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Kirk Alley

Artist Interview


Artist of the Month



Kirk Alley

BAW: What or who inspired you to want to become a
Tattoo Artist?
KA: I was actually asked to tattoo by an artist named Mike Smith in Sunland, CA. He had tattooed many of my designs and/or drawings on people at this time and wanted to know if I would like to learn the art and maybe work at his shop for a year in return for his teachings. This is how I started out.

BAW: Who are your influences and who do you trust with your own ink?
KA: That is a very tough question for me. I haven't really received much tattoo work in several years. I don’t think it's for lack of trust, it's more that I have a very hard time choosing the right images for myself. I tend to do the things that I warn my clients not to do, such as rushing into it and being a bit too spontaneous. All the work that I do on my clients is very thought through and well planned, for myself it just hasn't been. So lately, I get my tattoo kicks purely from the work I perform rather than receive. I will say that there are many tattoo artists out there that do some very nice work. Jason Schroeder at Incognito Tattoo in Pasadena is really good at some of the more traditional Americana type work and I hope that he will be working on me in the future. My friend Joe Schmoe is also very talented, but he is always on the road, I think he's currently working in Canada right now. I also had a few sittings of fix up and re-work by Greg James at Sunset Strip Tattoo about a year ago. He is awesome at very delicate grey wash Japanese style work.

BAW: Do you have a particular artist you would be interested in working with or meeting?
KA: There are too many to list. The talent that the business has spawned in the past five years is astounding. I am however, hoping to go out to DC and do some guest work at a shop that my friend, Frankie Orange works at. I will list the location and dates on my website when those dates are chosen.

BAW: What is your favorite style of work?
KA: Another tough question. I admire so many styles. I really don't have a favorite as long as it is well planned and executed. As you can see by my work, I do alot of very colorful tattooing, however this does not mean that I don’t like to work in black and grey or do work that is more graphic in nature. I like a challenge. I really enjoy doing work that is out of my norm. I think that doing work that's different keeps me on my artistic toes and forces me to expand my skills and mentally add images and styles to my imaginary library.

BAW: Tell us about the first tattoo you gave?
KA: To tell you the truth, I can't remember the very first one. I can remember one that I did about two weeks into it though, it was an ornate dagger with a Paul Booth inspired skull on the handle. I still have a photo of this piece in my portfolio. It's the oldest tattoo in my books and I still like it.

BAW: What is your most memorable / outrageous tattoo given and why?
KA: I have been asked to do some pretty weird things through the course of my tattoo journey, most of which, I turn down due to lack of taste, racism or plain lack of interest. I have done some very pornographic in nature work that is pretty wild. I don't have photos of those types of work in my portfolio though. I just don't think that everyone would appreciate them. Those type of images are better left viewed in private if you ask me. I did enjoy doing them and gave my best effort to portray them in an artistic manner. To tell you the truth, it's just damn fun to do. But I try very hard to instill a bit of class into this stereotypically classless art form and that kind of work just doesn’t fall into that category.

BAW: Have you ever inked anyone famous and what type of work did you do on them?
KA: I really don’t get much in the way of celebrity tattoo work. Even though I work in the movie studio capital of the world, I believe that my work is just not what they are looking for. Usually, most celebrities will venture more towards the smaller side of things. They will go to the nearest "walk in" type of shop and get a rose or heart or superman logo. I just don't do that kind of work. When I worked at Studio City Tattoo , we used to get alot of movie people in there. The owner at that time always took the work because for some reason it was really important to him to mingle with stars. Some of the tattoo artists in LA are under the impression that the more stars you tattoo and pose in pictures with, the better you are. That has nothing to do with talent to me. I prefer to do the work I do on the people that seek me out. After all, how many celebrities do you see with sleeves and backpieces?

BAW: What could you say was or is your greatest technical challenge in the business?
KA: Technical challenge? Ahhhh, the mystery of the never changing tattoo machine. That has to be it. This device had been practically unchanged since the day it was invented. Hell, we're still using rubberbands to keep things from bouncing around. There is no way to describe settings and adjustments on these bugars. The artist must just learn mostly by feel and many years behind the machine, just how it works. Very challenging. I've had machines that work beautifully for a period of time and then like a stubborn child, just stop performing and in their own little annoying way, told (me) to buzz off. All the adjusting, changing of springs and coils, and even throwing at the wall won't get it running again. It's a damn mystery to me! Correction, sometimes throwing it at the wall will work.

BAW: Is there a part of the body you won't Tattoo and why?
KA: Oh yes. Absolutely. Fingers, toes, palms and foot soles, all because they just cant hold pigment and age very quickly, leaving the client with a sixty year old tattoo in about six months or so. Also the face. I see alot of the facial tattooing going on now and I am not one to judge but I prefer not to work on people that are out to shock the world.

BAW: Do you support supply co. that sell to the public?
KA: Oh now we are talking politics. Hmmmm. Well, first off, I do know that I couldn't have made it without the supplies that I purchased from some of the more lenient supply houses. Non-professional tattooers will always be able to purchase or conjure up their own supplies. I don’t thing it's possible to regulate who receives and who doesn't. I mean tattooing has been going on for centuries without mail order tattoo supplies. The things that do make tattooing seem more like kids’ hobbies to me are the tattoo kits in the magazines. I find that kind of funny and would laugh at anyone who was using one of those things. But hey, we all have to start somewhere, and not everyone can afford a five thousand-dollar apprenticeship. I know I couldn't when I started.

BAW: Do you feel that there now should be mandatory schooling for soon to be tattoo artists?
KA: As far as sterility and disease control, yes. As far as art, no. Who can be the judge of who is artistically qualified? There is a market for the sixth grade level of artist right on up to the fine art and classically trained. No-one can make that call.

BAW: Do you feel Tattooing has changed over the years, and if so why?
KA: In the past six or seven years the popularity of tattooing all over the world has produced an overwhelming explosion in the numbers of new tattoo shops. There is practically one on every street corner in every city. By the way, I am one of those so I am not implying in any way that I have a problem with this. The abundance of talent in this field has also gone through the roof. Tattooing just isn't what it was ten years ago. The work that is coming out of these gifted artists and onto the hydes of the very lucky indeed, is just amazing. I look around at other artists’ work and am floored everytime I open a new tattoo mag. I don’t think it has a thing to do with new colors or needle configurations, it's just that the business has become lucrative and attracted major talent to the body art ring. And a ring it is, this is a very competitive business, and I have a feeling that in the next few years we will be seeing more original work and less numbered flash designs being done. The tattoo collector is becoming very wise and many are appalled at the idea of picking a generic design off a wall. In a nutshell, I would predict that the serious artists and talent will survive the overpopulation as do conventional artists, and the more ordinary designers will fade away. Some may have to starve like most artists do before making a descent living at it if ever at all.

BAW: Do you think it is important to do as many conventions and shows as possible and if you do attend do you make it a point to attend guest lectures and seminars?
KA: I have worked only one convention in my life. And to tell you the truth, I'm not sure if it's in my cards to do it again. I enjoy the conventions as an audience member, but the tattooing side of it is what I consider to be "combat tattooing". Some can work under those conditions but I have selected to work alone for a reason. It is much easier for me to give my total attention and dedication to a piece if I am not on display like a zoo animal. That kind of atmosphere is very distracting to me and I'm very happy doing it the way I am. This, however does not mean that I wont ever hop on a plane and work a convention, it would just have to be very laid back, maybe just a few hours of work each day, and just mingle the rest of the time. As far as seminars, I've never been so I can't really comment on their value or importance.

BAW: Do you support artists that can not technically draw but can trace and shade a tattoo stencil?
KA: I think that there is a market for every level of skill in this business. I have yet to see a tattoo shop close down because the artists only did flash. As a matter of fact, some of the more successful shops thrive on flash. I except everyone in this business as long as they are tattooing responsibly.

BAW: What advise can you give to someone who is starting or looking to get into the tattoo business?
KA: Seek out and absorb all the information that you can get your hands on. Go to shops and make friends and learn, learn, learn. Don't rely on just one artists views, and don't be afraid to get inspiration from published work by other artists. If you like a piece that you find in a magazine, try to imitate it. Don't copy it, just try to emulate techniques. Also, keep a mailing list of your customers. Only work at a shop that will allow this as you are surely to move around a bit when you get started in the business. This will ensure that you can keep track of and inform clients of location changes. This business is very much like a hair stylist, the more clients that you bring in, the better your take home percentage will be.

BAW: Please share any other comments or views or questions to the public you might have.
KA: Once my grandmother asked me if I was still doing tattoos on people for a living. I said, "yes I am" and she said, " What a shame, you are such a talented artist, why don't you do art for a living?" I think that I would like to see the day when tattooing is considered an art form by the world as a whole. Until then, all we can do is stay creative and challenge ourselves in this medium. One day the art form of tattooing will be considered fine. I can only hope that I will be included. Thank you.


Name: Kirk Alley
Location: Studio City, CA
Years In the Biz: 12

I work alone at my single artist shop in Studio City, CA. Located ten minutes north of Hollywood. This shop is not open for walk-in business and all work is by appointment. Potential clients may phone (818) 506-6046 for directions.


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