Known for his work that incorporates tons of different aspects from 70s, 80s, and 90s iconography, Jordan Baxter gives us a peak into how the magic of tattoos captured his heart at a very young age. Sharing his biggest influences, and what has helped evolve his artwork to greater heights of craftsmanship, Jordan also talks about his talent for fitting tattoos to each unique body and how he helps his clients feel at ease with every aspect of the tattooing process.
Do you remember the first time you saw or became interested in tattoos? How did you get into tattooing?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by tattoos. Growing up in a small town in Eastern England called Dereham, I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became aware of tattoos - but I’ve always been drawn to them. Tattooing was never an integral part of my family life until I started, but I remember that my aunt had a small Celtic design, maybe the size of a coin, on her arm. My uncle also had a few old, blurry designs on his forearms and his back that he got when he was a teenager, but I don’t remember seeing those until I got older. Although tattoos were never a big feature of my childhood, or even that popular in the town I grew up in, they were, however, always around in some form.
The first tattoo I ever gave myself was a small stick and poke on my ankle that I did in a science lesson when I was about 12. As I grew older and became involved in the local hardcore scene, tattoos entered my life more, and so my fascination grew. I was the youngest in my friendship group, so the older friends started getting tattooed by artists in the area. I repeatedly heard the name Hope and Glory, a tattoo shop specialising in traditional tattooing in Swaffham, a town about 15 miles away from home.
After school one day, I caught a bus to Hope and Glory with some tattoo drawings and paintings I had done to see if they would critique my work. The owners were a couple named Oliver Jerrold and Tem Sosa, who showed great interest in me. I think they were impressed partially by how young I was, 16 with no tattoos, but also my passion and drive. They sent me away with some great advice and some artists to check out. I kept hanging around the shop until eventually they let me answer the phone and make cups of tea for them. This went on for a while before eventually leading to an apprenticeship for which I am eternally grateful. They gave me my introduction to tattooing, and for that I will always be indebted to them.
How has your style developed over the years? What art movements, books, movies, music, etc. inspires you? Who are your all time favorite tattoo heroes?
When I first started I was obsessed with Western traditional tattooing, which is mostly what I am covered in myself. I got a lot of my tattoos at Frith Street Tattoo in London, a shop where I ended up working for four years. It was - and still is - one of my favourite shops in the world. People that know Frith street understand the magic of the place, so working there at such a young age really spurred my career and introduced me to a lot of my tattoo heroes. I still love bold, powerful tattooing and love doing it, but I find myself doing mostly smaller fine line designs at the moment.
More recently I have been incorporating some tribal patterns into these designs. The more I draw pattern and tribal work, the more challenging and interesting it becomes and the more I want to continue on this creative path. It also lends itself to being drawn more organically - straight onto the body rather than using a stencil, and this is my absolute favourite way to work. Some of my favourite tattooers and artists include Filip Leu, especially 90s Filip!, Greg Irons, Dave Lum, Jack Rudy, Chris Garver, Jordan Teear, Bob Roberts, Leo Zulueta...and the list goes on. One of the places I draw most inspiration from is tattoo magazines from the 70s, 80s and 90s. I try to collect as many as I can as they give a great snapshot of a time in tattooing that really resonates with me creatively.
What have been some moments in your career that remind you why you love doing what you do? What do you cherish about the tattoo community?
One of my favourite things about tattooing is that you can take it everywhere with you. No matter where you go, when you start tattooing somewhere you immediately start to meet interesting people. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit cities around the world and tattooing has opened doors to experiences and connections I would otherwise never have had. You can meet someone overseas at a shop you've never been to before and immediately hit it off because you have this thing in common. I’ve met a lot of great friends in different countries, some who I might not see for years and when I eventually do see them again, you pick up right where you left off.
How does the tattoo community differ from Australia to the U.S.?
I’ve travelled to the US a lot in the last 10 years and whenever I come back I feel creatively energised. There is a lot of history there and visual imagery is so embedded in American culture just like Japanese tattoos are in Japan. The tattoo scene in Australia is thriving, especially in Melbourne. For such a small city there are so many different styles and so much interesting work happening, and it feels great to be a part of that. Since I have been here it has really opened my mind to the possibilities of what tattooing is, but also its potential, and I’ve been heavily inspired by my colleagues and clients at Good Luck Tattoo. I’m young and I don’t have many responsibilities right now, so while I’m able to move around and live in different countries I want to experience as much as I can. When my time is up in Australia I hope to relocate to the US to build on my skills and work with different people. I will always come back to Melbourne though, as it feels like my second home.
You do a lot of really awesome tattoos on pretty private spaces...how do you go about making your clients feel comfortable and cared for? How do you balance artistic freedom and client needs? What do you think clients should know about the tattoo process that they rarely know already?
One of the things that really gets me excited about a tattoo is the way that it sits on the body. I work on a lot of people who don’t have many existing tattoos and want them in places that make a statement and I love that. I do my best to put them at ease by being relaxed and respectful. Unless a tattoo is going on an open space like an arm or leg it’s hard for me to imagine how I’m going to approach it. This is why I rarely draw a finished design before the appointment.
I like to talk to the person when I meet them and find out exactly their expectations for the piece. If it’s something I can draw straight onto the body with a pen, I prefer to work that way because you can compliment the design to the body part easier and make changes quicker. It’s a collaboration between me and the person I’m tattooing so I’m up to do pretty much anything - but if there is something I don’t think will work I will explain the reason behind my hesitation. Essentially, I just want the person to leave happy, and for them to enjoy the tattoo that I've done for them forever.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received during your career and what’s the best advice you feel you can give?
One that really sticks out to me is something that one of my greatest influences, Jordan Teear told me: “the main ingredient for making a great tattoo is enthusiasm”, which is so true! But I would also add confidence to that. You've got to be having fun with what you're doing and I think when you are, it really shows in the finished product.
How do you feel about the future of the industry? What needs to change and what should stay the same?
I feel positive about the future of tattooing. I think being able to get a decent tattoo from a robot is still a long way off, so hopefully I’ll still have a job for a few more years.
It’s hard to plan these days...but what are you hoping to do during 2021? Any goals, projects, or travel plans you hope come through?
In 2021 I’d really like to do some more travelling...but we’ll see. I’ve spent a lot more time in 2020 working on paper and making flash sheets because of lockdowns in Melbourne, so I’d like to do more of that and maybe make a small book of production type flash with images that I like. I’d also like to start more big projects. I have some back pieces and sleeves on the go at the moment which I really love working on, so I’d like to do more of those! I love doing tattoos of all sizes but doing tattoos that cover a large part of the body is a lot more challenging, requiring a lot more patience from me and the person getting it done. So when you do finally reach the end of a big project, it’s a really great feeling.