Growing up, Jimmy Gee never really thought he'd be a tattoo artist.
Sure, he liked to draw, but never anything more serious than a design for a skateboard deck or a quick sketch in his notebook at school. Then he found a new hobby, and he started to take his art a little more seriously.
"I got into graffiti, and that's really where I learned to create something," Gee says. "Before that, it was nothing past skateboard shit. I haven't been active in years, but graffiti is where I learned about structure and how to put stuff together."
Gee briefly went to college before deciding that he'd rather be pursuing his art than academics. He dropped out of school when a friend suggested he draw up some tattoo sketches and get an apprenticeship.
Now 26, Gee currently works out of Tempe's No Regrets Tattoo Parlor, 1006 West University Drive, but the tattooing veteran of four years says that he's only recently learned to embrace his darker style of tattooing.
"One thing I've always noticed is that my tattoos are a little grittier than a lot of others," Gee says. "I used to hate that, but a lot of other tattooers have taught me to embrace it because it's my style, so I've learned to like it."
While Gee uses a traditional American style of tattooing, he doesn't necessarily confine himself to only tattooing the standard Americana designs, such as roses, skulls, and eagles.
"Traditional tattoos were just the first thing that I was drawn to," Gee says. "I really like the style of them, but the content might not be traditional. You can really do any kind of content with a traditional style."
Unlike a lot of tattooers, Gee isn't big on doing conventions, having only done two in his career. Instead, he turns to his friends and those around him in the tattooing industry when he wants a little extra inspiration.
"I really look up to my friends who tattoo," Gee says. "We all build off of each other, and I'm really lucky to have such talented friends. We all learn so much from each other and make each other better."
It's probably for the best that many of Gee's friends are involved in tattooing as well, because the tattooer says it's consumed most of his life at this point.
"I can't see myself doing any other job ever again," Gee says. "It's really all I care about anymore other than my family and friends. I don't skate anymore. I've been out of graffiti for years. It's to the point where I'll lay in bed and stare at my ceiling and see a skull or something. I'll be like 'Oh, I have to draw that right now!' Luckily, my lady's into it."
What are some of your tattoos? When I was apprenticing, I got tattooed mainly from the waist down. It's a lot of classic flash stuff, but it's really just a hodgepodge of different styles and stuff. I usually just have my friends tattoo me, so I get whatever they want to do.
What's a memorable tattoo you've done? I haven't had anything too wild, but there have been some pretty weird ones. One time, this lady came in and -- I'm not making any assumptions -- but she looked pretty rough and she smelled weird. While I was tattooing her, she made this weird pass at me and started talking about how she really needed some dick. As soon as I was done tattooing her I pretended like I had to rush to set up for my next tattoo so she would leave.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo? The structure of it and the emotion. I think when someone can really put a feeling into the tattoo, when it's not just a flat picture, that's really cool. Also, don't be afraid to use a lot of black and bold colors.
What do you look for in an artist or a tattoo shop? Somebody who knows how to put a tattoo together correctly. Structure and composition are really important in tattoos. I go straight to the portfolios to see what they can do.
Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could? Not really. A lot of it I just chalk up to learning. I got told early on that I was going to suck for a long time, and even when I thought I didn't suck anymore that I would still suck for a while.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? Check out the portfolios right of the bat. See who can bring to life what you see in your head. And try to find someone you vibe with, you don't want to deal with some dickhead the whole time. If you don't vibe with them, don't get tattooed by them.