When Ian Loughlin's brother bought him a tattoo kit and asked for a tattoo, he probably didn't expect it to lead to a career.
"I was just doing graffiti and drawing at the time, and I was getting tattooed myself a lot, so my brother just asked me to tattoo him," says Loughlin, now one of the Valley's top artists at Disciple Tattoo in Chandler. "The kit came with some fake skin to practice tattooing on, but I wanted to really learn how to tattoo before I tattooed my brother."
Since spending 2007 as an apprentice at a shop in Glendale, Loughlin has used the last six years to hone his craft and improve as an artist. The 30-year-old specializes in highly detailed realistic tattoos, even though he realizes that the details of his artwork won't last forever.
"I do a lot of black and gray portraits, and I put a lot of attention to detail into my tattoos," Loughlin says. "I know all the details aren't going to look great 40 years down the line, but I'd rather have a really awesome looking tattoo for 10 years. You'll still be able to tell what it is, you just won't see some of the little details in it."
Loughlin took home first and second place at this year's Body Art Expo in Phoenix for large black and gray pieces. For him, conventions aren't about winning awards, they're about being able to travel and learn as an artist.
"I do a lot of East Coast conventions, places like Baltimore. I like doing any convention I can," Loughlin says. "They help advance yourself and your tattooing, and if you're not always trying to get better then you probably shouldn't tattoo."
What are some of your tattoos? I've got my cars on my arm. I'm getting some of this stuff on my other arm covered up because it's not as good as it could be. I've got this big gangster unicorn from my buddy, Chipp. I didn't realize it at the time, but Chipp's one of those guys where if you say something, he's going to do it. We were sitting around one night and this idea of a gangster unicorn came up. When I came back the next morning he had already drawn it up, and I had to get it once he drew it up.
What's a memorable tattoo you've done? I don't know about ones I've done, but when I got my neck done it was pretty memorable. It was at a convention. I got it done by Klown from Lifestyle Tattoos in L.A., and I had to go on back to back days, so yeah, I won't forget that.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo? The accuracy and the clean line work, clean color, smooth gradients. It's got to look exactly like what it's supposed to look like. It's got to be accurate.
What do you look for in an artist or a tattoo shop? I really don't give a shit about the skill. If you're a cool guy, I'll get a tattoo from you. You have to enjoy the experience; it doesn't have to have meaning. If I want to get that tattoo or I want to get a tattoo from that person, I'll get that tattoo. I'm collecting tattoos from friends and cool people.
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Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could? It's all a learning curve. The first ones you do aren't your best, so when you see them you just want to fix them, or you just don't want to see them again. It's part of the process though. I would've looked for more information on the rules of Japanese tattoos and the rules of traditional tattoos, because I knew some of that but not enough. Ultimately, I wouldn't change anything.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? Make sure you've looked at the work and trust their art before you get a tattoo from someone. Make sure it's someone you want to spend a couple hours with. If there's a negative air, that's going to be there when you're getting your tattoo, and you don't want that. Treat it like buying a car, most people will take their time and shop around when they're buying a car, but they'll just walk into a shop to get a tattoo.