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.
As a longtime fan of Myke Chamber’s work, I was excited to have the opportunity to feature him. His bold, daring, and meticulous designs are a source of inspiration to both myself and the tattoo community in general. And as fascinated as I am with what he accomplishes with a tattoo machine, a paintbrush, and a pencil, I think more than anything, I am inspired by the genuine person that Myke is and the ability that he has to awaken perspective in those he comes in contact with.
It’s true that life’s challenges can bring about more clarity and determination than one might ever think possible and Myke is a true example of this concept. After a rough childhood, time in prison, an addiction to drugs and alcohol, and time in rehab; Chambers not only found his calling awaiting him behind ink bottles and tattoo machines, but he valiantly overcame those harsh obstacles of the past and arose a shining star in the industry.
In addition to his dedication to carving out a new path for his life, this talented artisan emerged with a determination to help others who he sees trapped in the vicious cycle which he understands all too well. Myke donates his time speaking at prisons and juvenile rehabilitation facilities, sharing his story and sparking inspiration in those who need to know that it is possible to overcome adversity and rebuild their dreams.
In addition to these admirable deeds, is his brilliant ink slinging talent. When it comes to tattoo work, Chambers seriously shines. His designs are dynamic, vibrant, and clean as a whistle. He can take traditional-inspired designs and add special twists to each; making his pieces memorable and original, but always boasting that old skool charm.
A free spirit with a penchant for the nomadic lifestyle, there is a good chance you can find Myke traveling to a city near you. It’s exhausting just looking at his travel schedule for the year and he definitely works his tail off tattooing across the globe. Lucky for tattoo collectors, he (at this point) has a handful of spots still available, so don’t delay if you want to add a Chambers treasure to your skin.
It was a true pleasure to learn more about such an interesting person and is an honor to feature such a great artist. I hope you enjoy reading more about Myke and his incredible journey; one that is inspiring, full of color, passion, and bright days ahead.
Your tattoo journey (and your life’s journey in general) is so inspiring. I know that many years were tough in a way that most people can’t even comprehend, but your ability to find your way through it all and emerge such a shining star and an example to so many is incredible. For those unfamiliar, can you give us a little background on your story and how you headed out on your own at the early age of 15?
Wow, thanks Jinxi! Yeah, I've definitely lived a tough life from a very young age. Today I cherish those trials, as they've molded me into who I am and now I'm able to use those experiences to help others that might be going through trials of their own.
I've lived a crazy life. I was born in Florida and lived there until I was five, when my parents divorced. My mom packed up the kids and moved to California. She couldn't afford to live in a nice neighborhood, so we ended up in East LA. I felt like my parents divorced because of something I did, because I was a bad kid. So I kind of made that the role of my life, and I started playing the part...running with street gangs (well the little brothers of the gangsters anyway).
I was getting in a lot of trouble; breaking into my elementary school and stuff like that. Mom couldn't handle me so she sent my little brother and I back to Dad in Florida (via Greyhound bus). He was too busy and didn't have time for us, so he'd send us back to mom in LA. This went on for most of my younger years until both parents finally decided to move to Austin, Texas. But I still continued getting in trouble, which was a pattern I would continue for years.
Right around age 15, my mom gave up on me and I left home. Shortly after that I did something really stupid. I robbed a guy for $27,000 with a couple friends of mine. We were arrested the next day for armed robbery. Long story short, I didn't want to go to prison, so I packed a backpack and hit the rails. I started hopping freight trains around the US with my little brother, Stevie.
Before that I had done my share of drinking and experimenting with drugs, but now I didn't care about anything. I thought my life was over. Drugs and alcohol numbed out that pain. I quickly became an addict, though at that point I didn't care. I ended up in New Orleans where I began my tattooing apprenticeship. I found something I cared about, but my drug habit became paramount to everything and everyone.
I continued riding freight trains around the country, it was a Huck Finn-type of adventure. For awhile it was fun, but soon it turned into a nightmare. In November of 1996, my little brother died when the abandoned building he was sleeping in caught on fire. He was too drunk to wake up and the other kids in the building left him in there to die. After his death I went on a suicide mission. What little strings there were holding me to this world were gone. I had just lost the last thing in this world I loved...my little brother.
I'm still amazed I'm alive today. I eventually ended up getting arrested for the robbery and spent four years in a Texas prison. There I continued to tattoo with hand-wrapped coil machines, using my clock radio as a power supply, and hand sharpened needles. Hahahaha! Dead serious.
I felt like I was given my life back when I was released from prison, but the addiction soon took over again. I continued a worthless drug addict for a few more years until September 8, 2005, when I gave up and finally checked myself into a rehab. After I got out of rehab I had to relearn tattooing because I had been tattooing high for so long.
The rest is history. I'm still sober today and loving life.
You have been sober since September of 2005 (Yay, congrats!). Can you tell us how this has changed your life? Do you see the world differently now? Do you see artwork and tattoos differently too?
As you can imagine, it changed my life completely. I see things differently now, like through a new pair of glasses, so to speak. Today, getting wasted isn't my main focus, living life “awake” and to its fullest is now my daily goal.
I will tell you this...my art, before I got sober, sucked ass compared to my art now.
I love that you donate your time to speak at prisons and juvenile rehabilitation facilities, sharing your story with many who must be grateful to hear it. How has this helped not only those you teach, but yourself as well ?
Well, it helps keep me sober for one. I don't know, just the feeling of giving without expecting anything in return...there's nothing like it. I try to help people any way I can. I feel we're all connected, it's the Law of Oneness, and if I love myself then I need to love everyone else as myself. Easier said than done, but I like to work on it. I don't like seeing people hurting and struggling with addiction when I know firsthand that there's hope and a way out.
Do you think that your years spent traveling and exploring so many areas of the country had an influence on your love of traditional Americana art and tattoos? Were you always drawn to this style or did it emerge throughout the years?
I do, for sure. I always loved the classic, nostalgic look of traditional tattoos and anything Americana. Though my artwork in the early years was more focused on black and grey realism. I was working in Hollywood when my friend started to really get into traditional tattooing and it really caught my eye. I thought it was really easy, until I started to do it. Man, was I wrong.
You learned to tattoo in 1994, so you have seen the tattoo industry change in so many ways throughout those 16 years. Can you tell us about some of the significant transformations you have seen take place during that time? What are your feelings about the industry today and where do you see it headed next?
Well, wearing gloves is pretty standard now (ha ha ha) - just kidding. I feel one of the biggest changes is that no one really makes their own needles anymore. I only recently, in the last five years, switched to pre-made needles.
With every new thing I've usually been late to switch over. Like when everyone went from 35mm film to digital for taking tattoo photos. I thought that was stupid. I was diehard film.
Supply companies? I mean the there are a zillion. And ink...man, there are a ton of different ink companies with a million different colors of ink. I wonder if these new tattooers even know how to mix their own ink, other than different hues.
But all that said, I, for the most part, like where the industry is today, but I think it's important to know where it came from.
Next? I don't know, but I bet it's going to be interesting. These kids today are getting better, faster and faster, and doing all kinds of crazy stuff; but who knows if their tattoos are even going to last the test of time, like tried and true traditional does.
Your work is so incredible because you produce exquisite traditional old school style pieces, but each one has this special “Myke Chambers touch” that really makes it stand apart and shine. When you sit down to tattoo, what are your goals for each piece and how have you learned to throw that extra flair in there to make each your own?
Honestly, I don't have a clue. There are a million things that go through my mind; balance, flow, fit, and composition, all while keeping the client's vision in mind. But then I just do it and bam...there it is. My style is constantly evolving.
I'm just trying to do my own thing while still honoring the forefathers of tattooing. I don't want to copy anyone and have my tattoos look like everyone else’s out there that are carbon copies of each other. Again, I don't really know how, I just do it. I do know I put a lot of thought into everything I do.
Your lines are so crisp and your colors so vibrant and powerful. Do you feel this can be attributed to techniques you learned early on or was this something you developed on your own?
Most of what I do I've developed over the years. Like, I'll see one tattooer applying a technique, and I'll take that and then change it to fit my own style. For example, the way I pack color I learned from Joshua Carlton and evolved it a bit. The liners I use were actually a mistake when I first used them - I ordered the wrong needles and didn't even realize it (ha ha). Luckily, they turned out to be awesome, and now that’s all I use. Also, I'm a bit of an OCD perfectionist when it comes to my tattoos.
Not only are you an outstanding tattooist, you are also an amazing painter. How often do you find time to work on artwork that is not skin-related? What are your favorite mediums to work with?
Not often enough!! But lately I've had quite a bit of time. I actually take my painting materials with me everywhere I go.
My favorite medium is watercolor on paper, though I like to work with all types of media.
You are a traveling machine! Your convention schedule is full of fantastic shows this year! How do you keep up this busy schedule? When you aren’t traveling, do you have a home base where collectors can catch you at to have work done?
Tell me about it!! I don't know how I do it. I guess it's in my blood from childhood. I do have a home base these days; when I'm not on the road, I'm at Art Machine Production in Philadelphia, PA, with Tim Pangburn.
What do you dig the most about convention settings?
Getting to see all my friends.
Are there specific shows you look forward to the most?
There sure are: Hell City, Ink N Iron, Philly, Boston and Detroit. Also, a few other small shows that are really fun too, like the Biloxi show.
Any new shows you are attending this year that you haven’t tattooed at in years past?
Yeah, I'm doing a few new conventions this year: Atlanta, Tattoo La Palooza Miami, Brussels, and Tattooed Life Tour.
What is the best way for clients to book appointments with you and do you still have spots open at conventions coming up?
Through my email: firstname.lastname@example.org and website: www.mykechambers.com
I do still have openings at all my conventions this year, but only like one or two open spots at each show left, so book fast!
Do you have any favorite machines you have been using lately? What about inks? Are there certain colors you tend to use more often than others?
I do. I've been using a couple Bulldog shaders built by Keith Underwood; as well as a Soba liner. Though I did recently build a few machines of my own that I'm selling. They're a Bulldog-style also.
I use all Eternal Ink. Hands down, the best ink on the market that I’ve used.
I usually stick to the Lipstick Red, Crimson Red, Grass Green, Baby Blue and a color I just mixed for Eternal called True Gold.
Do you like to listen to music while you are tattooing? If so, what’s on the Myke Chambers rotation (btw, I had to buy the Frank Turner “Photosynthesis“ track after hearing it on your video - it‘s SO great!)?
Ha ha, yeah, Frank Turner is on there for sure, along with: Lucero, Social D, Black Flag, GBH, Prince (ha ha), Elvis Costello, The Four Tops, The Pogues, Steel Panther, etc.
Can you tell us about the “Eternally Bound” Sketchbook series? Volume Two will be out soon, right? When is the release due and how can enthusiasts order a copy?
Well, they're basically collections of my drawings and paintings from over the years. You can see big progression/evolution in my art from one volume to the next, for sure.
Actually, Volume 2 is out now. You can order it from me on my website, through Kingpin Supply, or ReflectedArt.com.
I get the impression that you do (and always will) love learning, growing and living the adventure of life! What words of wisdom do you have for up-and-coming tattoo artists about these principles?
Always stay open and teachable. The moment you think you know it all, you're done. And tattooing isn't a race. Take your time and do it right. Don't take shortcuts (ie: if you drop something on the floor just because no one saw you do it doesn't mean you can use it).
ETHICS! And a thing called karma. What goes around, comes around.
Also...Rule 32: Don't take yourself so damn seriously. Enjoy life.
What are your goals for 2011?
To make cool tattoos and try to help someone.
What one word do you think describes you best?
What one word best describes your work?
Any final thoughts for JinxiBoo readers?
I know it sounds lame and totally unpunk rock of me, but learn to love. I know I’m trying.
My whole life I prided myself on being a survivor. I survived a messed up childhood, living on the streets, four years in prison, drug addiction. I'M A SURVIVOR. Well, I realize today that surviving isn't living...today I’m learning to live.
Thanks Jinxi, you're such an awesome person.
To view more of Myke's excellent work, keep up with his accomplishments and convention schedule, and to book an appointment, be sure to visit his website www.MykeChambers.com
Last updated on February 21, 2011 by Jinxi Boo