Based in Philadelphia, Doug Hand is known for creating custom and flash work from a diverse set of inspirations, as well as styles. In this interview, Doug speaks on his experience getting into the tattoo industry, the meaning of success, where he finds inspiration, and even advice for hungry young-in's trying to break onto the scene.
How did you get into tattooing and why were you drawn to it?
Well, I grew up going to punk and hardcore shows, so tattoos were always a part of the scenery and I was always into them. I cut my teeth in the industry back in 2000 by learning to pierce. That was, at the time, all I was really interested in doing. I hadn’t done any drawing since I was a little kid, so the thought of tattooing was foreign to me. Later on, I got into scarification. Started with branding, then cutting and dermal removal. That led to implants. I did everything BUT tattoo. Eventually, I started working at a shop that wouldn’t let me do it, because heavier mods were illegal, which gave me a lot of time on my hands, and a lot less money, to find something to do. I still wasn’t interested in tattooing but, at the new shop, I worked around guys that were absolute machines. Drawing and painting every day. These guys were very traditional, in your classic street shop. I never saw that kind of hustle before.
One of my boys had his own little flair to traditional flash which I was really drawn to. It was a very rudimentary style of what now is known as Neo Traditional. There wasn’t social media back then like today, so I hadn’t seen anything like it before. It really inspired me to pick up a pencil and start drawing. Since I had plenty of time on my hands, I spend a lot of it drawing and painting things that were absolute trash. But I liked them enough at the time to keep going. Eventually some of my piercing clientele began asking me to draw their tattoo designs. I’d do it, then hand it over to my homeboys to tattoo. One day, someone asked me why I don’t learn to tattoo so I could just do the tattoos myself. That thought never entered my mind until that question was posed to me, but I decided it was the right thing to do.
Can you talk about your style and how it’s developed over time?
I have a hard time saying that I have a style. I wish I did. I talked about this with my friend Ian, who tattoos in Montana and crushes it. He has a style. You know it’s his tattoo as soon as I see it. There are a chunk of tattooers out there that have that certain something in their work that, whatever it is, you can spot right away. Brian Povak is another guy that stands out like that. I definitely have a heavy Illustrative/Neo Traditional influence to the stuff that I like to draw. But I feel like most of the tattoos I do aren’t that style. I do a lot of black and grey stuff, and a ton of things people like to call “basic” or “hipster” tattoos. And I have a lot of awesome clients - I really hate calling them that, because I think they deserve a better term - who get whatever stuff they get. I’m not above doing any kind of tattoo, if it’s something I can pull off. I won’t turn someone away because it isn’t my thing. And I have the time to do it. But, by doing that, I have less time to really develop my style. That’s what Ian and I joked around about, maybe one day we’ll be lucky enough to do the stuff we want to do, day in and day out. To have our own “style” of tattooing and that’s all we do. Personally, I think he’s already there, so he’s a dickhead for that.
What do you love about your job and the tattoo community at large?
We have one of the greatest jobs in the world. Seriously. I’m so thankful to the guys who taught me how to tattoo, since I don’t do a lot of piercing anymore; I actually kind of hate doing them at this point. I mean, you make a living by drawing on people. They pay you good money to permanently mark their bodies so they can be happier in their own skin. It’s always nice to see or hear people's reactions to their finished tattoo, even if it’s something you weren’t really excited about doing. Because it’s important to them. So that’s rewarding. But I’ll tell you what. When someone contacts you with an idea that you’re really into? They come into the shop for the appointment, see the drawing that you’re excited about and they love it? Pffft. Forget about it. That’s what I love most about this job. The whole experience with that person. Whether we can get it done in one shot or it’s a multiple session piece. Starting it, enjoying every second of working on that tattoo, and seeing how excited they are at the end of it. That! It’s hard to articulate. But I love having that bond with the people I tattoo.
The tattoo community at large is fantastic. You have your share of rotten apples, obviously, but I rarely met someone who bums me out. People are so outgoing and friendly, opening up their homes and shops to others. Sharing knowledge and tips, learning from each other. Growing as artists, tattooers, and as human beings. I think that, over the years have passed, a HUGE amount of humility has spread across the industry. Tattooers seem WAY more down to earth now than they used to be. Almost everyone looks out for one another and takes care of each other. It reminds me of the hardcore scene like that. A tight-knit society of weird outcasts that silently understand each other.
What is your advice to young tattooers looking to find their style? What do you think about tattooers, now, shunning the traditional apprenticeship and learning on their own?
Is that a thing now, people aren’t doing the apprenticeship thing and just YouTubing everything? Buying “tat kits” on Amazon or some shit? Here in Philadelphia, it still seems like most shops have an apprentice, but I guess I understand if you live somewhere that doesn’t have many options. This is a heated topic for debate, that’s for sure. There was a tattoo school that was trying to open in the burbs here a few years ago and people were NOT happy. But those cash-grab schools that promise a “certificate” isn’t really the question, so I digress.
I would always steer people towards a traditional apprenticeship with the right person. I know it can be hard, man. And in this age of instant gratification we live in now, it’s hard for someone to be told “no” or “not right now” when you’re looking to get into the industry. People just want to do it now. But if you really like a tattoo artist, and want to learn, you have to keep pushing. Get tattooed by him/her. Often. And hopefully that person will like you enough to teach you when the time is right, if you’re the right fit. I think that’s the best way. As far as younger people already tattooing, develop your style by tattooing the stuff you want to do on your friends. They’re forgiving, and probably down with whatever kind of stuff you want to do. Do it early, because the older everyone gets, the more they realize they don’t want that shit. It gets tough when you get old.
How do you define success and do you think artists have a responsibility to the world?
Jesus, success is so subjective. How do you define it? I guess it’s in the mouth of the speaker, right? For some tattooers, I know it isn’t a success unless you make $XXX,XXX a year. Their sole motivation is financial. And that’s cool. I totally respect that if they’re honest about it. For other people, it’s a social media pissing contest. I think success, for me, is being able to make a living by doing fun tattoos on people. At the end of the day you and the person you tattooed are happy.
Do you have any projects, events, or plans upcoming in the future you’d like to share?
I don’t have any set plans for future work at this moment. The world is just starting to get back to some sense of normalcy, so I’m taking it slow. I know there have been a couple of conventions, but I haven’t heard anything about them. Once I start hearing positive feedback from tattooers, I’ll start hitting the road again. I miss it. I miss seeing old friends. I miss meeting new people who are excited to get fun tattoos. I miss going to new cities and seeing what they have to offer. The last year and a half has been a drag for most people, and I’m as ready for things to bounce back as anyone else. Once I’m able to, I’ll be back to the old tattoo stomping grounds and hopefully find some new places around the world as well, where I can find a corner of a shop to set up and do some fun tattoos for good people!