Jean-Francois Trudel Talks Interpreting Japanese Style, Japan Going Legal, and “Miami Ink”?...
Point to Point takes you behind the needle to share the personal journeys of tattoo artists like you. Drawing inspiration, spreading respect and love… This time we’re talking with tattoo artist and Japanese-style tattooing enthusiast, JF Trudel.
Name: Jean-Francois Trudel
Years tattooing: 13 years
Years actually good at it? 😅 hahahahah since I’ve been interviewed by Eikon hahah
Place of business: Owner Zen Tattoo, Laval, Quebec
Patrick Coste: Salut JF! It’s been too long... A lot has happened on your end, and my end since we last saw you on the convention circuit, right? Let's start at the beginning of the year. You became a father once more... Congratulations! He has all his fingers and toes?
JF-Trudel: Hey, hey Pat! Thank you very much. Yes, all of them! LOL! There’s tons that’s happened since then, for sure. But yes, my son was born a bit before the COVID pandemic. It sure did go fast right?
PC: You tell me! How did you manage the mid-March break?
JFT: We had a shop meeting a few days before it all happened. We were like: who wants to come to work, or stay home? At that time, we didn’t know that the whole province was going to go into a major lockdown, so just before, we changed our protocols and decided in majority to continue to work. We had one person who stayed home, but really it was more than fine, no pressure whatsoever. Everyone wanted to pile up money, but a couple days later we were all forced to stay home.
As an artist you’re like, ok let's close it down and come back at it quick… As a shop owner you freak out a bit more due to bills and all. You want to be ready, but for what? I know that it was quite bad for many business owners. Sure, we had that CERB money, but the bills were way more than that. It was a major blow. My shop and I, we’re ok but I know of some people who were living paycheque to paycheque. We must all be more careful. It might be COVID or it might be anything next.
Now with the second wave coming… It feels a bit like the last round in boxing, you need to go the distance.
PC: I hope you did have time to be with your offspring, if anything, during that time! Tell me how did you start tattooing? I don't think I’ve ever asked you that...
JFT: I was quite young… I was 15. I knew back then that school wasn't really for me and that I had to find a “trade” to get into. I always drew, so in my mind it was always there, I knew I wanted to tattoo, even back then.
So since the age 15 I was looking, but who would hire a 15 year old? Around the age 16, I paid for a class.
PC: Wait, what? Like a tattoo course? 0_0
JFT: Yes! Shhhhhhhh... I started at 16 years old, paid for those classes, which didn’t even show you how to disinfect properly. We were keeping clipcord sleeves for weeks! LOL! Don't do that kids! You have to remember it was around 2007/2008, the tattoo TV reality shows were just starting, and the internet didn’t have that much info about tattooing.
I definitely was drawn to it. I remember one day I went home, saw that “Miami Ink” show and it was love at first sight. From then on, tattooing was all I could think of!
After a little while I found a job tattooing in Montreal at a classic establishment called SuperRock. Good old times...lol - Two years, lots of good stories there, lol.
I fell in love with Japanese-style tattooing back in 2007 at the Montreal Art tattoo show. I discovered Japanese-style by buying two books from Jack Mosher (Horimouja). I was hooked and bought more books.
I started to learn and study the rules to one day be able to bend them into my own style, not in a traditional way, but more into an illustrated Neo-Japanese way. It’s important to know that true Japanese style and the rules that come with them, are passed down in a family from Master to deshi (apprentice). Even Masters such as Filip Leu respected the rules before adapting them to their style. For me it was a revelation... I LOVE IT, so I too studied the rules of the families and then made my own recipe. I always change to suit my taste, and of course it has to please my client too!
When you look at all the great artists, you can see respect in the foundation of Japanese culture and folklore. You see a koi, a cherry blossom tree, they all have meaning, interpretations. Balance is everything. You play with fire when you change too much. You can get called out and even hated, lol, but it comes down to knowing the rules and adapting your stories.
PC: So you will say that your subject matter is very traditional but the illustrations are not?
JFT: I follow the rules, but I bend them to my liking... But I won’t change the rules. Example: A flower usually represents a time of the year. You wouldn’t put a momiji (maple leaf) with a blooming lotus flower which is in full blossom at the beginning of the summer, in a winter scene.
Different families have different rules, but there are general rules that respect the traditions. I mostly follow the logical and the overall rules, the ones that make sense to me.
PC: Are you creating your family unwillingly by doing so?
JFT: I wouldn’t say that. Japanese tattoo is very deeply rooted in tradition, family. Being a member of a family, like an apprentice, it’s all about the respect and the hierarchy that comes with it. Apprenticeship are very much respected in Japan, quite different than in America. Over here these days, if you’re not happy, you leave and life goes on.
PC: Hard not to talk about this... So Japan legalized tattooing eh! Do you think shit will hit the fan?
JFT: Oh-boy... LOL! Yes and no. Tattooing was already in a bad spot in Japan, culturally speaking. It’s still associated with crime. The new generation wears them like us, with a decorative flair, but the old generation will hate it for a while. Japan is quite conservative in many ways, but they’re on the right path! You go to Asia, you see the massiveness of it all: huge bodysuits, a crapload of them. They’ll take a while to democratize tattooing, but it's coming.
Decorative tattooing started in the EDO period 1603-1668 (not too long ago). At that time, criminals used to get their arms and foreheads tattooed by the government as punishment depending on the crime they committed. They used decorative tattoos to cover their marks of crime. It’s only in 1948 that was technically legalized. After that it fell into a grey zone because artists needed a medical licence to practice tattooing. Still artists were tattooing (without a medical licence).
It was in 2015 that the modern feud happened. Taiki Masuda, from Osaka, got raided and accused of practicing tattooing without a medical licence. He was found guilty. He fought the system until he was acquitted in 2018.
He decided to go further and advocate for tattooing in Japan. It went to the highest court and they ruled in his favour.
I would like to congratulate Taiki Masuda and tattooing overall in Japan, and I can't wait to see what’s next for tattooing in Japan.
PC: Wow, ok big respect, right? Tell me a bit about your trips there. You must be excited to go back at some point? I bet you have a guest spot ready, lol!
JFT: I was looking forward to my fourth time over there. The first three times I went was mainly to discover, and to get tattooed by, Shige. It was a huge honour.
If this COVID thing stops, LOL! Yes, I’ll go back to Japan, but really you don't get there and just get a guest spot to tattoo. You need to be accepted, and then you can only work hard at it. I made a lot of contacts and friends, and I can’t wait to go back!
PC: This is rad man! Thank you so much. It was nice to catch up and thank you for the Japanese history lesson .
Make sure you visit JF’s website www.jftattoo.com to check out his blog!!
Follow JF Trudel on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jf_tattoo