Like many tattoo artists before him, Tony Goeke got into tattooing when a shop opened up in his hometown.
"A shop opened up in my town [Richmond, Indiana], and I ran into one of the guys who owned it," Goeke says. "He was trying to get more people to come in, so I started hanging out there, and that's how I got started."
In 2006, Goeke moved to Arizona to start over fresh after the shop in Indiana closed down. Goeke made a name for himself in the Valley by tattooing at Divinity Tattoo before switching to his current location, Love and Hate Tattoo & Piercing.
Over the years, Goeke has developed a personal style of tattooing that doesn't really fit into any one label, except "well-rounded."
"I think I'm a pretty well-rounded artist," Goeke says. "I don't specialize in portraits, but I can do realism. I'm pretty comfortable doing most styles of tattoos, but if there's someone in the shop better than me (at a particular style), I'll let them do it."
Part of the reason for Goeke's diverse tattooing skill set is that he's learned from and been influenced by so many different artists.
"Well, Brian Brenner taught me how to tattoo, but I've been influenced by a lot of guys," Goeke says. "Definitely Paolo Acuna from Divinity, Tony Klett, Joshua Carlton and St. Marq, but there are a lot of others, too."
Goeke, who's also an avid painter when he's not tattooing, thinks that while people are definitely more aware of good and bad tattoos now than when he started in the industry, the television shows where people "learn" about tattooing don't set realistic examples.
"It's nothing like it's portrayed on TV," Goeke says. "A lot of people come in with ideas and they want it exactly like their idea is, but it just doesn't align with what would make for a good tattoo. They see it on TV and they just think that's how it works."
At this point, Goeke definitely knows something about what makes for good tattoos, considering that over the last few years he's placed in the top three for "Large Color" at many of the state's most prominent tattoo conventions, including Hell City, the AZ Tattoo Expo and the Tucson Tattoo Expo.
What are some of your tattoos? I pretty much just have mostly skulls. I like them because every artist has a different version of a skull, so it's something that's easy to compare different styles. Most of the time, I get a tattoo to learn the style of the artist tattooing.
What's a memorable tattoo you've done? I tattooed a date on a guy one time, and I went through all of the stuff like, "You're sure this is the right date?" and everything before I did it. He called a week later and said it was the wrong date, so he came back in and I had to change a 2 to a 1. It was on his hand so he just had this big 1 on his hand. Two weeks later, he called me again to say he had it right the first time and change it back to a 2, so it was just a huge 2. People forget that they can't rely on an artist to know the right date or bible verse. There's no way for us to know that.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo? I guess the longevity of it. Not just how it's going to look in a year but how it's going to look when it's five or 10 years old.
What do you look for in an artist or a tattoo shop? Definitely being creative. I want them to give me an idea to make the tattoo better. I don't want my idea to be the best.
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Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could? I probably wouldn't change much of anything, because it made me who I am today.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? Figure out what it is you want, then let your artist figure out how to make it look good. That's assuming you find a capable artist though, not so much just anybody. Don't trust just anybody with that freedom make sure their stuff is good first.