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 hardly know where to begin when talking about the one-and-only Mike DeVries. Not only is he the maestro of realism tattoo art, a top-selling author, tattoo product entrepreneur, shop owner, painter, dad, husband, and all-around amazing guy; he is also one of my best friends and a person who I owe a lot to, both in the tattoo-appreciation sense and in the sentimental sense.
It's no secret that Mr. DeVries has decorated a huge portion of my skin with his awe-inspiring skills. In fact, he has had to put up with me for nearly 200 hours worth of tattoo work (at this point) and if he doesn't mind, I plan to keep that number ascending for as long as I can trick him into it (wink wink).
I first met Mike at a tattoo convention, took one look at a monkey portrait he had executed and nearly fell over. I had never seen an animal so precisely and realistically tattooed before, and it took about a split second longer to decide that I simply had to have him design my throat piece.
That was many years ago and you would think that I would be used to his astounding ink aptitude by now, but just like any true prodigy, he continues to WOW me with his continual advancement each and every time I see him. This ceaseless drive to learn more and push himself farther is just one of the many reasons that he is so respected and admired in the tattoo industry; by fellow artists and collectors alike.
Raised in the San Fernando Valley area of Southern California, DeVries had a interest in art from an early age. Given an opportunity to learn the art of tattooing from Jim Hayek in his early 20s, Mike worked hard to soak up all he could about technique, colors, art, and the tattoo industry in general. He quickly built up his portfolio and his clientele, and it wasn't long before his name was synonymous with first-rate realistic portraiture.
Mike's skills with color, saturation, lighting, texture, and shading are truly top-notch and breathtaking. He has spent a great amount of time educating himself on color theory, contrast, an understanding of lines and proportion, as well as many other elements that really set him apart in the field. Several nights a week, you will find him taking classes at the Art Institute, where his quest for knowledge and improvement never ceases.
With Let's Be Realistic becoming a top-seller in the tattoo book genre, a new book (Tattoo Prodigies) due out early in 2010, a DVD (Get Real, With Mike DeVries) available for sale now, and always new plans and projects on the horizon, you don't often find Mike not thinking about art in one way or another.
In addition to these impressive undertakings, Mike is also the co-owner of Stencil Stuff and Spray Stuff; recently opened his own shop (MD Tattoo Studio) in Northridge, California; is an outstanding painter, chess player, stock market enthusiast, and a loving family man. His wife Serena is one of the most adorable and kind people I know, and his son Kyle is a talented kiddo with personality and charisma x 10.
I feel lucky beyond measure to have been fortunate enough to work with Mike on so many projects, both on skin and on paper; and will always treasure his friendship as well as his ink work, as I wear it throughout my years.
It is my honor and pleasure to bring you an interview with "The MD" of the MD Empire himself, Mr. Mike DeVries.
Though I know you and your tattoo work so well, I constantly marvel at the new touches you interweave into your work. How do you keep things fresh and innovative, while maintaining your signature realism style?
I just try and progress as an artist and in doing so, it reflects back into my tattoo art. I try and go outside of my comfort zone. Try new things. I have found things that work well and I stick with those things.
There is a lot that I have found doesn’t work as well, and it’s those things that I will try different approaches to and figure other things out. There’s a lot of trial-and-error in art that further educates you and that is how things evolve. Even drawing inspiration from others; it all has effects on the artistic side of the industry.
I also have been painting a lot more and it helps my tattooing, as the tattooing helps my paintings, I’ll always have realism elements in my art, it’s just what I’m attracted to. But I’ll just continue to do new things to keep things exciting for me and the people that enjoy looking at my work, and to those that wear it.
You have incorporated a lot of formal art study at the Art Institute into the equation lately. Can you tell us about the classes you have taken and what effect you think they have on your tattoo work?
I'm one that will never stop learning, no matter how good I feel about my work or how good others tell me my work is. Most of the time it goes in one ear and out the other.
I just feel that there is so much to learn out there so why stop now? I’m not looking to get a degree or anything. I already do what I love. I’m in the industry that I love and I don’t need a degree to tell me that I’m good, or to get a different job. I just love learning something new and applying the new things that I may have learned in a class or seminar, to my work.
I’m currently taking one class that focuses on the head and hands. Even though I do portraits every day, I have learned many things that I can incorporate into my tattoos and paintings from the class. I love learning about old master painters, the techniques they used, and the different ways they did things. That stuff really intrigues me.
Besides keeping up with a busy tattoo schedule and running your own shop, you always have new ideas and projects going on as well. Can you run through some of your recent accomplishments/projects for us. What's coming next? How do you find time for it all?
Well I’m still married, so that’s a good thing. I do use a lot of my time for tattooing, artwork, projects, etc. There isn’t enough time for it all, so you have to use the time you have very carefully. Take care of the priorities first, then go down the list from there.
For me, I would work 24/7 if I wasn’t married and didn’t have a kid. But I still work a lot. Way too much. It has come to a point where I have to tell myself, “Ok, you’re done for the day. Stop working." And it’s not just tattooing, it’s a lot of things, such as answering these interview questions. It’s all part of it. Whether I’m updating my website, printing pictures, making business cards, etc., there are always a million things to do.
For me right now, there are the tattoos that I do every day, painting projects, running my shop…oh, and school. There is Stencil Stuff/Spray Stuff. I recently started MementoPublishing.com that has a focus on art books.
Tattoo Prodigies is the next book in line. We have been working on this one for awhile now and its release date is February, 2010. It will feature 83 of the top artists; full of pictures (over 800 photos of some of the best tattoo work to-date), plus interviews from many of the artists. It is 10 x 13, hard-bound, 256 full-color pages.
Here really soon I am going to start the second edition to my Let's Be Realistic book. I feel the first edition, even though it is less than a couple years-old, is already outdated, so instead of making more first editions, I’m just going to jump on the second edition.
Jeff Johnson and I have started a new book called Cranial Visions. My goal for it was to make a book that has over 3,000 images of skull-related artwork. Any type - it could be a sculpture, tattoo, painting, drawing, etc. It doesn’t matter, as long as it has a skull in it. And what’s cool about this book is that it is open to anyone. Anyone can submit a photo of their artwork, to try and get it included in the book. We already have a ton of great artists that have confirmed that they will submit photos. It’s going to be really cool. If you read this and want to submit a photo of your art, email: email@example.com. Your name will be printed next to the artwork.
That’s about it as far as new projects.
I would rather be overloaded with work and push myself than do the bare minimum and just get through it. I love having projects going on. It keeps things fresh in my life. Whether it’s making a book or a DVD, or starting a whole new business venture. I was always intrigued with the business side of things. My family got me interested in the stock market at a young age and I wish I had invested in it back then, but it was something that I always loved and paid attention to.
That’s why for me now, it’s hard to just tattoo. I need to be doing other things. I need to keep trying to grow, not just as an artist but as a business owner, or else I would be going crazy. I’m trying to not burn myself out from doing one thing and one thing only.
Of course, making extra money is nice but I love to see things develop. Taking an idea that pops up one day, putting it all together, and making it work is awesome. That’s why I love the book process. It is so much work and takes a long time to complete, but when it is done, seeing it printed and in your hands is amazing.
What one word best describes you?
Well for now, one word that describes me is grouchy. I have been trying to quit these dang tobacco products. It’s been seven weeks without using them, but it seems like it is getting worse. I don’t know how much longer I‘m going to last.
But normally, one word that describes me is mellow.
What one word best describes your work?
A word that describes my work? How about you take care of this question for me Jinxi - you know me pretty well!
**From Jinxi: Because Mike is so modest, I’m going to say phenomenal. I know that HE wouldn’t say that, but come on, it is, right??
What would your ideal day be like?
To tattoo on Jinxi every day. I would be happy if every client was like you!
**From Jinxi: awwwwwww…thanks, Mike! Geez, that’s my wish too: to get tattooed every day by you. =)
What is your favorite sweet treat (because I owe you one for doing this interview for me)?
I do love cupcakes and I know you love to make them.
Last updated on December 5, 2009 by Jinxi Boo