Looking at Ryan Mullins picture-perfect black and grey portraiture, you’d probably think that he’s a classically trained visual artist who devoted the better part of his life to learning how to create such lifelike imagery, but you’d be mistaken. He’s one of those rare, late-blooming tattooists who found his calling midway in life, stumbling upon his own undiscovered artistic potential by happenstance. “I actually never had any background in art prior to tattooing,” says Mullins. “I never even drew a day in my life.”
Mullins became affiliated with the world of body art when he was a teenager, hanging out around the hardcore music scene with its colorful populace. This inspired him to get into the industry in the first place. “I started out working at a tattoo shop when I was 18 years old as piercer. I did that for seven years before I started to tattoo. I actually never drew or attempted to make art before. One day off, I decided to do an acrylic painting,” Mullins recalls. “After I finished it, I took it to the tattoo shop, and they were impressed, so from that day forward I painted every day, and eventually the artists decided I needed to tattoo and quit piercing, because they could see I had a future in tattooing and just needed to be pointed in the right direction with it.”
Mullins’ colleagues were right to identify potential in him and to steer him in a more artistic trajectory. Through practice and the encouragement provided over the years, he’s become an award-winning tattooist and now devotes most of his days to creating mind-blowing realistic body art. “Being an artist or having the mind of an artist is said to be a mental curse, as you’re constantly thinking of things to make or other projects you could be working on,” says Mullins. “I’m always looking at things thinking of how I can make it into a drawing or painting and at other people’s work and other avenues where I can draw inspiration from.”
One of Mullins' greatest sources of influence is the work of old-school Chicano tattooists. “I find myself enjoying black and grey realism and portraiture the most,” Mullins explains. “I appreciate it most, because when I first got into tattooing I was mainly drawn to the Southern California Chicano art and tattoo style.”
One can see his reverence for this style through his work. His portraits are decidedly soft, fine-lined, and simply clean as can be.
Though black and grey tattooing is definitely Mullins’ strong suit, he also creates spectacular color portraits as well as stunning visual art in other mediums. “There’s a big difference in different mediums and styles. You can achieve certain things with one that maybe you couldn’t do with another,” says Mullins. “I tell someone’s story through a tattoo, but I can tell my own through a drawing. Every medium brings something to the table, it’s just letting yourself figure how to use it and deliver the outcome, and everyday I manage to find a challenge through both art and tattooing.”