Josh Duffy has always been fascinated by tattoos. From the moment he got his first tattoo at the age of 21, he knew it was what he wanted to do for a living.
Fast forward to present day, and Duffy has moved out of the slums of Los Angeles to being on the brink of opening up his own tattoo shop, Black Castle Art Co., in the Valley of the Sun.
"I just wanted to give my family -- my wife and my three kids -- what I didn't have growing up," says Duffy, who moved to Arizona in April. "I was just looking for a change of pace. L.A. wears you down."
Along with his family, Duffy brings over his renowned black-and-gray realism tattoos, which have won him awards at conventions across the globe.
"I used to do a lot of conventions. I like them. I got third place in London for black and gray, which is one of the biggest in the world," Duffy says. "I don't do as many conventions as I used to these days. I'm more focused on getting my shop open right now."
For Duffy, opening up Black Castle is sure to bring a whole new set of challenges, but he's ready to take them all on. For him, it means a chance to finally do things his way.
"Opening my own shop is exhilarating. It's been a lot of work, but it's all worth it," Duffy says. "I finally get to play by my own rules."
Of course, for a veteran tattoo artist like Duffy, owning his own studio is just the next phase of his journey. Duffy, who's been tattooing for well over a decade, has seen the public perception of tattoos and tattooers change quite a bit, but not as much as he thinks it should.
"People still look down on tattoos and judge people who have them right away," Duffy says. "It's still less acceptable than a nose job or breast implants, but it's definitely bigger now because of the TV shows and everything."
While Duffy doesn't appear to have the kind of disdain for tattoo television shows that some artists hold, he certainly realizes that the increased popularity of tattoos, and the increased awareness and viability of being a tattoo artist as a profession, has caused some saturation in the tattoo market.
"The shows can be detrimental for those who have been tattooing for a long time, because it made tattooing much more popular," Duffy says. "It makes it harder because there are so many more tattoo artists, or people who think they can be tattoo artists, out there now."
What are some of your tattoos? I've had a few different artists work on some of my tattoos, so if I could go back and do it over to have each one done by a single artist, I would. I have a big horse chariot that's an ode to aliens and religion. I also have this big six-horn demon just because I like dark art like that.
What's a memorable tattoo you've done? I usually remember the tattoo, not the face of the person. There was one guy not too long ago, he was clearly drunk. He said he'd had two fifths of Jack Daniels. I thought I was going to have to kick him out. He forgot my name, he tried to pay the wrong person. He's blacklisted from getting tattooed by one of us ever again.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo? That the person getting the tattoo is serious and committed to it.
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What do you look for in an artist or shop for your own tattoos? That they're completely dedicated to the craft of tattooing. That they're interested in it every moment of every day. They have to love it. If the passion isn't in it, then it doesn't matter how good your work is, I'd still say no thanks.
Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could? I think I would just because I wasn't introduced to the artists and techniques I know now. There's way more that you can do now than you could do when I started tattooing.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? Make sure it's what you want to get, and make sure you're well-fed, hydrated and slept well the night before. Research your artist, make sure he's the right person to do it.