Originality. If what you want in your next tattoo is distinctiveness, then Jon Clue is your guy. Jon Clue has made a name for himself in this business as one tatooist who is serious about his art and also serious about his commitment to his clientele. He strives to meet each customer's needs in a fresh and creative way, then he pushes it 2 steps beyond that, working closely with every individual to ensure that his or her vision, combined with his innovative artistic flare, work together to create a unique tattoo that both will be proud of. This guy is da' shit! Hang on and you'll see what I mean ...
Let's start with a work history ... what did you do before tattooing ... how did you actually get into tattooing ... did you apprentice ... with who ... what shop ... and how long you were there?
Work history eh ... ? Lets see, before I started tattooing I was living in Brooklyn, NY. Just chillin', basically...you know, painting graf, making that dollar out on the block. I was really into the acid house scene in Manhattan when I was like 16 to right when I started tattooing when I was 19. I was always into the visuals I would get while listening to the music; I was always intrigued by the images that were rolling behind my closed eyelids.
When I was 19 I rolled into a tattoo shop in Selden Long Island, NY, called Tattoo Lou's Artistic Tattoo of Selden. I brought them a variety of sketches and pen and ink drawings and they hired me right away. I stayed at Lou's for a bit over a year. When I left there, I went to Lotus Tattoo in Sayville, New York, also on Long Island. At Lotus I had the opportunity to grow with Joe Capobianco, who was turning out some of the nicest work anyone had ever seen out on 'the island.' I definitely had a blast working with Joe! What an awesome person, aside from being an amazing artist.
After a year of cranking out more of a balance of custom work to flash work at Lotus, I became restless and was craving the idea of hitting the road and working in some new environments. This is when I decided to contact Ken Cameron, who immediately took me on at his South Beach Tattoo Company in Miami; this was a great experience for me. I definitely think my stay with Ken and his family was a blessing in the early part of my tattoo career.
During my stay in Miami, I was blessed with a feature article in Tattoo magazine. The article came out right around the first Miami convention and really helped to blast things off for me. Most of my work that was published then was very graffiti influenced. I was getting floods of calls from people from all over the country looking for this sort of graffiti influenced work, they were coining it 'new school,' I just called it ... whatever!
While still living in Miami, I flew to Chicago to start my backpiece with Guy Aitchison. I had met Guy about a year prior to the actual appointment; he was alone at the booth (a rare sight eh!), so I approached him to discuss the possibility of having him tattoo my back. We set up my appointment and I ended up meeting him in Chicago later on that year. I don't think I've actually been quite the same since!
Guy is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. We actually had a few things in common, a strong passion for making art being one of them. While working on the backpiece, Guy and I inevitably stayed in touch. I'll never forget a few months after my first visit with Guy ... we were making arrangements for me to come back for more work and Guy calls me back one day and says, 'Hey Jon, ya' know I'm sure you'd be able to line up some work here at Guilty while you're out getting work done. So why don't you bring your equipment when you come this time?' I don't even remember what stuttered out of my mouth in a response, but hey, I was doing a guest spot at Guilty and Innocent with Guy Aitchison!!!
Tattoo Art by Jon Clue
So you actually began working at G&I full time soon after?
Yeah, I started working at Guilty about a month and a half later. The guest spot was kind of a trial run, I guess. Things worked out great; we all got along really well. I established some very strong connections in Chicago. I started at Guilty around June/July of '97, and worked there for just about a year before the doors were finally closed. Guilty was an experience that will last forever; Guilty was not just a tattoo shop ... Guilty was an experience. From the moment you stepped through the door, all the prior feelings, thoughts, emotions were completely changed by the amazing atmosphere of artistic splendor that lay thick in the small lil' niche called Guilty and Innocent Productions! What a place for being creative; you really felt it and it was a beautiful opportunity. Thanks forever to Guy for believing in me.
Having spent all that time with Guy, were you really focused on your paintings then, and did that change the way you tattooed?
I cannot honestly say that my tattooing has changed due to a result of my renewed interest in painting. The two definitely vibe off of each other, but they both help each other evolve; one is not more important than the other. A painting I do tomorrow might not happen if not for a tattoo that I do today ... and vice-versa of course.
How important do you think it is for tattooers to have that other medium to work in?
The importance of another medium in the life of a tattooer is really a personal issue. For myself, honestly, it's all about making more art. It's important to prioritize the things you do in order to make yourself feel whole and complete. I recall around the one year mark of my tattoo career, I began really wondering what it would take to separate my work from the work I was seeing in the tattoo magazines. I soon realized that I needed to cut out as many outside influences as I possibly could; I really chose to zoom into the depths of my own imagination and my own psyche ... I chose to draw not what I thought people wanted to see, but what I wanted to see. And you know what? People were still really into it!
So you had to purposefully set aside the time to push your art. How do you balance the different workloads of painting and tattooing? And how important are they when it comes to working out ideas with the clients?
I feel my best when I'm making art, no matter what medium I'm working in. It's the most amazing feeling in the world to be in the process of creation. For me, life is about making the pictures. I personally work in another medium to accomplish in one what I might not be able to in another; it's a never-ending process, they just keep building off each other. With each new tattoo I learn how I could trick out the next painting, and with each new painting I figure out how to trick out the next tattoo. Then, of course, there's the added element of the client, each with his or her own tattoo ideas. This adds a whole new level of inspiration to draw from. You can vibe with your client to draw inspiration for their tattoo, which will inevitably find its way into your painting ideas, so the whole process really perpetuates itself.
I go through these cycles of drawing, then painting, then tattooing, then writing, then whatever ... and it's always very difficult to stay focused without hitting the wall. How do you deal with the possibility of burning yourself out?
Stay focused. Burnout does not really lie in the added projects one might accumulate from taking on another medium; burnout might, however, occur from watching television too much ... or going to the bar too much...or riding your hotrod too much ... or, lets see, wasting your life away at the strip bar ... basically, anything can keep you distracted from what is important to you. This is why it's helpful to prioritize your goals; if your goal is to make art, then there you go, make art. I heard someone once say that a well-rounded person never makes a really good point. This might sound a bit drastic, but hey, whatever is important to you. Ultimately you have to be happy with what you are doing with your human experience; if you're happy doing a few cool tats during the week and rockin' out during the weekend, then so be it ... but don't sit around and wonder why you're not accomplishing what the guy who does his homework accomplishes!
Well said! What subject matter intrigues you? What type of clientele are you looking for ... and what projects do you most enjoy now?
The projects I'm most interested in these days are really becoming less and less concrete image oriented. I am most intrigued by images that seem to look as though they are not from this dimension, but yet still have some sort of a shadow of this reality interlaced within it. The clientele that I'm looking for are people with open minds, who are willing to wear a tattoo that might reveal a bit more about themselves in order to get a tattoo that they might actually love forever; a tattoo that could actually be viewed as empowering to the client. This is why the consultation plays such an important role in the creative process for designing a tattoo. I like to spend at least an hour with a client asking as many questions as I can about subject matter, placement, color, feelings or emotions that are to be conveyed ... any little thing I can get from the client to describe to me the 'perfect' tattoo for them at that time.
Tattoo Art by Jon Clue
You mention your consultations a lot and the importance of spending time with your clients to get just the right feel for their tattoos. What do your consultations generally consist of?
I really enjoy my consultations, especially the ones that really get me to dig deep to come up with the right solution for the project. It's all about pushing the boundaries as far as possible, so I love when the client helps me to do that! I like to have clients view my most current work and show me what they like about a piece ... I also like to know what someone does not want. I try to get as many descriptive terms as possible, and then I'll do a few thumbnails, which I try to present to the client so we can really pick them apart. I want to get the details about the sketch they are into and the details they are not into. By this time I usually have a solid picture in my head of what they are looking for. I'll tape my tracing to the drawing board, lay a piece of clean tracing paper over the top, tape it down, and get to it. I use my thumbnail drawings as references, as well as any photos that could serve as a reference. Once I get a good outline rendering I'll tape another piece of tracing paper over top again and this time I'll render the shadows in with just values of gray. When this is done I'll move onto the next step: a colored pencil rendering. With a good solid colored pencil drawing done, it's time to dazzle the client. This shows how excited you are about working for them and will get them excited as well; it demonstrates that you are putting energy into their tattoo, and the more you put in, the more you get out. You can't make a tattoo look like you put in a hundred hours designing it unless you do put in that hundred hours. I strongly feel that if the artist does not love the project then how can you expect for the person who wears it to love it? It just doesn't work.
Give me your main influences, both in and out of the tattoo world.
Influences ... hmmm ... what a question. I'd have to say my biggest influence is life itself. Just being alive with the opportunity to grow in any direction I so choose. Every day, I wake up and these hands can put forth the visions that lay deep within onto a canvas or a living breathing person, or even just a piece of tracing paper, that is a good day!
As far as other artists from whom I may draw inspiration from, first and foremost is an Austrian oil painter by the name of Dieter "De Es" Schwetberger. Then there's Robert Venosa, Alex Grey, Patrick Woodroffe, Michael Whelan, Phil Hale, Zdzislaw Beksinski, just to rattle off a few. As far as other tattooists go: Guy, Aaron Cain, Little Vinnie Meyers, Paul Booth, Bernie Luther, Joey Capo, Cori Krueger, Eric Merrill, Grime, Timothy Hoyer, Tin-Tin ... I could go on forever here.
I really love the work that every body is doing these days, it's really great to see how inspired the tattoo scene is becoming to really push the envelope as far out there as we can. People like Chris Dingwell, who really has a style of his own; he's really inspiring to me. Michele Wortman, although many people may feel her work might be controversial as to whether or not it is really acceptable as tattooing because of her lack of using black as a foundation. This is what it's about - pushing it as far as possible. These are the people who are playing an important role in the tattoo culture. Without artists who are willing to really give it a part of themselves without the fear of being rejected by the scene, we'd still be doing skulls and daggers. I guess for some, that stuff is still cool, but as far as I'm concerned we are past that level so lets keep moving on.
Any tips or tricks you'd care to leave with the aspiring artists out there...or any words of wisdom for the collectors?
I'm waiting for someone to come up with a super trick cordless model tattoo machine, that will be the shit! I can't wait for that. Anyone wanna shoot some ideas around for that is more than welcome to contact me via e-mail. As far as technical tips go: it's important to understand the basic mechanics of the tattoo machine, but once you have that, it is far more important to let go and to realize that these tools are just that, another tool with which to make the picture. By saying this I do not mean that you should just go off and do whatever on someone's skin; it is very important to realize the position we play as tattooers, and to play that role in a responsible manner. It is imperative to honor the skin of your client as if it were your own, and remember: if you cannot love that tattoo then how could you ever expect your customer to. This is a serious responsibility, not to be taken lightly. I like to view tattoos as an opportunity for the wearer to express who they are to the universe on their skin, what an opportunity! How much more of a pure art form could there be?
Where can you be reached by the droves of individuals seeking to get work done by you and how long will they have to wait?
The best way these days is through the Internet. I'm working strictly appointment only and I'm way more inclined to answer e-mail; I actually love e-mail and I can't stand the telephone. It's a major point of frustration in my life, argh! But seriously, it's not difficult to get a hold of me. You really don't even need to be too persistent. I'm very excited about tattooing and art these days. It's time for me to really see how far I can push this thing. As far as appointments go, I'm usually booked about a month or so in advance, but I can usually squeeze someone in for a small one in between. I really like to be able to get someone in from out of town if they are just visiting, or whatever. For those willing to be a bit patient, I can only promise to make it worth the wait! I'm currently working by appointment only out of a small studio space within an existing tattoo shop.