Some tattoo artists aren't sure that they want to ink people for a living until later in life. For Jake Imler of Phoenix's Copper State Tattoo, that wasn't the case.
"My grandpa had a really big tattoo that I always loved, so that's what first got me interested in tattoos," Imler says. "I started my apprenticeship in 2006, right after I turned 18. I knew that's what I wanted to do."
A lot of young tattooers like to show off the skills and tricks they've learned by doing more complicated tattoos or finer details. Eight years after starting his tattooing career, Imler has become one of Phoenix's top young traditional tattooers, thanks largely to his belief that tattoos don't need, small ornate details that will fade with time.
"I like my tattoos to be clean, readable, and bright, so they're going to last," Imler says. "There are a lot of tattoos out there that aren't built to last. Tattoos need to be readable and to the point, even when they get older."
It shouldn't be a surprise that Imler believes in old-school traditional tattoos, as he draws inspiration from the past more than he does any current tattooer.
"I'm always inspired by the rich history of tattooing," Imler says. "It's been around for so long in so many cultures, the history really inspires me more than any one tattooer."
Imler's respect for the history of tattooing has paid off, as not only does it show in the clean lines and bright colors of his work, but tattooing has improved his life outside of the shop as well.
"Tattooing has definitely opened my eyes. It's been a positive experience so far and has really showed me right from wrong," Imler says. "Not only do I get to travel to places I might not usually get to go, but I also met my wife through tattooing."
Aside from making a name for himself in the Phoenix tattooing scene, Imler's work has been seen at tattoo shows and conventions all over the country. This year, he made stops in Hawaii and Fresno for two of the country's most prominent tattooing expos, as well as several smaller ones.
"I tend to like the shows that tattooers put on," Imler says. "I think they have a lot more integrity than some of the others that are put on by other businesses."
What are some of your tattoos? I just have a mishmash of a bunch of stuff. I don't have any big theme. I just get them whenever the time is right. I got this little rose by Rick Walters, which was really cool because he's such a legend.
What's a memorable tattoo you've done? When I first started tattooing, this guy came in for his 65th birthday. He looked all dirty like he might be a bum, and he wanted a vagina tattooed on his stomach. I told him it'd be something ridiculous like $800, and he said that was fine. I was working at a shop at the time where you didn't turn down work, so I did it. That was a weird one.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo? As long as it's readable and has integrity. You should be able to tell what it is and that someone really did their best work on it. You have to put the tattoo before your ego, because it's more about the tattoo than yourself.
What do you look for in an artist or a tattoo shop? Somebody with integrity who isn't afraid to turn someone away. I want someone who respects the craft and is going to give you their best on that tattoo. It's a tattoo, not just any product. It's not like you're just buying clothes or something.
Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could? Early in my career, I did some things that I wouldn't want to do now. Also, I got some tattoos that don't have any black in them, so they really didn't hold up well. I wouldn't do that again.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? Do your homework and find someone who won't lie to you. Talk to the person beforehand if you can and make sure they're cool.
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