Jen Lee started tattooing in 1995 in San Francisco. She has a love of vintage imagery, and borrows from multiple sources ranging from the early 1900s through mid-century to shape her unique style.
Anne Kelly (00:12):
This is Art the Raw tonight. We’re talking to Jen Lee. John is a tattooer at Ed Hardy’s tattoo city in San Francisco on your host and Kelly. Thanks for joining us tonight, Jen. Thanks for having me. And, and where are you joining us from tonight?
Jen Lee (00:32):
I’m in the bay area. Uh, I mean, I live in the east bay right outside of San Francisco and in a close location. I’m just kidding. Welcome to my little,
Anne Kelly (00:40):
I like the colors. I’m a big fan of pink and I was a teenager. I thought we weren’t supposed to like pink or something.
Jen Lee (00:47):
Yeah, it was way too tough when I was a teenager, but it’s pink has been a color that has gone in, it has gone through phases for me, but I’d say like, I’ve, I’ve liked it all the way through, but you know, it’s definitely, it’s had its its high moments and it’s the last couple of years it’s been, uh, been having a, I think it’s kind of just been, it’s been kind of popular in general the last handful of years, but I’m embracing it. I just got a hot pink, like 1970s wedding dress. So, which is very cool for, I made it a wedding dress. It wasn’t a, it wasn’t a wedding dress, but yeah.
Anne Kelly (01:20):
Are you, are you from the bay area originally or
Jen Lee (01:25):
Let’s here more years than anywhere else in my lifetime, but I originally, originally, originally from the east coast, but we moved to Southern California when I was a little kid, like six years old and I grew up in Southern California and then moved up here when I was 18. So, um, and then I moved around a little bit from here, but came back and I I’ve mostly been here, my, my adult life. So I spent some years on the east coast. Like I lived in New York for a little while and my family is all from Pennsylvania and I I’ve visited there quite a bit. Uh, and I have friends in Rhode Island and Boston and you know, so I’ve spent a lot of time out there, but uh, I’m definitely California. I’m like bay area, California. Pretty pretty.
Anne Kelly (02:09):
I’ve never lived in California, but I’ve visited there frequently over the years and particularly San Francisco, I think I’ve been there every March for about 10 years or so. So it’s, it’s felt, I dunno, it has a special place. So
Jen Lee (02:22):
You come out here for a specific reason. Every March, usually
Anne Kelly (02:25):
I would come out every March for this event at the San Francisco art Institute. Yeah.
Jen Lee (02:31):
We’re supposed to be in Paris and March. Um, I do a convention over there every March and as I was like, just looking at the numbers in Europe, like watching those numbers and watching and watching, I was like, there’s no way this is going to happen. You know? And uh, obviously at the time had no idea how catastrophic this whole thing was going to be, but, um, but yeah, so I ended up canceling my trip, but uh, but then that the convention was canceled and every convention this year has been canceled and yeah, so I mean obviously, but you know, it’s kind of been okay. I mean, obviously not for the world or the state of things or whatever, but for myself personally, my own little bubble, um, kind of slowing down a little bit has, has been okay for me as much as I really love traveling.
Jen Lee (03:21):
And I’m really actually starting to miss it and starting to miss my friends that I see when I get to go to all these places. Uh, I know a lot of people were kind of happy to step off the treadmill for a year and just kind of catch their breath a little, you know, there is this culture of like crushing it, I’m working every day, I’m painting and then I’m tattooing . And I just did this and I, you know, it was like you you’ve, and especially since Instagram, there’s always this pressure to like produce, produce, produce, you know? And, and I think that people even during quarantine were feeling that pressure and becoming really depressed because of it was like, you know, oh, I feel like I’m supposed to be productive now, still. And there were all these things of like, you know, group challenges. And I was like, oh my God, I’m just gonna paint my kitchen cabinets. You guys like, can we stop pressing it for a minute and just get some other done?
Jen Lee (04:14):
The shop was closed. Like no one was allowed to work in San Francisco, uh, tattooing for, it was almost seven months. It was six and a half months. So I ended up, I did do a lot of painting, you know, proud of what I did do. And honestly, I was a little bit sad when it was over because I felt like I was really just hitting a stride with like a series of stuff that I wanted to keep exploring. And once I started tattooing again, like that’s really where all of my creative energy goes. And so it’s hard to keep painting and tattooing at the same time between tattoo
Anne Kelly (04:44):
And being an artist. What, how did, what was the order of those things? How did that kind of come to be?
Jen Lee (04:51):
I mean, I definitely, um, was a really creative kid growing up and I felt like I was, I was a little too comfortable calling myself an artist when I was growing up, you know, just, I feel like now it’s like, I feel like, yeah, being an artist is like a term that I have wrestled with, you know, because I feel like it sounds pretentious in a lot of ways or there are so many like labels that get attached to it as far as being like slidy or, you know, um, whatever. Uh, but yeah, definitely as a kid, like I was super creative, my mom was really creative, um, and is still really creative. Um, and, uh, and I, and, and early on again too, I was just, I was kind of an awkward kid. I didn’t really fit in. Um, and, but that was like where I found a lot of, uh, of my self-worth that’s where I got a lot of praise and encouragement and, you know, people, it was like the thing that I did that people couldn’t do that they thought was cool or whatever.
Jen Lee (05:49):
And, um, so yeah, I just, I, I always just was like, I’m going to be an artist, you know, like there was no other, um, thing I could think of to do. And then I, you know, went to art school, ended up being an art school dropout. Where did you go to art school? Um, I went to, it was at the time it was called California college of arts and crafts. It was named after the arts and crafts movement. Apparently a lot of people had a hard time with that name and then they ended up changing it to California college of the arts, which is what it’s called now, which I hate, I think is completely generic and says nothing. And I love, I loved the fact that originally it was started from this movement that I felt was so important and I wish I could have carried on.
Jen Lee (06:36):
And I wish it was more a part of our culture these days. That’s where I started and didn’t finish. But I started out in illustration because I was like, well, I’m going to be an artist that I need to do something practical because you know, I need to make a living at this. I had no, um, you know, delusions thinking that I was going to make a living, being a painter even then. And this was in 94 or something. I could even see that like, okay, I’m probably not going to be able to make a living, just being an illustrator. Like everything was very much moving just toward graphic design. And I didn’t want to sit at a computer all day. And then I fell in love with printmaking and did that for a while. Um, still loved printmaking, actually have a little press, but it’s in storage, but, um, nothing was really landing as far as like how to make a living as an artist, you know, and, you know, I had gotten tattooed and I was getting tattooed and then it just kind of clicked one day where I was like, okay, I, I really like this environment.
Jen Lee (07:31):
Like this suits me, this it’s a craft. You know, it’s a, there’s a lot of components to it. It’s not, it’s very disciplined. It’s similar to printmaking in the sense that like you have these tools that really haven’t evolved that much in the last hundred or so years. It’s just something that was very raw and honest and had this amazing history. And I knew that. And then as I got into it, like realized just how much that was the case. And, uh, so, you know, I I’ve found very, uh, luckily found someone to teach me. It’s kind of started working as a tattooer when I was 20 and, uh, dropped out of school and never looked back, but I’ve always painted, you know, whenever I have the time to. So, so in terms of just getting into tattooing, I’ve heard that’s kind of hard to do.
Jen Lee (08:17):
That’s been a really interesting evolution since I started, I started in 95 and there was no, essentially no internet. There were no websites. There were no, there was no eBay or places that you can just order whatever you, you know, watch a YouTube video and learn how, you know, there was none of that. None of that, you know, the only way you could get in was really just pounding the pavement and, um, going to shops and being annoying and showing them your work and, you know, getting tattooed. And, and I have to be honest, I didn’t really have an official apprenticeship. I, a friend of mine had a friend who had been tattooing few years and he showed me some stuff, you know, out of my house and show me right though, I have to say for the situation, taught me about sterile chain of events and cross-contamination and how to keep myself clean and how to keep people safe.
Jen Lee (09:08):
And that was like lesson number one, lesson number two was making my own needles because you couldn’t buy needles from a supply company 25 years ago. So you had to take all the individual Nieder needles and solder them together in the groupings, uh, yourself, and then attach them to the needle bar. And then, you know, so it was a hole that was a whole craft in itself. And I’m really, really, really thankful. I don’t have to do that anymore. Only time consuming from there. I got a job at a place that like, you know, it was super scrappy, probably shouldn’t have been a tattoo shop, whatever. But through that, I met somebody who I’m still friends with and like, you know, she got me a job at like a really reputable place and, uh, kind of just worked my way up from there. So I never really had like one real apprenticeship.
Jen Lee (09:56):
I do feel like I had throughout my career. And even today I feel like, you know, there’s been so many people who have really taken me under their wing and, and taught me things, you know, there’s like a good, solid handful of different people that have been really influential. And I got really fortunate, you know, especially like learning in the bay area when I did as well. Uh, you know, things have become a lot more homogenized and, you know, think through like internet and then, especially in the last 10 years with social media, but at the time San Francisco was a really amazing little bubble, you know, like it was really a tattoo Mecca. And I, I got to learn here, which was really incredible and just a stroke of luck had like the first custom studio, all custom work, uh, in the, in the country.
Jen Lee (10:44):
And he really was a champion of that. He went and studied in Japan when like no white people were going over there and like learning to tattoo in Japan. Like that’s insane, you know, uh, you know, sixties, seventies building those relationships, but like learning from those guys because they were already doing these, like just amazing, like, you know, head-to-toe bodysuits, you know, and Western imagery was these like little, one point tattoos, which I think both are fantastic, but the United States really hadn’t seen that at that time, but he was huge in bringing that, that here. Um, and really like his influence, uh, with sailor, Jerry, who that’s a household name now he
Anne Kelly (11:23):
Lives in Hawaii.
Jen Lee (11:24):
Yeah. Yeah. So he was going, um, to Hawaiians sailor. Jerry was a mentor to ed at one point. And so Jerry was starting to do like incorporate Japanese work and whole body pieces into the traditional Western style. And then ed just kind of took it further from there.
Anne Kelly (11:44):
Well, and then for those who aren’t familiar at them tattooing, I mean, for the most part, people would just kind of have the option to walk in and pick out some. Right. Right. And people still do. There’s tons of great and historic flash hanging in tattoo city right now. So,
Jen Lee (12:04):
Yeah. Yeah. So it’s a really good mix of that. And I would say as far as I would say, modern flash is more people bringing in stuff on their phones, which is kind of a bummer. There’s this weird irony of people being like, oh, I don’t want what everybody else has, or I don’t want to just pick something off the walls, but then they just pick something that they saw on Google. And I’m like, uh, that’s way more generic than like getting some antique stuff off our walls. But I, I love flash. I love the idea of flash first real job that I worked at was a place called picture machine in San Francisco. And it, at the time it was the oldest, like as far as like same location, oldest shop in the city. It’s, it’s moved since then, but it was started by guy Martinek who, you know, his nickname was picture machine.
Jen Lee (12:51):
And he just like the flash like use was known for like the flash on those walls. And people would get that flash. And I was really, really influenced by that. And I still, I love that. Like I love painting flash. Like I love finding designs, you know, like going through thousands of vintage postcards and like a ton of like old magazines from the twenties and hair sheets from the fifties and catalogs of, you know, pulp magazine covers and all of this stuff. And, and I love going to all of that imagery to like figure out what can become a tattoo. And, uh, and that’s what all those old guys did. That’s what all the, you know, from the early 19 hundreds, hundreds, like throughout, until Google came along, that’s what we all did was just scoured, you know, trying to find images that we could turn into tattoos. And I still, I still love it. So I wish people would get more flash. It’s really fun,
Anne Kelly (13:48):
Custom tattooing that’s this new evolution and, and really cool thing. But I feel like to go get some, for example, sailor, Jerry flash would be really cool. And back to the history of the medium,
Jen Lee (14:02):
It’s weird. I started tattooing at a time when there was a really good mix of both because like right around the time that I started tattooing ed had done this, he had curated a show at the de young museum, or no, it was I’m sorry, the Yerba Buena center for the arts called, uh, Pierce hearts and true love. And it was a century of drawing for tattoos. And I feel like that really reintroduced a lot of flash back into the mix. And there was, uh, the catalog for, for that show, the purest hearts and true love book had a couple of sheets in that, that I just really gravitated toward and was really foundational for me as far as my style. But around that same time, he also bought the first sailor Jerry flash book. And I think that came out the year that I started tattooing.
Jen Lee (14:49):
It was the first one, the blue one, and was like really hugely influential that coupled with, you know, starting at picture machine. So flash has always been like a really big part of my upbringing in tattooing. And then even when I worked in New York, I worked at a shop that was like, people just pick stuff off the walls every time. Like that was what they wanted and they wanted it, like it was on the wall. They did not want your creative input. They picked a rose from the wall. They wanted that rose, they picked some tribal from the wall. They wanted it just as is, you know, I’d be like, let me fix it up for you. And they’re like, no, no, no, no. Like put that leaf back how it was, even if it was super wonky, you know, I’ve always done a mix of custom and flash.
Jen Lee (15:29):
And so that’s just, I feel like that’s like what runs through my veins really. Um, although mostly what I do these days is custom, which is great. It’s fun. And I thankfully am at a place where people are familiar enough with my style. And, and part of that is because of social media. I feel like as much as it can, I can get frustrated or like a little exasperated by it at times. Um, it is a really great tool for like steering the ship and being able to get to do what you want. You know, if you have an idea, you throw some paintings out there and eventually you’ll get to tattoo it, which is I do mostly custom stuff these days. I, people come to me for what I do. So it’s still really fun. And I’m in a position where if somebody comes to me for something custom and it’s really like, like if I can do a good job, I’ll take it on.
Jen Lee (16:15):
Even if it’s not quote unquote my style. Um, but sometimes people will come to me and I’m like, you know, my coworker will do a way better job of that. Like, that’s what he does. That’s not what I do. So that’s really nice too, being in that kind of environment, I’ve always been very comfortable if somebody comes to me for something that I’m know that, like, I know someone who can do this better and will enjoy it and you should go see this person being in that position. So I have my roots in like Americana and traditional whole vintage style. I feel like I do it with a little bit of a lighter hand, probably a spectrum of how that stuff can be done. And I’m on the more delicate side of it only has a little bit of a feminine edge. Uh, doesn’t have to, it’s got a solid line.
Jen Lee (17:01):
Everything I do has a solid line and black shading, but I’m not, uh, as some people might say, like ham-fisted with it as far as like a super heavy line and tons of black shading and traditional, but a little on the finer side. And how did you find your self working for ed Hardy? Uh, I did a guest spot. I was living in Denver at the time and, uh, came out for a couple of weeks to cover somebody who was going out of town and yeah, just got along well with the crew. I was looking to move back and I was like, you know how I could work at tattoo city? Like I would definitely move back, you know, but I was kind of put a feeler out there and didn’t expect much to come from it. Uh, but it was like, definitely have the idea of like, you know, I think I might, like the bay area just felt like home and was, was wanting to come back, but I needed a reason. I put the feeler out and a week or so later I got a phone call from ed asking me to if I wanted to come out. So, um, I had to sell my house. So I was like, ah, I need to sell my house real quick and I’ll be right out. So yeah, kind of went back and forth until I was able to like get out there full-time but yeah, so I was about 12 years in when that happened, but yeah, it was
Anne Kelly (18:23):
Cute. Pop up your Instagram.
Jen Lee (18:26):
My work is definitely like, has a feminine lean to it, but it’s not like cutesy or girly very easily can translate whatever, uh, you know, a guy wants and not have it look feminine.
Anne Kelly (18:39):
Jen Lee (18:40):
I love this. Thanks. Um, yeah. And that’s, uh, you just want to, uh, the Nautilus and a 20,000 leagues under the sea, uh, tattoos. So, uh, but yeah, he just kind of let me run with it and stuff like this is really fun because, you know, I was able to like go back and watch clips from the movie and piece some stuff together, like different ideas together and do Google homework. I feel like tattooing is, is really kind of an amazing world education, you know, so many different subject matters. You know, people bring you an idea, but then like, I go home and I do, unless they have specifics that they bring to me. Um, generally I go home and I research all this stuff and I do all the homework and I, you know, I want it to be right. And I want it to, if somebody wants something on them forever, like it matters enough that I get it right.
Jen Lee (19:28):
And even sometimes people don’t know, like they they’re like, oh, whatever, you know? And I’m like, no, this, this matters. Like not whatever, like I’m going to go do some digging and make sure that we do this. Right. But yeah. So that was a really, a really fun piece and definitely a little out of my wheelhouse, but I’m always happy for, to do, to take on those challenges. Like, like I said, especially if I feel like I can do it well, you know, if it’s a style that yeah. I can take most anything and do it, my style. So
Anne Kelly (19:56):
Just the table you’ve added here. How amazing is that? I mean, that’s almost a tattoo within a two with an attempt to
Jen Lee (20:06):
Thanks. Yeah. I love doing stuff like that. I find that, you know, it’s fun for sure. Like that’s the challenge is to make it special somehow, you know, where someone can look at it from across the room and be like, oh, that’s awesome. And then they get up close and they’re like, oh my God, look at that little thing, you know? And that’s, I find a lot of joy in that. So,
Anne Kelly (20:27):
No, I love that this is so cool color and
Jen Lee (20:33):
Yeah. Ink and watercolor and then a little bit of wash here and there,
Anne Kelly (20:38):
There is the full piece. Yeah. So that, that is great.
Jen Lee (20:42):
Thank you. Thanks. Yeah. I have a lot of fun with, like I said, I got to experimenting, which, you know, even when I’m tattooing, you know, sometimes, you know, I get invited to participate in either, you know, books or group projects or shows or whatever. And whenever the time comes, you just have to do something that I know I can do well. And I don’t really have a lot of time to experiment. And that’s one of the things that was really great about quarantine was that I, I did have time that it was like, well, this doesn’t work. There’s no pressure. I can throw stuff away and start over. And even with that, it was hard to like really let myself loosen up and experiment. But, um, but yeah, I did kind of start this little series that was pretty heavily influenced by a lot of pulp art that I was looking at at the time.
Jen Lee (21:29):
And I was watching a lot of, uh, a lot, a ton of, um, like schlock films, like 1960 Saifai stuff. And now that you can see that in this, but, uh, but yeah, it definitely made me start kind of looking at more, uh, mid century pole and, you know, those illustrators and stuff, and kind of just trying to like study some of their styles and techniques and what they were doing. You know, the line work in this whole series is a blotted line technique that I used, which part of the fun of that is like, you don’t really, there’s not a lot of control. Every, every line is kind of a happy little accident. So that was really fun because as a tattoo or like the having really clean, crisp line work is so important. And whenever I do paintings, they usually are for things that are tattoo related and, um, and they usually have that really clean line on them. And so this was, this was fun. Like mixing that up a little bit and kind of just enjoying that experimental process again was really fun. So,
Anne Kelly (22:30):
And so back back, pre COVID, you did a fair amount of conventions and, and, and some of those were international, right?
Jen Lee (22:41):
Yeah. Yeah. Pretty, most of, yeah. All of them, really, most of them.
Anne Kelly (22:46):
Do you have a favorite one, many reason, or
Jen Lee (22:50):
I have a couple for different reasons. Uh there’s um, there’s one in OCHIN, which is a really little city in, uh, Northern Germany. And I really love that convention just because it’s kind of a convention that’s, it’s like a tattooers convention, you know, like we really get taken care of. It’s really small it’s, uh, the people are really wonderful. The person who puts it on Andreas Cohen, Cohen, he’s really great. And it’s, it’s really easy to get to the trains in Europe are amazing. So it’s a three hours straight shot from Paris. It’s three hours from Amsterdam, but yeah, so that convention as conventions go is, is one of my favorites for sure. And I also was doing the Paris convention every year, which is totally the opposite. And I love that convention for all the opposite reasons of it’s just big and crazy and tons of people.
Jen Lee (23:44):
And, and then it’s Paris, which is incredible. It’s my favorite city. And also the person who puts out that convention on is great as well, uh, tents and puts that convention on. And, oh, I’m so, so thankful that I’ve been invited to be able to do either of those. I’ve done the London convention, a good handful of times, and I love that convention. It’s great. I rather spend time in Paris honestly, and it comes down to it and then I’ve done the, the Barcelona convention as well. And I love, love, love Barcelona. So yeah, I just, I really, I love being able to travel and be able to go visit all of these places through tattooing, you know, like I would never be able to do it otherwise. And the fact that I get to do it so regularly, and I’ve made so many amazing friends over there and had all of these experiences for, for a long time.
Jen Lee (24:33):
And this is funny, this, this is one of these things where tattooers often will like, they’ll roll in and they’ll do the convention and they go home. Whereas like, I’ll take a couple of weeks, you know? So when I do a convention, I always try to go someplace. I’ve never been, and then I do the convention. And so that’s been really amazing as well, and really influential just as far as like I have found so, so much reference and inspiration that has definitely made its way into my work. So been beneficial all around for sure. Bottom, right. Is the poster for the OCHIN convention. I didn’t do that poster, you know, different tattoo or we’ll like do the official poster for, for the convention. And so, yeah, I did not do that poster, but it’s a really good one. So
Anne Kelly (25:21):
I’ve been going on
Jen Lee (25:23):
Since, before I’ve been tattooing. I mean, they’ve exploded though. Like there’s so many of them and I’m really, really choosy about the ones that I’ll do. Like I only do conventions that are like put on by tattooers or people who are really, really like in the community. There are a lot of people who just, it’s just, they put on swap meets at this point, you know, like tattoo swap meets and like anyone who’s got money for a booth as welcome. And like, it’s just a bunch of merge and some are tattooers and, you know, whatever. And it sucks because like the general public doesn’t know the difference, but I am really, really choosy about like, which conventions I will do. And the two that I mentioned that I do regularly in Europe are, um, definitely definitely up there. It’s always a really good, good crowd. Really great tattooers. Yeah. I mean, not to sound too snobbish, it’s not about like, only wanting like rubbed shoulders with more elite people. It’s just more about like, I don’t want to do the one that’s just being, you know, it’s just like an expo it’s just exploitive, you know, it’s has nothing to do with the love of what we do. So
Anne Kelly (26:33):
Almost kind of compare that to just with the art shows you can apply to as an artist, they’ve just exploded as well. And as an artist, if you just apply to every art show that you see, you’re probably going to go broke just doing that. And, um, maybe not, it’s the same thing with tattoo conventions, but maybe a lot of them are gonna make a profit. So it’s kind of honing in on, on which ones are kind of, um, maybe their intentions match yours more than right.
Jen Lee (27:05):
Anne Kelly (27:07):
You have Wawa’s
Jen Lee (27:10):
So, yeah, they’re a little, they’re mixed, a little mixed breeds. Um, but yeah, that center picture there that’s my Archie. Um, he is, he was a little, they’re both little rescue dogs, but he was a little orphan friend of mine bottle fed him. And then I ended up fostering him and his, his three brothers and he just had the winning personality. So I kept them. Uh, but he’s, you know, he’s, he’s a mix he’s Chihuahua and a handful of other small things he likes to be in the pilot’s chair. Yeah. He, um, it’s funny cause I have a, um, like a little guest bed in my office where I draw and uh, he usually just sleeps there, him and his, uh, my, our other dogs. I say his sister, they’re not actually brother and sister, but, um, they mostly been there while I’m drawing, but every once in a while he just needs to be in my lap. So sweet. He’s he’s a good little good little dude
Anne Kelly (28:09):
Dogs or the mask I’ve, I’ve got rescue dogs as well. They’re out there. Yeah.
Jen Lee (28:13):
It’s been an adjustment for him, for sure. You know, me going back to work after being home for six and a half months. Mine
Anne Kelly (28:18):
Didn’t like that either. Yeah.
Jen Lee (28:21):
But you can definitely see the before and after, or especially just in the, before, how like tattoos really just kind of fall apart, you know, if they don’t have an outline and this person who did this originally, they put a good amount of black in, but just not in really all the right places, especially with like that, you know, the greens and, uh, and stuff. But yeah, but the best description I have heard of like tattoos that don’t have outlines on them is that eventually it just looks like a puddle of melted Kranz. I’m like, oh my God, that is exactly no matter how crisp and sharp and good it looks in the beginning. Um, it eventually all just kind of fades and melts together and it doesn’t have any, any strikes anymore on your tattoos.
Anne Kelly (29:04):
Exactly. So in terms of, um, mentioned early on being a tattooer as being a pirate, it has definitely changed a lot. Or like you said, people were kind of asking for things off Instagram or Google instead of flashy sheets, but maybe it’s also allowed people to be able to do a little more research and maybe make better pairings with their artists.
Jen Lee (29:30):
Absolutely. Feel like overall it’s mostly been good, whether I even liked certain things or not, you know, I think overall it’s been, it’s been good. And, um, you know, as far as yeah, people can do their own homework because you know, it was as difficult as it was for us in terms of, you know, finding that imagery and like trying to figure out how to advance our skills and grow. Um, you know, I feel like clients didn’t really have any way of knowing where to go. It was like, oh, I went to this person cause they did my friend’s tattoo, but like they didn’t know anything about, I mean, it was really hard to even have like a style because you had to be able to do it, anything that walked through the door and, you know, just to be able to survive. And so now, yeah, I think it’s, it’s totally beneficial.
Jen Lee (30:21):
Like I said, you can use Instagram to really steer the ship and get to do what you want to do. And, and it’s really easy for clients to identify that, you know, where they can see my page and be like, oh, that’s my person, you know? Or they can see my page and be like, that is not my person and that’s, and that’s fine. You know, I’ll be the first to say, if I’m not someone’s person, I think it’s good. When I started tattooing, there were a lot of old timers that are grumbling that like too many people were getting into the business and tattooing was going to be over and it was getting too big. And I was like, people have been saying that it was on its way out since I started. And it’s only gotten bigger and bigger and bigger. And you know, maybe that bubble will burst at some point, but like it hasn’t in 25 years that I’ve been doing it personally.
Jen Lee (31:05):
There are definitely are waves of things that become popular or there, we have a lot of advantages, both clients and tattooers these days that we didn’t have 10 years ago, I try to embrace it. I’m a little bit on like, you know, in between like grumpy old person and someone who tries to embrace the change. I mean, if you totally don’t embrace it, you’re just going to die. So when I do embrace it and I put effort into it, it only works to my advantage. I’m pretty, pretty analog by nature. So you still hand drawing? Yeah. Yeah. I have an iPad. I downloaded the procreate app. I bought the pencil and it just, it doesn’t work for me. Um, and I, you know, I actually, during quarantine, I was like, you know what, I’m going to sit down. I’m going to watch some YouTube videos.
Jen Lee (31:59):
I’m going to get a handle on this, like drawing on the iPad thing. And I just never did cause like I don’t want to, so I just painted instead and I’m pretty happy with that decision. I see all of the ways that it could work to my advantage. And I have peers who are my age older, been tattooing longer who have totally embraced it. And like they do really great stuff with it and I can see how beneficial it could be. I just, it doesn’t feel right or good. Or I just, I don’t know, it doesn’t click for me. It’s not fun. I feel like I’m answering emails or something. It just feels different. It does. And like I said, man, I should put the time in. So like, because for drawing tattoos, like I’m sure that I could, at least there, it would be to my advantage up to a certain point. And then I can always do the final drawing or final trays on paper, but I just haven’t gotten that far,
Anne Kelly (32:56):
Jen Lee (32:56):
It’s true. Yeah. Yeah. So
Anne Kelly (33:00):
Papers affordable enough. You were talking about movies earlier. Do you, are there any favorite movies that you have right now or
Jen Lee (33:10):
To favorite of all times? Harold and Maude is one of my all time. Favorite stylistically. It’s just great. And it’s such a beautiful story. And I saw at the end every time, and this is one amazing scene where, you know, he’s driving and he like rolls down the window and just like sets his head out the window. It’s just like sobbing every time. And my other favorite, his little shop of horrors that has, I think become my number one favorite because it’s the one that my husband and I share. And it’s kind of like this really, uh, kind of like our movie and that soundtrack is kind of our soundtrack. We just we’ve we’ve we both individually loved that movie. And then I feel like our love for that. It was it’s one of those movies that we do a pretty regular rewatch of just cause we both love it so much.
Anne Kelly (34:03):
For sure. It’s
Jen Lee (34:05):
So good. It’s so good. It’s so beautiful. Like again, I love stuff that is handmade and like the puppetry and the sets and the, and I also, I love, uh, sixties girl groups and I love, uh, sixties pop music in general. And like I, most of my clothing is vintage and I love that era. Um, even though it was like eighties doing fifties, but, um, I, uh, and Rick Maraniss great and Ellen green and I just, I, yeah, I can gush over every detail of that movie.
Anne Kelly (34:43):
Anybody ever requested a little shop
Jen Lee (34:47):
Tattoo? I’ve never done one. That would
Anne Kelly (34:50):
Be really cool.
Jen Lee (34:51):
I’d be really excited. Why don’t I have one
Anne Kelly (34:54):
Maybe, maybe you should get one. That sounds kind of great.
Jen Lee (35:00):
Why don’t I that’s ridiculous. I’ve heard rumblings of like pre pandemic of them remaking it. And, uh, that was kind of crushing for me. I’m like, I don’t know, like please don’t don’t although, I mean, if they do, I can ignore. I mean they remade Willy Wonka and it was terrible and I, it kind of just faded away and it didn’t replace the original and whatever. So I imagine that might be the same. You can’t like you can’t redo little shop. It’s just too good. No, Harold mud, you can’t redo Harold and Maude. Like, no,
Anne Kelly (35:39):
You can try, but, well, I think I heard they were going to redo beetle juice, but I don’t know if I drunk that. I mean, that was also another one of those that
Jen Lee (35:51):
Anne Kelly (35:53):
I mean, you could try to remake it, but it’s not going to be the same music when you’re drawing and painting. Do you have to listen to music and then other people that want quiet? So
Jen Lee (36:10):
I honestly, I would say I probably tend to go with it being quiet. I also listen to a lot of podcasts. Um, and for awhile I was listening to audio books, but I mostly just do podcasts now, but I also do listen to a lot of music, but the thing is like, we listen to music all day at the shop. I listen to music, just kind of like in my home, you know, a lot of vinyl. And so we’ll often like specifically listen to an album or handful of songs, stuff like that. But when I’m working, sometimes I just let it be quiet for like hours and I love it, you know, but I also have a really a wide range of, of music that I love. Like I really love, I guess, at sixties, pop seventies, punk that early seventies punk stuff is great. I love the whole eighties new wave genre. So it’s a good mix of stuff. I actually really, I also really love music soundtracks. That’s really fun to work to, to tattoo too, as well. You know, it’s kind of takes you on this whole journey. Sometimes it’s really ethic and sometimes it’s really quiet.
Anne Kelly (37:19):
You’ve got to have the right, the right tattoo that epic can use.
Jen Lee (37:23):
Yeah. Perfect. Sometimes you need that, you know, you need to feel strong it’s for the client. Yeah.
Anne Kelly (37:29):
Well, I would imagine with some of those longer sessions, that amount of focus gotta be in the right head space, which is, is there anything that you collect?
Jen Lee (37:40):
Oh my God. Yeah. I’m like a borderline hoarder. Um, very curated home. I will say that, um, you know, are obviously totally my idea of a good time is going antiquing. My family lives in the middle of Pennsylvania. My mom grew up in central Pennsylvania, went back there after I was out of the house and moved back there and my whole family’s there. And like, whenever I go back and visit, like, that’s what we do the whole time. Like we just like map out all the giant antique emporiums and I send, you know, $200 worth of, you know, just shipping like boxes every time. But yeah, mostly it’s like, mid-century, chotskies I got to say, I’m just whatever, whatever hits me, the TV Panthers from the fifties. So I have like, I don’t know, 2, 3, 4, 5 now it’s like, well, you know, sometimes I find one that’s a color that I didn’t have a really unique pose that I didn’t or something, you know, so there’s still exceptions, but I’ve, I’ve tried to slow down on some of the things that I have too much, but really? Yeah. And I also, uh, carnival chalk where I’ve got a good, good collection of that going on. It’s all pretty random though, at this point, it’s I mix it up. So yeah.
Anne Kelly (38:53):
So flash has become kind of a collectible thing and then you sell flash sheets sometimes, right?
Jen Lee (39:03):
Yeah. But nothing that’s collectible, you know, my stuff that I’ve like made and sold a it’s mostly just inkjet prints that I sell for like 20 bucks each. And, you know, I’ll just keep reprinting them. Like I’ve never really, I mean, I’ve done some, um, as far as like not like, uh, prints that are actually like fine art prints and those are limited edition, whatever, but I don’t know that I’m anyone that like any things ever even going to become collectible, but, um, I just make what I love and I’m thankful that people want to buy it. I do actually want to make some really nice, good quality prints of some of the stuff that I painted up over quarantine. It’s just now I got to get it scanned. And, um, that’s the, that’s the part that’s hard. I’m like, why can’t I just paint because paint
Anne Kelly (39:46):
I’ve found or a lot of them anyways are selling prints as well. Cause it just offered the different
Jen Lee (39:53):
Yeah. And the thing is, is like you can make prints, especially because the medium that I work in, I’m not doing like anything it’s textured or oils or whatever it’s, you know, so I can make prints that look really identical, even like that really nice heavy watercolor paper, Jake stuff that looks, looks just as good and as an original, you know, but for how long it takes me to paint something. It’s just not worth it to sell originals. And again, like I know people who, who they’re just so fast, they paint so beautifully so quickly. And I just, don’t, I’m slow and meticulous. And I’m like, I’ve got 20 hours into this thing. Like how, how do I charge for that? You know, like no one wants to pay, you know, like, and I wouldn’t expect anyone to want to pay me what it’s worth.
Jen Lee (40:35):
Like I wouldn’t pay what it was, you know, the, for the amount of hours it took me to make. So that’s what I do. Just make prints. Usually something people can pick up for 20, 20 bucks or 80 bucks or, you know, whatever, uh, depending on what it is that is affordable. I think that’s why I gravitated toward being a printmaker initially anyway, was that it’s not too precious. Like I can make 15 of these things and I can keep one and I can give one to a friend and I can sell them for like working class prices. Like it’s not this one precious thing that I put all of this time and love into. And then now I’m partying with it for way less than I, my time was worth or, or pricing it at a price point that is out of range for your average person. And I feel like art should be accessible to everybody that anyone likes what I do is like, I feel like a huge honor. And I’m so thankful that I get to be a working artist. Don’t know how I would do anything else. That’s huge.
Anne Kelly (41:33):
Anybody does want to buy some artwork.
Jen Lee (41:36):
What is the best way to reach you? Uh, he can send me a message on Instagram, you know, and I also have, my email is, uh, is linked to that as well. You can hit the little email button. So either way DM or email, um, on Instagram is probably the best way to get ahold of me. I do expect to make prints soon. I’m going to be getting that stuff scanned, like hopefully the next couple of weeks. And I was hoping to have ready to go by, you know, the holidays. But, um, and at that end of things, once that part’s done, like once I’ve gotten somebody to scan the stuff, like I’m really good about doing the rest, but it’s just like getting it all to the other place. Right.
Anne Kelly (42:18):
Same thing in starting with show, it was recording the first episode and I would encourage you to do that. Cause, I mean, I think that’s the other thing that’s interesting. There might be certain images that people can love with, but are maybe not entirely ready to have on their body permanently.
Jen Lee (42:39):
Yeah. Like when I go to conventions, one of the things that I do is like little individual five by sevens that are laminated and they have little rivets in the corners. And so like, those have always done really well, like when I go to conventions and stuff. Um, but those are intended to be flashed too. So it’s fun. Cause you can take it, you can hang it on your wall, but they have the outline on the back. So if somebody did want to have it tattooed at some point, like they can take it to someone and have it tattooed. So
Anne Kelly (43:03):
That’s really cool. Yeah.
Jen Lee (43:04):
Yeah. I just, I really, again, I’ve always loved that kind of like carny element of tattooing. So, and that’s actually what the kind of nickname forum is that it came from ed. Uh, cause we have something very similar at the shop that was probably from like the fifties and he always just called it the carny flash. It was like little individual, like one shots on each piece of paper that, you know, obviously was, was made so that you could travel with it and set up your booth at the fair or the circus or, you know, wherever they were working. So,
Anne Kelly (43:35):
And Ed’s moved away from tattooing entirely and is mostly,
Jen Lee (43:40):
Yeah, he’s just been focusing on his fine art for the past decade. So, but he’s still around, you know, he’s, he spends his time split between San Francisco and Hawaii and uh, whenever he’s in town, like he’s really active, an active part of the shop like comes by a lot. And you know, during quarantine we had a little show and tell the stuff we were working on and that’s been amazing to have that kind of a person in my life just going, going and like bringing my work to have ed look at it and just being like this person, like, who am I like? This is crazy.
Anne Kelly (44:12):
Well, I love that. That’s
Jen Lee (44:13):
Really great. He’s always been very generous and in really every way imaginable as far as just being encouraging with whatever we’re we’re working on.
Anne Kelly (44:21):
Well, thank you so much for joining us tonight. Shout outs for anybody
Jen Lee (44:27):
To ed and his wife, Francesca, man, they’ve kept the shot of float through of this demanded. Nothing in return have been really, really amazing and generous to us through this time. The fact that I still have a place to work, I’m super thankful for my coworkers, for how we’ve handled everything and open that I am at opened in 99. It was in the same neighborhood down the street, starting in 91. And then the original tattoo city, I believe, I want to say 67 or 68 was when it originally opened. And that one, there was a fire. So, and in between the original one and, and then the one that opened in, in 91 and had a place, a studio called realistic, that was a custom only place. So yeah, but the location that I’m at has been there since 99. Very cool. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it. Thanks so much. Yeah, this was fun. Good to see you again. Have a good night. You too. Bye
Speaker 3 (45:46):
Subscribe to Art in the Raw