How did you make the transition from drawing to tattooing?
How I made my transition from drawing to tattooing was by pure fate. Since I was young, I’ve always been into art, but my art went from papers to the walls on the streets as I got older. As time went by, I eventually ended up in prison, where I discovered the art of tattooing. It was almost a match made for me. In the eighties, tattooing was less prevalent in mainstream culture and still looked at with a negative connotation. It was more for the “harder” crowd, and of course, I fell in love with it.
Do you find yourself drawing outside of tattooing now? In other art forms such as painting or sculpture?
These days, I hardly have any free time to do anything, especially any art outside of tattooing. My tattooing career has consumed my life. I have been tattooing for over thirty years, and I’m still tattooing 5-6 days a week, all-day sessions to this day. I barely have time for my family. I do see myself one day tattooing less and doing more drawings and paintings.
What was your first tattoo ever? Do you still have it, or did you modify or cover it up over the years?
The first tattoo I ever did was on myself. I did three dots on my hand with a needle and thread in 1987 when I was 14, representing “my crazy life.” And yes, I still have it.
What was the first tattoo you ever gave?
Besides the three dots I gave my friends when I was a teenager, the first tattoo I ever gave with a homemade machine was also on myself. I did letters above both of my knees that represented my neighborhood. Outside of that, I did some lettering on my cellmate.
What sets your style and art apart from others?
I’ve always been attracted to black and grey since I got into tattooing, but the main style, I would say, is realism. What sets my tone and style apart from others is my large scaled pieces and the ability to blend multiple images, giving nice flow and great aesthetic pleasure when looking at them.
What do you see in terms of trends in 2021?
I have never been able to predict trends in tattooing ever since I started. Everything has been a surprise to me. As long as there are different styles, I feel there will always be a market for tattoos. But I see more celebrities and athletes now getting “quality tattoos” more than ever, so I look forward to seeing more people collecting quality ink in 2021. Hopefully, this will be a trend.
What advice can you give to someone getting their first tattoo?
The advice I would give someone getting their first tattoo is to do a lot of research on what you want to get and what artist you want to go to before going to anyone. It’s easy to do research now with the internet and social media. Remember, there are levels to the ink game just like anything else; you get what you pay for. So take a lot of time researching to find your artist and what you want to get done permanently before getting your first tattoo. There are far too many people out there who regret getting their first tattoo.
Why do you think that tattoos are so addictive?
It’s a form of expression. People get tattoos to show something about themselves. Then they realize there are way more things that they’re into and also want to express. It’s a storybook for most people. And people are also collectors. They are fans of the artists they choose to collect from, and they become a walking billboard that tells a story. Fortunately, to some people, painting their bodies with these beautiful images is an addiction.
What is your advice for aspiring tattoo artists?
My advice for aspiring tattoo artists would be to get your foot in the best door that you can. Sometimes it may take several doors. But as long as you’re on the right path of growth, then it’s just a matter of time before it’s your turn. Never give up and keep shooting for the stars.
You can book a session with Robert Pho at any of his US locations online at Skin Design Tattoos. Or follow him online on his Instagram account @Robert_Pho.