcomb and Jonathan Shaw were some of the first people I remember seeing in those magazines.  Later in life when I started tattooing, I found realism.  Something I never knew was possible.  Josh Carlton, Mike DeVries, Mike Damasi, Nikko Hurtado, Monte, Robert Hernandez and so many more have been big influences on me.  They have all pushed the bar in some way and I have admired all the people who have paved the way in the world of realistic type tattoos.    

What are the biggest (positive or negative) changes you have seen in the tattoo industry since you first entered up until this point?

Big changes….hmm.  I won’t say if they are positive or negative but I’ll  list a few.   Conventions, sponsorships, equipment, number of tattooers.  So many changes that have impacted the industry and changed it into what it is now.

If for some reason you were to get sporadically get tattooed tomorrow, who would it ideally be done by?

Robert Hernandez.  I’ve always wanted a tattoo from him. Number one on the bucket list.

This industry is getting more and more competitive every day, I believe much of that due to the fact that social media is skyrocketing.  You have made a huge name for yourself, and gained respect of  hundreds of thousands of people.  Top piece of advice for artists who are aspiring to make their mark like you have?

Put your head down and get to work.  Most people that are successful get out there and get after what they want. Don’t worry about your status or how many people follow you.   Do what you love, work hard, meet new people, travel.  Just a few things  I’ve done that have directly impacted my life.  Spend time making your mark, and people will notice.

Thanks a ton Kyle!  I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview.  Make sure you check out more of his incredible work @kylecotterman

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