Exclusive Interview with Todo Brennan by Iva Kancheska 05/02/2013
Hello Mr.Brennan! It's a real honor to talk with
you! I gotta be honest and say that I've never meet a person like
you! I'm so happy to interview you and share some of my thoughts
with you. To me, your an incredible person, an artist, a visualizer,
a person who is honest, dedicated and extremely creative. A person
who loves art, life, a person who enjoys to put some blood and sweat
in his life journey and a person who loves to talk and share his
stories. Just an amazing example of a real artist! I would gladly
add, a person who know how to cope with all the struggles in live
and a person who loves to laugh at that and just simply live up like
a phoenix. That's why I say "I've never meet a person like you",
that is why I simply admire you!
Magazine covers, working with many great artists, tattoo awards etc etc. You even been featured in Mike DeVries's Cranial Visions - Which is an outstanding work!! We can see your amazing tattoo works in books such as Bike Art and Pint Size Paintings...
People around the tattoo industry would say that you're know as one of the best, most talented and dedicated tattoo artists in the world! After 30 years of experience, including tattooing rockstars like Slash, Scott Weiland and Dean Deleo from Stone Temple Pilots, Joe Perry of Aerosmith, All American Rejects, The Foo Fighters, No Doubt, Ministry, Slipknot and many more. That must be such a pleasure Todo!
So much to be told and to be remembered. I'm pretty sure that your just another role model to many artists out there...
I bet your art journey is full with interesting and unusual stories! Let's start with the basics...
Q: When did you start doing tattoos? What made you to become a tattoo artist? Was that like a dream profession or it just came spontaneously?
A: Back in the 70s when I was a kid I was into many different things one of my favorites was skateboarding and motorcycles. I lived in Washington DC at the time and used to hit a lot of the stores in town that offered magazines showing the lifestyles of bikers and skateboarders. Within these magazines I saw a collection of tattoos that appeared on the skins of many inspirational figures. I was instantly mesmerized by the life of these people and all I wanted was to be a part of it.
Tattoos at the time were pretty crude back in the 70s but still they were fascinating to me. I remember in our class one day at school I saw that we used India Ink for many of our art projects. So one day I borrowed some ink and a needle wrapped some thread around the end of it dipped it in some ink and proceeded to tattoo an Ankh on my arm. From that point forward many opportunities came up for me to do tattoos on friends. At this point I did not agree to tattoo anyone because of its frowned upon art form. In the late 70s I got in a lot of trouble and ended up doing some time in juvenile hall, there I did small tattoos for food and cigarettes. I thought this was the grandest thing ever to actually make money or barter with my art. While I was locked up all I could think of was when I got out I wanted to buy a Harley Davidson pack up my tattoo gear and hit the road. I figured what better way to see the world financing the trip with my art. Several years of past and my freedom was limited due to continued run-ins with the law. I studied and learned tattooing as much as I could while I was behind bars. In 1984 my tattooing became more serious after I created some of my first rotary machines. By 1985 I was able to pay a lot of my bills with my tattoos and airbrush art while roofing full-time. By 1989 I hit my first tattoo convention just to check it out and see what it was all about I couldn't believe how awesome the show was. So I put a fire under my ass to start studying and doing the best I could to obtain professional tattooing equipment. My career was ready to start.
Tattooing was never easy, but a struggle learning the right way to apply a quality tattoo. When I finally got my professional equipment from an artist that worked in Hollywood California I ordered needles and tubes a needle making kit and started figuring out how to group my needles to make liners and shaders. The pigments I used back in those days came from powder that needed to be mixed by hand which believe me was a mess, and yes there was a lot of trial and error when it came to this. Keep in mind I had no training at all no artist wanted to take me under their wing. I was lucky enough to gain trust from one artist that believed in me and helped me get the equipment I needed. By 1990 I figured out how to do a decent quality tattoo, I even submitted my work to tattoo magazine's and was published before I even got into a shop. There's a lot of artist out there from the 70s and 80s that didn't like that I was entering the tattoo industry without an apprenticeship. I did ask three shops for an apprenticeship and was turned down. So I figured I had to prove myself so I got published and soon after that I sent a resume to skin deep tattoo in Hawaii and was hired immediately. I sold everything I had, grabbed my girlfriend Denise and hit Hawaiian Airlines, my career starts professionally.
Q: Do you find art as addiction?
A: Art I believe is an addiction to the collectors not the artist themselves I believe that it is more an obsession to be known and recognized. There's one thing I learned from being an artist the best thing in the world is to hear a complement on your art. This is possibly an addictive trait an artist can obtain but is truly an obsession to Excel beyond each complement.
Q: What kind of art interested you at the time? Do you have any influences, like artists that have influenced in developing your style?
A: There are many tattoo artists on the list, but most the tattoo artists that are specialized in photo realistic style. Some of my favorite Tattoo artist are Steve Wimmer, Teneile Napoli, Rich Pineda, Oleg Turyanskiy, Paul Acker, Alex De Pase, Bez, Den Yakovlev and In the early days I have to say Jack Rudy, Freddy Negrete,Kari Barba and Philp Leu proved to me I could take tattooing to a whole new level. Famous Artist I admire are Boris Vallejo, Tim White, Rowena Morrill, Chris Achilleos, Soryama, Keith Parkinson and newly discovered Omar Ortiz.
Q: To be a creative person means to be open minder, educated, fun, well balanced etc. At least to me... What is creativity for you?
A: Open-minded was an understatement back in the 80s. I opened my mind quite often and in the visual experience I saw the inner makings of life in an artistic form. I guess nowadays you can call that bio organic. Some of the best works I did were under the influence of mind opening drugs but that was the past.
I remember studying artist like Boris Vallejo while in an open-minded state and understood why he was so famous because his art was perfectly blended and balanced with a complementary color palette. I knew after seeing this in understanding it that I wanted to be just as good someday to be able to create art so people can naturally open their minds to my images. As for being fun that's one thing I like to do sometimes I have a little too much fun but don't we all? Education is very important, read as many books as possible about art and life in general.
Q: You work on various of tattoo styles,
from Portraits, Sci Fi, Fantasy to Organic tattoo designs. Do you
connect your tattoo art with your personality? If so, in which style
you find yourself the most?
A: I've always been a sci-fi geek because of shows like Space 1999, UFO, Star Trek, Star Wars and many more. I guess some of my more technical art derived from these shows. As for portraits I've always been interested in the human figure. I had a friend in junior high school that was an outstanding advanced artist for his age, he used to teach me techniques on how to draw faces and bodies. I soon started drawing playboy centerfold's from a box of magazines I found in an old burned-out house when I was a young teen, which I sold at school for five dollars apiece not the books the art, ha ha. And the organic style tattoos and the artworks I do are purely based from the experiences from Timothy Leary's chemical creation.
Q: Through your portfolio I can see lots of custom works. Colorful bright designs, fantasy mix with some realistic note in almost every tattoo. Can you tell me little about the making process, how do you corporate the client's idea with your own?
A: In the beginning of my professional career, custom artwork was very limited. It took me many years of educating my clients that there was more to tattoo then flash on the wall. I started creating artwork from my life long experiences and visions that seem to sell as fast as I would draw them. This started a domino effect that soon became an every day occurrence. I started having clients bring in art they found in books and wondered whether I could do it or not as a tattoo. I would look at it figure out a formula in my head and tell them I will give it my best shot. The more this happened the better I got with understanding how to re-create fine art on skin. In the 90s I started tattooing Sorayama'a sexy robot illustrations as tattoos and that's when the awards started coming in. My first magazine features started happening my artistic world was wide open.
Q: Talking about your clients could take a
whole year. lol Like I said on the beginning, you've got the chance
to tattoo rockstars! Which one got the craziest tattoo design?
Please tell me what was the feeling to tattoo a rockstar?
A: I've always been kind of the lucky person when it came to hanging around rockstar's. It started back when I was just a kid and my parents used to take me to a home where the cherry people and the band Angel used to live. That was my first experience with rock stars. In the 80s I lived in Santa Barbara California and used to frequent Hollywood Boulevard on the weekends to party it up. Well if any of you knew what Hollywood was like in the 80s meeting rockstar's was a frequent thing. In the late 80s I did artwork for a radio station KNAC in Long Beach California. Here I met rockstar's like LA guns Ozzy Osbourne, Guns and Roses, Poison, Kiss, plus TV celebrities like Ricky Rachmen from MTV which had some custom art made for his club the cathouse.
Now keep in mind I wasn't tattooing these people until 2000 I was just doing artwork from posters to fine art paintings for the celebrities. In the early 90s I lived next to the band guttermouth which I gotta tell you was a trip. This was in Huntington Beach California where I was living with my girlfriend Denise who is now my wife. I got a chance to tattoo the drummer Jamie and go do a few fun gigs where I created backdrop banners for the local bands. In 2000 when I was working for Sacred Heart tattoo Atlanta Georgia is when touring with the stars started taking off. I remember tattooing Corey Taylor from slipknot while working at Sacred Heart and soon tattooed a guy named Jaime Laurita who is touring with Sarah McLachlan and notice a picture of me and her backstage that was taken a few years before when I gave her a drawing that I did for her. He immediately knew that I was the artist to do his tattoo. Jamie wanted a sleeve done to describe his life as being a vegetarian chef and creating a successful cookbook with Sarah. So we started his tattoo that day after I drew up an idea I had to best describe what he wanted. This is quite a large piece and couldn't be done in one session so he invited me backstage after the session to meet everyone. Well from there he ended up leaving the tour when it was over and ended up joining with the red hot chili peppers to cook for them. I think it was six to eight months that went by before he called me again and so when he did he asked if I wanted to do another tattoo session backstage at the Chili Peppers concert? I said hell yeah and packed my stuff and set up at the concert. While I was tattooing at the show I met many people I was soon asked by the stage manager if I wanted to come out on tour for a few shows? I said yes sure and from there I met Scott Weiland from stone temple pilots and tattooed him and then Slash and Chris Shiflett from the foo fighters and tattooed them.
From that point I had a reputation of been the rockstar tattoo artist and from there I went on to tattoo people like Joe Perry from Aerosmith, AL Jorgensen and his wife from the Band Ministry, Toad from all American Rejects, DJ Bobby from the Kottonmouth Kings Adrian Young and Wife from No Doubt, and yes I met Gwen Stephani which by the way is awesome, and just recently went out on the road with new rap sensation 2 Chainz. As for the craziest tattoo that was done on the celebrities was a lip tattoo on Chris Shiflett from the Foo Fighters that said "Gimmie Gimmie" which was the name of his side project band. Being out with these bands was the greatest feeling ever I felt very at home been backstage I felt that I should of been musician not a tattoo artist. All the celebrities I met were totally cool I didn't really meet anyone that had a bad attitude except for a couple new bands that were wet behind the ears and needed some time under the belt.
- Are they super vain or super cool? What
they usually say when they come in your studio? Tell me about the
most interesting experiences with the superstars. (my readers would
be very interested) lol
A: Most of the superstars I've been with are set in their ways of course I can't say they are vain but I do know they like things a certain way. One of the most interesting experiences I've had was with a well known Superstar. There was a tattoo he wanted of a voodoo symbol that was designed from a trickster God. He wanted the symbol done for protection but was worried that the symbol would bring on bad luck. I told him to call someone that was knowledgeable about this symbol and where it came from before he went and got it tattooed. After the call he told me he has to do an offering to God to get approval for him to get this tattoo done, so he had to go to a crossroads and light a cigar grab a nickel put it on the grass put the cigar out on the nickel and see what happens. Well he hopped in the tour bus while I stayed in the room and went down to the nearest traffic light crossroads did this ritual and this was filmed while he was doing this for proof and soon after the ritual was done two cars head-on collision right behind him now this shook him up to a point where he decided against getting the tattoo. When he got back to the room we discussed what happened after he showed me the video and I said this could work either way if you weren't there at the crossroads at that specific time this accident that happened could've been deadly but he found out no one was hurt at all it's possible this symbol is a form of protection. Well after the discussion we still didn't do the tattoo but we ended up doing another one on him and has been seen in Rolling Stone Magazine and Guitar Hero videogame.
Q: Getting a tattoo is a pleasure, but doing a tattoo is even more than a pleasure - it's must be an honor. How do you feel when someone come up in your studio and just ask you to tattoo them? Do you appreciate their choice? Are you always supportive to the client's needs?
A: There's nothing better than a satisfied client. It makes me happy when they look in the mirror at their new tattoo and smile and they say it turned out better than I envisioned. When it comes to creating a piece for my client I tried to be as supportive to their needs as possible. I do educate them when it comes to too much content within a small area. They need to understand that tattoos tend to expand over the years and any extreme detail could be lost. Plus I believe a tattoo needs to be read easily from a distance.
Q: Tattooing is like a giving an eternal
impact on someone’s life. What reaction from a client makes you
happy after finishing the tattoo?
A: As I said before, I love the reaction from a client when they see the new tattoo in the mirror and smile sometimes cry depending on the subject. I've even heard from some clients that the tattoos I've done on them have opened a whole new life for them. Some people that I've tattooed used to be very quiet recluse and withdrawn from society, but after the tattoo session and the compliments they received from the public opened up doors for them to be social with people that they wouldn't of been otherwise.
Q: After all those years of experience, is there any "dream" piece that is still undone?
A: I believe of answer this a couple times before in the past and I'm still sticking with it. I want to do a Hobbit sleeve not just because the movie just released but because it was one of my favorite books from childhood.
Q: Since your style is well know, have you ever thought to make some changes and start doing something completely different?
A: My style seems to constantly change maybe because I haven't found the ultimate level and satisfaction from my art. I will try many different tattooing techniques until I find what works the best for me. I don't think I would completely change my style but I will always advance it's complexity.
Q: Apart from the tattoo addiction, your
other passions are drawing, and painting. Your paintings are
something that I can totally relate to your tattoo style. Do you use
oil painting or airbrush or any other type of medium as self -
expression? Or its just a great hobby?
A: I work on many different mediums, it breaks the monotony of focusing on just one. I like to oil paint, work with my airbrush and do digital painting. I also work in 3-D to get a better understanding of color, light depth and contrast values. Anything to do with the art is not considered as a hobby for me, it's all a part of my career and it's something I love to do.
Looking at your art world makes me feel like I'm part of the story. Love, aggression, sensuality, so many emotions that actually describes the human nature. There is also a bit of a surreal note too.
I do like the surrealistic art style. It's something that makes you think, will surrealism truly has no boundaries. As for my other works the feeling depends on my life at that time when I created the pieces. I've always loved to draw the female figure of course what artistic person doesn't lol. I'm really digging the steam punk style art because of its mechanical intricacy and time travel Vistorian fantasy look. I'm also into underwater ocean art and tropical scenes most likely because of the years that I lived in Hawaii.
Q: I can see a beautiful eye expression in
almost every design. Is there any particular reason/message that
people should read from your art?
A: Whenever I have an eye present in any of my art I seem to focus on the detail more than any other part of the painting or tattoo. I believe the eyes are the window to the soul and describe the feeling and the mood of each piece of art I do.
Q: You love to work on many different mediums from Oil, Acrylic, Airbrush, Tattooing, Graphite, to charcoal and Digital. Which one is your favorite?
A: Out of all the mediums I work in I don't believe I can call one my favorite, each one has its own rewards and a believe in mastering all of them will make me a more rounded artist. I have noticed that my charcoal work seems to get the most attention. So this year I decided that I am going to create more heart in this medium.
Q: I can see lots of beautiful, strong and seductive women, that are really eye-catching designs through your portfolio. Do you feel inspired by the women nature?
A: Ever since I was a kid a loved to draw women and I'm very interested in learning the comic book style which I find is one of the most difficult art forms out there. I think the reason behind this is because the art is simplified and I try to be to literal when creating my art, this can make the comic style look to real.
Q: People could be ruff, jealous, crazy,
super-cool... As an artist, what are some of your greatest
challenges or obstacles you face while making your art?
A: I believe the biggest challenge I have in creating my art is to achieve the "wow" factor, always staying ahead of the game and pushing the envelope to create something new and different.
Q: ABT Tattoo is one of the highest rated studios in Georgia. How you feel about this? Are you proud and simply happy about your accomplishments? Or there is still something that should be done?
A: In the past seven years that my businesses been open I have strived to make ABT tattoo an elite studio that is recognized not just in Georgia but worldwide. My next step is to take my business and travel the world, to go to some of the biggest art and tattooing conventions the world has to offer.
Q: What keeps you creative? What is coming in your mind every morning while you go to work? Is there any trick that people should know in order to become successful?
A: I try to set up every day to be challenging and interesting enough to make me want to work hard on the daily projects. I always try to set up the most interesting art projects to ensure a positive response either from the Internet or locally. Nowadays the best way to become successful is to have your art in the right places to be seen by the masses.
Q: Art could be a great influence on
someone's personality. What is the best lesson that you've learned
from your art journey?
A: The best piece of advice I ever got was from a respected tattoo artist by the name of Joe Satterwhite. We were at a bar one day in 1994 Honolulu and after about a 12 pack of beer between both of us we started discussing my path and my attitude towards my career. At this point in the early 90s I started to become very arrogant after winning so many awards for my realism tattooing style I ended up with the rockstar fever and out of control drug problem that destroyed me for over a decade. I remember hurting everyone around me and at that point in my life I had little care, this was the beginning of the end. The advice I got from Joe was to stop the rock star shit and focus on becoming a true artist and humble. Unfortunately this advice went in one ear and out the other. I struggled with my demons for almost 11 years after this day at the bar. When I finally bottomed out in my personal life and career I remembered our conversation and searched for a way to rebuild my career. Since 2005 I have been clean and humble and feel like I finally have gotten a second chance.
Q: "Live fast die hard days" I guess is your life journey's quotation. Do you feel that after all those years of hard working you got the phoenix "attitude"? That's a fascinating story!
A: When I was in my 20s my favorite quote was to live fast die hard, I used to tell my friends that I probably wouldn't even see on my 30th birthday. My life was a whirlwind that was spinning out-of-control experimenting with drugs and drinking way too much just to be a part of the social group I was a member of. Tattoo conventions in the 80s and early 90s were geared for the party. I think I probably tattooed on every known substance known to man and somehow pulled it off. Sooner or later the substance abuse caught up to me it changed my art and my visions when creating, my friends and family were becoming more distant I found myself alone and miserable. Around 2004 I came very close to death due to pneumonia after eight months of hell I believe I finally saw the light and changed my life 360°. In 2005 I opened my business after cutting all my hair off changing my appearance and quitting all the substance abuse. I got back together with my wife and started my family on a serious note. Ever since the opening of ABT tattoo my life's goal re-create my art and myself from the ground up. It's now 2013 and just recently I'm feeling like I can envision my art work correctly. As for the Phoenix attitude you're absolutely right I have been born again with a better knowledge of life and why I'm here. My quote now is "life's best fulfillment is when you get your second wind".
Q: Do you find art in general as a cure,
an endless salvation?
A: Sometimes art is a cure for me depending on the situation of life, most of the art I do nowadays is just a way for me to unwind. I remember in my troubled years when I used to grab and airbrush or paintbrush and just disappear for 16 hours straight into a piece of art. While painting my mind seems to heal itself by thoughts that help me put my life back into perspective.
Q: Do you have any advice for beginners?
A: The best way to become a tattooist is to be an artist first. These days the competition is extreme so the more artistic training you have the better you will be. I am totally self-taught and these days I do not suggest taking that route. Make sure you always do the best you can no matter how miniscule the project is.
Please feel free to share your feature plans and share your work info/ website.
If you care to view more my work please visit www.ABTtattoo.com . Instagram profile is Todo911,
Facebook is www.facebook.com/Todo.ABT.TATTOO .
Thanks for your time,
Mr.Brennan It was such an HONOR to talk with you! I'm so happy that I've got this chance.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
All the best and keep rocking.