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Pat Fish

Artist Interview


Artist of the Month

Pat Fish

Pat Fish



Santa Barbara, S. CA USA

Years in the Biz: 20


BAW: What made you want to become a Tattoo Artist?
PF: I wanted an art occupation that would give me a constant challenge, direct contact with my clients and role models and heroes to learn from.

BAW: Who are your influences?
PF: Cliff Raven is my tattoo mentor, and his foundation in appropriate attitudes and sterilization methods set me off on the right path.  Since then Chuck Eldridge of the Tattoo Archive and Lyle Tuttle of the Tattoo History Museum have been unfailing sources of wise advice, and Lionel Titchener of the Tattoo Club of Great Britain
and Lou Robbins of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party have been most helpful and kind.

BAW: What is your favorite style of work?
PF: I find that Celtic art holds my attention best, and I am more challenged by it than other forms. It suits my technical abilities, I like strong clean lines and the way graphic patterns pin-stripe the body. I particularly enjoy being able to make ancient designs live again in skin, as they did for the ancient Celts.

BAW: Tell us about your first Tattoo Inkspierence?
PF: The first time I can remember being aware of tattooing was walking on the boardwalk at the Pike in Long Beach, California and hearing the buzzing sounds and knowing that something forbidden was going on inside there. And I clearly remember seeing Janis Joplin interviewed by Dick Cavett on TV in about 1967 and seeing her bracelet that Lyle Tuttle tattooed on, and knowing someday I'd have permanent jewelry too.

BAW: What is your favorite piece you own?
PF: Funny to think of OWN, how about WEAR? I look at my right arm the most, and never tire of it and am always glad I made the choice to have Don Ed Hardy do it, so I guess it qualifies as my favorite personal ink. It is a swirl of flames surrounding the Aberlemno circle from a cross gravestone in Scotland,
becoming flaming Monarch butterflies at the shoulder.

BAW: What is your most memorable Tattoo given and why?
PF: I think doing a Celtic Cross while the Turner Broadcasting crew filmed me for the Women of the Ink TV show, broadcast in 1998, is the one I think of most. I don't personally watch TV at all, but 6 million people saw that show and since then it has definitely marked a huge turning
point in my career.

BAW: What is your most outrageous tattoo given and why?
PF: In terms of the one that outrages the most people, it would have to be the Dead Virgin of Guadeloupe on my pal Samczyk.
We took a traditional Mexican religious image, and the skeleton woodcut drawings of the Mexican artist Posada, and blended them together. Everyone seems to be offended by it! So of course I made it into a T-shirt that I sell on the website!

BAW: Is there a part of the body you won't Tattoo and why?
PF: I have a feeling that people who get facial tattoos are more likely to commit suicide, and I wouldn't want to be responsible. I don't do any cosmetic work because Raven told me "Those people are wanting to be made perfect, and since you can never make them perfect, don't try, they'll
never be satisfied. Stick with making people more peculiar." Also I won't work on hands, because it'll likely make it more difficult for them to get a job, and then my taxes pay for their dole. And I won't do toes because they'll blur. Oh, and I won't do anyone's genitalia, and I never take the heavy breathers seriously when they phone up and ask me to do it. Ick!

BAW: Do you feel that female Tattoo Artists are treated fairly in the business? How do you feel things have changed for women in tattooing as well as yourself and when you started out.
PF: Everyone has been very nice to me, I've never had any problems getting help and guidance. I did have to learn to drink more, after I realized that the best secrets were being revealed at conventions in the bar. I get a lot of emails from people who insist that they are being discriminated against, but I was extremely lucky that I had already done a university BA in art before I wanted to tattoo, so I had the
foundation in pen and ink artwork to be able to start learning the craft and morals of tattooing and apply those art skills.

BAW: Do you support supply co. that sells to the public?
PF: Sure. You can't stop anyone from tattooing if they are determined to and here in California anyone who has done any time in jail can learn how to make a tattoo machine out of a walkman motor. So it isn't about access to tools, it is about the Health Department shutting down the scratchers. The laws are changing quickly
and it will be harder and harder for people to work illegally. It is a heartbreak for me when people choose to go to the heroin addict in my town who operates without an autoclave, but eventually the laws will start being enforced here and he'll move on. In the meanwhile all I can do is offer a hygienic alternative, and hope that the public cares enough to look for a clean shop with a moral commitment to sterilization.

BAW: Do you feel there now should be mandatory schooling for soon to be tattoo artists?
PF: I like the apprenticeship system. I think having it operate as a lineage, you taught him, he taught her, a line of information traveling through the years, is wonderful. I deeply respect the people who have helped me through the years, and I hope to make them proud by my development. No book or seminar could possibly take the place of that. But I definitely back and have personally taught seminars at tattoo
conventions in sterilization techniques and on the methods of doing Celtic tattoos. I believe in sharing information back, for the benefit of the trade as a whole. Soon the laws will require annual attendance at seminars about sterilization techniques for anyone with a tattoo license, and CPR certification, and that can't hurt. Knowledge is power.

BAW: Do you feel Tattooing has changed over the years, and if so why?
PF: The basic job description is the same;
but there certainly are a lot of very young people tattooing now who seem to think they are "naturals" and don't want to learn from anyone.... they create a lot of work whose wearers I see walking into my shop, asking how it can be repaired or covered up. By learning on their gullible friends, without benefit of a teacher, they create a lot of heartbreak. I think it is a matter of the public wanting something for nothing, and how can you possibly counteract that? There used to be a
K-Mart ad that said "If you can't tell the difference, why pay the difference?" That about sums it up. Unfortunately, some of the mistakes are permanent.

BAW: Do you think it is important to do as many conventions and shows as possible?
PF: I used to attend a lot, and really enjoyed working Dunstable in England for a chance to see the work of the Europeans. There are people trained in art academies there, especially in France, who are definitely pushing the
envelope of possibility... what they do is beyond what we knew a tattoo could look like. But I got very sick with latex allergy last year
and I haven't dared work at a convention since. But I have just found a little wearable air filtration device that should make it possible for me to work conventions again. So I'm
committing to going to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Maine in February of 2001;
and will be considering others also. When I do I will always post them on my calendar page:
so even though the best way to get a tattoo from me will always be a trek to the Left Coast, there is again a chance I might be coming to your neighborhood! I have especially loved giving lectures and slide shows, it is important to me that artists leave conventions with working knowledge to
challenge and inspire them to do better.

BAW: What advice can you give to someone who is starting or looking to get into the tattoo business?
PF: Find a mentor whose work you admire, get a lot of tattoos from them and ask to work for them and pay attention.

BAW: What could you say to someone who has had a bad first Inkspierence?
PF: Get it fixed or covered and move on. Everyone makes mistakes, that's life.

BAW: Please share any other comments or views or questions to the public you might have.
PF: For artists I'd say "position yourself in the marketplace" and tell potential clients what you like to do best. Very few artists can do everything, and if you can attract people who like what you like, it will be a joy. I now get to do mostly Celtic tattoos because for years I have tried to do more and more of them and word has gotten around. I can't do portraits, and I'll gladly refer to someone who can. No loss,
better for the client. For tattoo enthusiasts, I'd say make sure you see a portfolio for the artist you are considering, and look around the studio and demand that it have the same level of cleanliness as your dentist. Your life is in
their hands, and it is your responsibility to get the best that you can afford. And be patient; once you have it, it is there forever, so making a good choice of design and artist may take awhile.


Travel, subtropical ornamental horticulture, Irish Wolfhounds, Manx cats


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