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Watercolor Wizard Justin Nordine Opens Up

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What pulled you toward tattooing as a career?

I was teaching for 5 years and realized it wasn't something I really wanted, or saw myself doing for the next 25 years. Each year I got to teach a week long intensive about a specific subject, my last year I did a class on the history of tattooing. I had to do all the research and write the curriculum for the class. I had been getting tattooed since I was 19 and so doing a class on it seemed great as I had an invested interest in it and a lot of students were interested as well. The class was a hit, we traveled to Denver studios and I realized that I wanted to take it further and get into the art of tattooing. During the class, the students came up with a mock up studio called, The Raw Canvas. When I left and opened my own studio, I named it The Raw Canvas, in honor of my students.

The majority of your Instagram is a watercolor-like design with strategic lines creating a streamlined, precise design. When did you decide this was going to be your go-to strategy?

Learning to do watercolor style tattoos wasn't easy, there is a lot of skepticism of how long it will last. I have seen a lot of wrong ways people do them and for me, it wasn't about diluting your inks or throwing splatters here and there. Each piece Is thought out enough to know where and how it should flow. As I have continued to develop my style, I have landed on the pen like structures and the underlay of color. I do this because it creates a solid image to work from as well as a great juxtaposition of structure (strong lines) and chaos (color and movement). I think the two elements they create are very striking imagery.

Do you find that with the techniques that you use, that the watercolor portion lasts a long time?

In the beginning of doing this style it was a lot of trial and error and my clients were made aware of this. As time has gone on, I have fine tuned it enough to know that the colors will last, it really is using your basic tattooing techniques, color packing, etc. My goal is to create the illusion of transparency so it looks like watercolor without sacrificing the importance of really packing the color. I do this by using a variety of colors, so if I did blue, I end up using 4-5 different shades of blue to create these soft transitions (ALWAYS USE BLACK). I run my machines very differently so I don't over work the skin with as much color as I am packing and I work from light to dark, people often wonder how I don't muddy up my colors! By combining these techniques and NOT USING WATER OR WITCH HAZEL to dilute my inks, I can create that illusion of transparency and watercolor look, knowing the colors will last.

When did you start using Apple technology to work on your designs? Does it make your process easier?

I started using Apple products for my work about 2-3 years ago though very minimally in the beginning. Once Apple came out with the Apple iPad Pro, that was a game changer for me and even more so with the introduction of the Apple Pencil, the process is much more streamlined. The majority of my clients fly in from all over the world so I don't see them until they arrive. This makes my consults very in-depth and with the technology we have now, I can design a full piece using their body on my iPad to show them exactly how it will look. I can make changes on the fly, show different sizing options, etc., it’s really an amazing new tool to use. I now use an iPad to control my machine as well as transfer images so I have an "easel" that shows me my references while I am tattooing, I can zoom in and out, it’s very helpful. I have an iPad streaming and recording my pieces as well so I can save a time-lapse or go live to showcase the process to the internet.

Considering that you use high tech equipment to create gorgeous tattoos, would you ever consider trying any other new technology that could be created in the future?

I am always open to new technology. I’m not into the idea of a machine doing the tattoo. I think that human to human interaction is what makes getting a tattoo so amazing. So I’m not a huge fan of that, but technology is here to stay and we might as well embrace it.

Out of all the conventions you’ve visited, which one is your favorite to work at and why?

That’s a touchy one! I have done so well, so many, and have been treated really great too! My first convention was in 2014 at the Villain Arts Chicago show, I was terrified. No idea what to expect, especially with my style at that time being so new to the industry. However, I was welcomed with open arms, took home some awards for pieces I had done at the show, it was a really great experience.

Is there a tattoo design that you have created that you really want to do on someone but haven’t yet?

Most of my designs are not developed until after I speak to the client, I am really inspired by stories and the human journey. I really wanted to start doing full body abstract pieces and now that’s happening!

What is one of your favorite designs that you’ve completed?

I think one of my most recent pieces I did, the Iris and Fibonacci symbol is currently a favorite of mine as well as the two birds with structured lines. Both images play on that idea of structure versus chaos. I think they both work visually really well and I really enjoyed doing both of these pieces. I've currently started a non-profit organization called, Don't S.INK: Live a Colorful Life (www.donthink.org), I’m really passionate about those that suffer from mental illness, anxiety, depression,etc. This foundation is to help support survivors of suicide using the art of tattooing to bring those stories to life and open up the doors to start talking about suicide and how we can help those that suffer. It’s the human element that inspires me, so any piece I do that celebrates life, from the good to bad, I have enjoyed tattooing it.

Tell us about “Beyond The Canvas?” How long did full body tattoos take to complete for that project?

Beyond the Canvas is a project I have been wanting to see into fruition for years. I really loved the idea of traditional body suits but with my take on it. The idea of a human body as a walking canvas, something you could come and see in a fine art gallery, was so inspiring to me. So I started thinking about how this would work, doing non-objective pieces that focused on movement and flow with the body as a whole. We are doing a lot of video and timelapse with these pieces, I hope to show them at large galleries around the country in the near future. I am still looking for people to join the movement, I’m planning on anywhere from 8-10 sessions average with each being about 7 hours. That’s a basic estimate, could be much more!

Where can we find you when you’re not tattooing?

When I am not tattooing I am a full time dad and husband, my kids are very busy, my daughter specifically. She does competitive cheer and dance and I am very involved with her gym. I’m not really a coach, but there to support the girls and work with the cheer and dance groups. I’ve also really gotten back into fitness, sitting as a tattoo artist, things start to get a little soft so I am glad to be back in the gym. I am also a big movie guy, I love sitting down for a few hours, no distractions and getting lost in a movie.

What’s your favorite type of music to listen to when you’re creating or tattooing?

I am a big fan of most music. I love Indie alternative, but when it comes to my bread and butter, I always go to EDM (ZEDD, Test, The Chainsmokers, etc). I find that it elevates my mood and keeps me focused. I don't really listen to words, it’s the beat and sound that really drive me.


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