Inkerviews > Tattoo Artists > Jay Wheeler Interview


Inkerviews features the work of tattoo artists and collectors, as well as fine artists, in a series of interviews. With an exciting lineup already in place and endless more to come, I hope you will check back often to read about these incredible people and enjoy their visually stunning talents.

I have been a fan of Jay Wheeler's tattoo work for many years now and last year, found myself lucky enough to correspond with him, while interviewing him for the forthcoming Tattoo Prodigies book. Right off the bat, I was greeted with such a kind demeanor and genuineness that it solidified the impression that I already had of Jay as a stand-out in the industry, boosted to a whole new level.

Anytime you fuse incredible art with first-class character, you've got a winner!

A tattoo artist for 17 years now, Wheeler has a formal art education behind him and a creative ingenuity that has garnered him a multitude of awards in the industry. His signature black and gray portraiture work will knock your socks off; while his religious themes, horror-themed pieces, and animal portraiture have earned him loyal clients and recognition world-wide.

With the ability to work within such a wide and extensive range, Jay is incredible at reproducing photographs to exaction, while also possessing the ability to use his artistic license and generate unique masterpieces.

Living in Southeast Michigan with his wife, Jay tattoos out of Eternal Tattoos, enjoys day trading, running and painting when time permits. This all-around nice guy and brilliant tattooer was kind enough to let us take a peek inside his mind and portfolio.

Have you always been interested in art? When you were a child, did you envision yourself working as an artist (or tattoo artist) when you grew up?

Yes I have, and yes I did. Ever since I can remember that is all that I wanted to be.  I started very young trying to draw “stuff”—from comics to animals.  Basically, just tried to make my drawings look like what I was looking at. When I hit high school, I began to take art more seriously, and began taking private art classes. Later, I qualified to enroll in an advance art program from another nearby high school and did that for a while with the plans of going to college to fulfill a fine arts degree. Well, I made it to college (Wayne State University in Detroit), and was working on that art degree with all of the best intentions to become an art Professor.

Then...I got a tattoo.

During the course of me getting tattooed (by artist Donny Cox) it was revealed to me that the owner of the shop was looking for another tattoo artist. I approached the owner (Terry “Tramp” Welker) and he agreed to take me on as his apprentice. I quit the university and set out for a whole new style of art training, and in 1992 began to tattoo full time; so, not quite the art professor that I had originally imagined, but in the art field nonetheless. I think it was a wise direction to go in.

Your work is so amazing because you have such diverse capabilities in so many genres; from technical portraiture/realism to inclusions of gothic & ornamental themes. What is your favorite type of piece to work on? 

Thank you. I get this question a lot and I really have a hard time answering it. I honestly like so many styles and types of tattooing that I have never really focused on one over the other.

I must say, that I truly enjoy the challenge of reproduction and detail. It is very technical and I tend to view myself as a technical tattoo artist. I love to do portraits and photo reproductions for this reason. Although, if I had to do this kind of tattooing all of the time, I believe I would end up getting bored.

I am very fortunate to have clients that allow me to work on a full spectrum of form, style and direction. I believe that it is important to remain flexible within your work simply to achieve freedom and prevent artistic confinement.

Maybe having said all of this, I enjoy reproducing detail—I am open to color or black and grey. If I am to do custom work I often lean toward gothic or ornamental design elements, but it would completely fall around the request of the client. 

In addition to the many years you have worked in the tattoo industry, you have a formal art education and background as well. Do you feel that this has benefited your tattoo work? 

I do believe that this has benefited me in way of design and layout of a tattoo, but not really in the way of executing a tattoo. I mean, if an artist can understand where shading and highlights are to go into a design, then as an artist you are ahead of some people. But…you might know where or how, but suffer attempting to make it happen on the skin.

Just thinking back to when I first started, I remember knowing exactly how I wanted my shading to look and…not so much.  It just didn’t come out the way I planned. It took me years to refine the technical aspects of tattooing and using the tools properly to obtain what I wanted my tattoos to look like.

I did get off to a fast start and was able to make acceptable tattoos early on, but it took a few years before everything felt comfortable. Because of this, I feel that the best way to benefit your tattoo work is to tattoo, tattoo, tattoo. 

Besides, I happen to know handfuls of tattoo artists that have absolutely no formal art training and they are fantastic tattoo artists. Having a formal art background might make a few things easier, but when all is said and done, it really doesn’t matter all that much. 

I know you are into stock market trading in your spare time. Do you plan to do more "trading" in the years ahead? What about the market intrigues you?

I do plan on continuing to trade. It has turned into quite an obsession. I got involved with trading about five years or so ago after some terrible investments opened my eyes, I felt compelled to educate myself on my mistakes. I took a class at the local college and read every book I could get about technical analysis. I put my focus on day trading stocks because I didn’t want to hold positions overnight where I couldn’t access them in case they went against me. Nowadays, I specifically day trade the E-mini futures contracts.

After learning about the market (and continuing to learn), you realize that the charts and graphs, and all of the little squiggly lines are all representations of people and their decisions.  That is what I am watching every weekday morning, a visual representation of other peoples’ opinions. 

It sounds kind of “dorky”, but I love to watch it. I’ve always loved to play video games and I see trading as one big video game - though it is the hardest video game I have ever played. Nonetheless, I still enjoy the constant challenge. Moreover, I can sit at my desk at home next to my wife and cats and trade peacefully. And…if I make wise decisions, I can bring home some extra money while I enjoy complete freedom. Ultimately, I would like to make trading my main source of income. When I can achieve this I would be freeing up a lot of time, and it would give me the chance to revisit some long overdue painting and drawing.


What are your goals for the upcoming year?

My upcoming business goals are to continue to trade. Once I can hit a specific level of consistency, I will cut down a bit on tattooing. Until then, I will still be carrying on tattooing and plan to promote some of my new work. It has been a long time since I have had new work in any publication so I am excited to get it out there and show it off.

I also plan on revising my website and add a few things. And I plan on doing a little traveling. I have been invited to do some tattooing in England and Ireland next year (2010) and look forward to it. It has been a long time since I have traveled (I very rarely travel) for work or vacation. I believe this trip will be a little of both.

Other goals include...getting fit! I recently started running and working out and plan on continuing that. This is long overdue. I have been feeling a lot better in the process so I look forward to more of the results. 

What is your favorite sweet treat (because I owe you one for doing this interview for me)? =)

The answer to this is Y  E  S,  sweet treats good. I am not picky and given the choice would choose to have whatever you deem as your specialty. Although, given how long it took me to get back to you with this interview, I would completely understand if I lost out on the sweet treat privilege. 

**Note from Jinxi: Oh Jay, you did take too long in the slightest. You are so fantastic for being a part of the Inkerviews and I would NEVER take sweet treat privileges away from someone so awesome.  Thanks again, Jay!

**Be sure to visit Jay's website or Facebook page to see more of his amazing work.

Last updated on December 1, 2009 by Jinxi Boo