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Enjoy the Process: Interview with Tattoo Artist Jorell Elie

Enjoy the Process: Interview with Tattoo Artist Jorell Elie

Tattoo Artists7 min Read

In this interview with tattooist Jorell Elie, he talks about his style, getting into tattooing, and the importance of good client care.

It's not just the bright, bold, and beautiful work within Jorell's portfolio that will make you admire him as an artist. After speaking with him, it's deeply apparent that Jorell Elie is kind, down to earth and has a fantastic sense of humor. Just like the Tiger King meets Rick and Morty creation above, Jorell has a knack for creating pieces that are vivid, eye-catching and have a personality all their own. As the industry evolves, artists like Jorell embody the levity, dedication, and compassion that are all too often left on the back burner for fame and cash. But as Jorell explains in this interview, change is ever imminent, pushing the craft to new heights is positive, and self-care is just as important as connecting with clients in authentic ways.

How did you get into tattooing and why were you drawn to it?

I’m not sure when I first acknowledged what tattoos were or when I started to notice tattoos for that matter. I do know that when I decided to get tattooed, I thought they would make me look even more unique than I do as a BiRacial kid growing up in Ventura County, California. I got into tattoos when I was 18 as an uneducated, novice “collector”. I had been fascinated with tattoos ever since. My career in tattooing didn’t start like that. I had been getting tattooed by a local shop that my brothers were friendly with. As an uneducated client I brought in a design that I had drawn myself, that I wanted to have tattooed on me. The staff, miraculously, recognized some potential in my work and after a couple of informal interviews, I was offered a hybrid version of an apprenticeship.

You do a variety of styles, but what is your favorite style or imagery to tattoo? What inspires you the most often?

It's funny you should mention different styles as I feel like I only do one style, which is just Mine. The subject matter changes but I have tried to make any tattoos that I create uniquely “my style”. My favorite subject matter, however, changes all the time. I am currently in an obsessive animal phase. Specifically canines, felines, and all things in the aviary world! We just got a puppy to add to our other 2 dogs, so perhaps that has some influence with my enthusiasm for canines. In terms of other inspirations, I still draw a lot from the natural world. Documentaries are the current form of inspiration that is readily accessible to me. However, pre-Covid, my wife, kid, and I are big outdoors enthusiasts. We camp a lot. We enjoy the beach and most of what the natural world has to offer!

What have been your favorite moments during your tattoo career? What do you love about tattooing?

In all honesty there are very few memorable moments that stick out as memorable since most of my time tattooing has been pretty rad. If I were to focus on a few though, it would have to be joining the extremely gifted and amicable Outer Limits crew. With that came working alongside, the pioneer, legend and overall badass, Kari Barba. Joining such a talented team really pushed me to examine my work even further, and use that criticism to push myself to be better.

What is not to love about tattooing? Haha. Candidly though, my favorite thing about tattooing has to be the artist-client relationship. I suppose you could also argue that is also the most challenging part of tattooing. I have a background in retail management so naturally I feel drawn to customer service. When I first started tattooing, good customer service wasn’t something that I saw very often in tattooing. It definitely wasn’t present in my personal experiences when getting tattooed. I want to make sure that each of my clients feel important and heard. I have come to really enjoy that process. Many of my clients have become good friends, and I can't think of many other trades that allow that kind of relationship to build.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? What’s the best advice you feel you can give? What’s your definition of success?

The best advice I have been given would undoubtedly have to be to slow down. I am not entirely sure if the person that gave me that advice meant it in the expansive way that I took it but it stuck with me nonetheless. So, naturally, that would be my advice to anyone looking to be successful in life. Slowing down, for me, doesn’t only speak to the technicalities of tattooing, like hand speed, saturating techniques or even during the preparation of a piece. Slowing down can also refer to the pace that a lot of busy artists find themselves caught in. It’s easy to get lost in the cycle of waking up, drawing or working, tattooing, then drawing and working some more, then going to bed and starting it over the next day.

I can't tell you how many times I forget to eat a meal or even drink something while I am working. It’s so easy to get lost in this cycle because of whatever personal motivating factor that forces us all to join the rat race; bills, debts, or things we are saving for, etc. Eventually, I think we all discover that all of that used time comes at a cost. I see a lot of artists go through divorces, separations, depression, anxiety or other sicknesses that can be avoided or at least mildly mitigated if one were to just slow down and take some time to be in the moment. Take some time to yourself or with your loved ones. Practice self care. Everything in moderation.

How do you feel about the future of the tattoo industry? What needs to change and what should stay the same?

I think the future of the tattoo industry is exciting. Between the personnel and technology, the industry has so much potential for greatness. The level of talent that is coming up through apprenticeships or out of art schools is pretty mind blowing! The new machine tech, stencil tech, aftercare, amongst others products is so promising.

I would hardly categorize myself as someone who has the knowledge or wherewithal to dictate what needs to change about the tattoo industry. I can speak, however, to how I personally feel about it. I would like to see the industry be more environmentally conscious. Companies like Greenhouse (UK), Tatsoul or Black Claw, for example, are taking steps in the right direction. We should support them more! We are an extremely wasteful industry that is a luxury service so it would be nice to see us, as an industry, step up, take accountability and make some changes.

I think change is inevitable and is one of the few things in this world that you can guarantee, so the thought of keeping things the same seems like an archaic concept to me. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't things that we do well and we do right and should continue to evolve. If we were to carry on some of our good habits in our industry, I would want to make sure that we continue to captain our own industry. We should continue to encourage and support tattooers that want to take leadership roles in our community. I was also very excited to see the popularization of educational conferences and seminars. That definitely needs to continue on and blossom further. The Explorer Tattoo Conferences, for example, provided venues for underrepresented groups and concepts to be shared and/or heard. So, when things get back to some semblance of normal, it will be nice to see the Faris Brothers and other like-minded individuals continue that trend on into the future!

You’re stranded on a desert island and can only have one book, one toy, one movie, and one record. What do you choose?

What a fun question but much tougher to answer than it sounds. I actually don't read physical books at all anymore. Most books that I consume, now, are of the audio variety. So assuming I can't have my phone I would probably bring the extremely well known novel, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. It would be like reading a survival manual although I would hope I was rescued before three decades had passed. As for the toy there is a dramatic difference on who is defining the word toy! If I am an adult, the toy I would bring is a boat, for obvious reasons. But, assuming that isn't the type of toy we are talking about, I would have to say either a slingshot or a bb gun. For some reason, I falsely think I will become an excellent hunter! The movie I would bring is a tie between two pretty popular movies. Shawshank Redemption or Goodfellas. Both are lengthy and have so many great qualities. For island record, I would have to go with Outkast's Speakerboxxx/Love Below album. Albeit, not my absolute favourite of theirs, it's a double album so it's lengthy and diverse in style and genre!

Do you have any projects, events, or plans upcoming in the future you’d like to share?

Well, given the current state of affairs mostly everyone's future is up in the air. Naturally, all travel has been suspended indefinitely, which is a huge letdown. Especially since this year was going to be the 10th Anniversary of Mondial du Tatouage in Paris which I was really looking forward to. The San Diego and The Bay Area conventions were some of the invitationals that I was really excited for as well.

On a separate note, I just opened a private studio in West Hills that will be a supplemental location for me to work out of. Since I live about 50 miles from Outer Limits in Long Beach, this takes some of the headache of driving the 405 everyday away! It also makes it a lot easier for clients that prefer a more private setting. For more information on that people can just reach out to me via email:

Justine Morrow
Written byJustine Morrow

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator for Tattoodo I am here to support you 🌻 IG: @lathe.of.heaven

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