Jamie Schene: The Tattooer with a Painter's Soul

Jamie Schene: The Tattooer with a Painter's Soul

By replicating a process hundreds of years old, Schene's color realism tattoos are a giant leap forward for tattoo art.

While his tattoos may be on the cutting edge of color realism, Jamie Schene’s soul remains old school. Instead of taking his cues from tattooers working off of flash, he is more inspired by the old masters of oil painting and the methods they would use to stage their work. He could get on a computer and use Photoshop like so many of his colleagues, but Schene would rather get his hands dirty. In a collaborative effort with his wife Lara, the two will take the painstaking effort to create the still life that will eventually become an astounding tattoo.

“I like to set up my own references and photograph them on probably 80% of the stuff that I do,” Schene explains. “See this tattoo (picture below), that’s a skull that I have, I put ivy around it, set it up and lit it. No one else can have the reference, it’s totally unique.”

The tattoo Jamie Schene describes in the passage above. (Via IG - jamie_schene) #JamieSchene #skull #colorrealism

Schene recognizes that in the world of color realism, so many tattoos end up using the same reference material. After a while it begins to feel like you are looking at a copy of a copy of a copy. When it comes to pop culture portraits this is to be expected — there are only so many different photos of Heath Ledger as the Joker — but there really is no reason why we should see so many tattoos of the same flower or skull pulled off of Google images. Schene’s method takes more time, but in the end, it is clearly worth it.

The creation of reference materials is just the latest innovation that Schene has added to his skill set. Tattooing for over 20 years, it would be easy for him to fall back on what got him to this point and become comfortable, but instead he has always looked for ways to progress his art. When Schene apprenticed with Mark Mahoney back in the early ‘90s, the tattoo scene was very different than it is today.

“When I started tattooing, color realism wasn’t really happening,” Schene says. “When I started tattooing it was strictly flash. A custom tattoo would be just changing some colors to a piece of flash, you weren’t drawing everything up. I didn’t get into trying realistic stuff until 10 years ago, when I got into doing black and grey portraits only because clients were asking me to.”

Schene worked primarily in black and grey realism for a time, which given the eye-popping color work that he is known for seems almost unimaginable. It wasn’t until he crossed paths with Nikko Hurtado — with whom he still works today at the Black Anchor Collective  — that he considered giving color realism a try. But moving from grayscale to color wasn’t the only major change that Schene’s tattooing would undergo.

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“[Ronnie Sanchez and Hurtado’s] approach to doing it was so much different than any way I had ever approached tattooing,” Schene recalls. “It was always just outline, shading, color — a very traditional approach. But they didn’t tattoo that way at all. They started at the bottom right hand corner and completed the piece as they went up.”

Working from one corner to the top is a more painterly approach to tattooing, just like the way that Schene sets up his still life references, so naturally he took to this new way of doing things. Over the years, we expect Schene to continue being motivated to reinvent his art. Every single day at Black Anchor he is surrounded by amazing tattooists  — both Hurtado brothers, Carlos Rojas, Aric Taylor, Ben Ochoa, and the many guest artists that swing through Hesperia — in an environment that fosters creative growth. Like a shark, Schene’s art is always moving forward, even when the movement comes from replicating a process used by painters for hundreds of years.

Jamie Schene tattoos out of the famous Black Anchor Collective in Hesperia, California. If you can't make it out to get a tattoo from him, make sure to follow him on Instagram. 

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