Waikiki Beach. There’s nothing quite like it in the world. A vibrant, bustling, modern day city-scape comes to a jarring halt, giving way to the city’s famed white-sand beaches. A casual volcano protrudes in the backdrop. Each year, Waikiki caters to nearly 8 million people visiting the island of Oahu to get a taste of Hawaiian culture, and for some, this includes getting tattooed.
Though many tattoo shops have cropped up on the beach these recent years, we’ve come to pay a visit to the infamous Tattoolicious, owned by world renowned tattooer & Sullen artist, Sean McCready.
A Newport Beach transplant, McCready collected his first tattoo in 1989 at the l age of 17. Years later, after rooming with a friend who was an artist, he had become exposed to the tattooer lifestyle, and the rest was history. Having never been given a formal apprenticeship, McCready dedicated many years to teaching himself the tricks of the trade, and has since become one of Hawaii’s most sought-after artists for realism, and color work. He also shreds a mean barrel, but we’ll leave that for another day.
Have you always been interested in art?
You know, I’m not really an art nerd. I fell into tattooing late at 27 under the influence of my roommate who was in the industry at that time. He held me into tattooing.
What did your parents think when you decided on this career path?
Just like most parents - they hated the aspect of me even getting a tattoo. Fast-forward years later and my dad is asking me to put one on him. Playfully I let him wait and beg, and finally I ended up tattooing him just a few years ago.
What were you doing before tattooing?
(Pauses) Well… it was a conglomeration of just trying to surf, working jobs that I could pull it off… Selling drugs. I bartend-ed, I waited tables. Any thing I could do to keep surfing in the day and working at night. I’m clean and sober now, I haven’t touched the hard stuff in a really long time.
What’s it like being a low-key dude but also having to be the boss?
It’s a battle of a couple worlds. You want to be chill and enjoy life and not have drama & stress, but employees in general, it’s not always the funnest to have to guide people. Certain things just pop up sometimes, but I like to be as relaxed and calm-minded as possible.
What values in tattooing do you hold sacred and what makes them important to you?
No matter what the style, the tattoo needs to be carried out to the best of one’s ability. Going back and spending that extra hour on a piece. Whether you come back with your liner and tighten some things up... doing touch-ups. I think being able to master the technical side of our ability is a hard journey but that’s what we do. At the end of the day it’s not finished until it’s perfect, and that’s what the client hopefully expects.
What is the tattoo scene like here in Hawaii?
I think nowadays it’s way more open as far as artist to artist. With Instagram and getting to know people we’re not so segregated in our own environments. People are a lot more friendly and open to relationship-building. It used to be very guarded here but it’s not so much like that anymore.
There’s an obvious connection between your work and your surroundings. How has living in Hawaii influenced your tattooing?
Being in the ocean a lot, traveling around the island, just being surrounded by the colors, the sunsets. Being awestruck at those hues of purples, pinks that is fortunately almost a daily thing. I guess organically I would say my eye appreciates it, and so when it comes to me doing color work, I think the appeal to that beauty communicates in the artwork as well.
What areas do you need to improve in?
Trying to re-shape my humility in my little microcosm of Hawaii. I think being sought out as an artist and being booked out for a long period of time, is to try to battle the ego of that. It can be a struggle at times to try to balance out how I take appointments, and what I take. Ego can sometimes seep into decision making for me. Sometimes I’m a little picky when it comes to projects I’d like to take on. I want to consciously remain grateful of all the years of people building me up to be where I’m at… wherever that is.