Jason McMillan Talks Philosophy, Self-Awareness and Tattoos...Part One
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 tattooer & philosopher, Jason McMillan.
Patrick Coste: Good day Jason, it’s been a while since the last NIX show. I’m glad you were interested in doing this interview. I noticed there are a few things going on for you, and I know you’re true to tattooing. So tell me, what's shaking in your neck of the woods?
Jason McMillan: I’m always interested in this tattoo-related content, you know? I'm obsessed with tattoo content. I find myself watching or listening to the same podcasts and videos, video interviews and all that on a constant loop. I think I've listened to videos and interviews so many times it’s not funny, lol. I'm just thrilled that you contacted me and with very few things you can really do these days, with somewhat limited tattoo content, I think it's very cool, you know, to be part of these tattoo talks.
PC: That's great. You know it's really cool that we’re talking about that because while there’s a lot of history, “somewhat live” tattoo content is a rare thing. For instance I got to interview Mike Austin a few weeks ago...So many stories! You’ve got to pay him a visit sometime.
I'm also an “all tattoo” content consumer as well you know, like from the Stoney St. Clair videos, the Tattoo Archive and each and every one that I share, it’s amazing. Guy Aitchison also creates great content every week on his new platform. It's awesome but you’re right, overall there’s not much new content out there.
JMc: Yup! You seem like you have to really dig deep to find the good stuff. You know, like there are a lot of conversations and whatnot. The “big” guys I like don’t talk publicly too much and you've got to really seek it out, like the old interviews in the old Tattoo Artist Magazine. All that kind of stuff you know, it's just not that accessible, but you can find them when you look.
PC: So you too dug deep into tattoo history and philosophy, and you seem pretty hyped about it all. How long have you been tattooing for and how did you get into it?
JMc: I'm celebrating my 10th year tattooing this year. I started, you know, I've always been interested in art from an early point. It was always comic books, you know? I was big into comic book collecting, and it wasn't necessarily about the comic book stories, I just always enjoyed the art and dynamic styles of art.
I could just sit there and look at a picture for an extended amount of time and really, really get some enjoyment out of that. So I would always try to draw more of a comic book style, and through high school that's where I spent all my time, in the art room drawing. I was looking at reference material, things like that.
After I graduated high school I always wanted to tattoo. In high school I had a plan to pursue an apprenticeship in tattooing. There was a person at my school that was a year older than me, his name is Andrew McDonald. He tattoos out West at Five Fathoms now, but back then he got an apprenticeship through the apprenticeship program in high school. He was like 16 years old, hanging around a tattoo shop and I thought that when I had the opportunity to take that same apprenticeship course, I would do the same thing.
This was probably when I was 15 years old, and I remember I went to the apprenticeship program and I told the guidance counsellor that I wanted to go and hang out at the tattoo shop and then...I'll never forget, and I’ve told this story a million times lol, they said to me, “If we allow kids, students to go and hang out at tattoo shops for the apprenticeship program, we might as well let them hang out in strip clubs too.”
PC: Holy!! Lol, so that was like, at 15, 16 years old Jason! What’s 30-year-old Jason up to?
JMc: I'll be 32 next month!
PC: So that wasn't too long ago... Still, you know, that was like in…
JMc: Early 2000s. Okay, okay, so it wasn't like the biker thing was back in the seventies! Lol, it wasn’t that way, I tell people. I talk to people A LOT about tattooing.
I was just having a conversation with a buddy of mine the other day, the guy who actually taught me how to tattoo, and I said, “Steve, man, it's been fucking 10 years. You know?” and he was like... “We were just sitting there talking and you know, it's like 10 years”. In a sense it doesn't seem like ten, it's like a blip in time.
When you think of tattooing, even from 2000-2010 it was considerably different, you know? Like, I could still remember getting my first tattoos, but it was way different. Like you were, you know...I don't know if it was just me because I had such an appreciation and respect for tattooing, but I remember like, the first time walking into a tattoo shop.
PC: Yup! It's all the Ink TV shows’ fault hah...
JMc: Lol, that was the beginning of it for sure.
PC: Oh yeah, it definitely got me to learn more about tattooing, you know. I'm the same as you, I’ve been in the business for 10 years.
JMc: Way cool! You know it takes a certain type of person to really want to go down this path. Often when I talk to people about the journey, and you're getting experience in tattooing, what that takes, I say to some people “I don't really know that if I knew what I would have to do to get to the point that I'm at today, I don't know if I could have convinced myself to do it.”
I thought in the beginning, that this would be a lot easier. Man, I really did... and even 10 years in, you know, it's not necessarily that it's gotten any more difficult, it's just that I'm a little more honest with myself, and I know it's all based on time. It's like, it's about time and it's about what you do with that time, but back when you first start it's tough man..to sit there and hang around tattoo shops hundreds of hours a week, make no money and think one day this is going to get good, one day that's gonna be awesome. If you're super into tattooing though, like I was, you don't even care. You were like this investment of time.
If it turns out that I could just make a couple hundred bucks a week and pay my bills, I'm thrilled you know, because at the end of the day I'm hanging on to the tattoo shop. Like, I don't care about having a retirement. I don't care about having savings. None of that matters. It's like I'm hanging out at a tattoo shop, I can die now.. lol!
I'm talking with guys about tattoos all day. To this day, that's all that matters to me. I go out, you know, I'll talk on the phone with people I don't even know that I meet, people with tattoo gear for sale or something like that, and I’ll just talk with them about tattooing. You know what I mean?
PC: You bet man! I dig this too, way too much at times, lol!
JMc: Right? It's like, “Oh, you got that machine for sale? Yeah, how's it run? You know what runs this way? This is how it gets..” Soon after you’re like, I’ve got this one but I like that one better, then down the rabbit hole of past machines… I'm so sad that I let it go and it goes on...
PC: We just did lol - You geek!!!!
JMc: Yeah, yeah, you're absolutely right, lol. You know the whole machine building and tattooing and all tattoo related things, it's something that I think is extremely necessary in tattooing, and I think there are lot of newer tattooers that maybe don’t even ask about or discover all that.
I'd say there’s maybe a few things that are involved with tattooing that will provide a sense of balance, and keep you from getting burnt out. You'll always love tattooing. You'll be consistently feeling the same way about tattooing every day. This is worth it for me. Like, I can pay attention to machines and when I'm kind of bummed out, I could pay attention to different styles of tattoos. Look at those out there, there’s so much to do in tattooing, or I could just focus on tattooing a few things, focusing on each one individually. It’s better ultimately to see the overall work than just one piece. You're looking at how you can improve by looking at different styles of art that you can implement into your own work. It never ever ends really, I love it!
PC: I hear you bud! For me the decision to not tattoo was easy enough; I couldn’t do justice to the art, but I did have the drive to help by applying my skill set and I sure did that. Like you said, you find your place, you find your way and you do it well and you do it. Just do it.
JMc: Yeah. Yeah. I think that's another big factor in it, and it's another one of those cliché things but it's about being self-aware right? Like, in 10 years you could go through a lot of phases. You can try a lot of different ways to do things, you know? Ultimately, if you spend ten years doing something in somewhat the same way, you just get better over time because you're more experienced. I think that's the best thing you can do.
I'm not going to be the next Ed Hardy, you know? I'm not going to be the next whoever... To me, making an honest living means I'm gonna treat people well, I'm gonna have a great time doing it, and that to me is all that matters.
I enjoy the tattoos I do, I enjoy the progression of my work. I enjoy all these things. At the same time, I just enjoy tattooing. I don't need to get to a certain level to find satisfaction in what I do. I find satisfaction in being forward thinking and trying to do the tattoo the best way I can at that point, with my skill set at this right moment. How can I not be that way when people come to see me for a great time getting tattooed.
PC: I’m glad that you’re auto-evolving, it’s something that anybody works for over 10 years. That's amazing in itself. Do you find yourself at a crossroads after 10 years?
JMc: I find the term “crossroads” is kind of interesting to me. You know, when I think about it and I think about how it could be looked at, it could mean that you're gonna have to make some kind of sacrifice. I at 10 years, am more excited about tattooing than I've ever been, and I’ve always been very, very, very excited about tattooing.
My thing is I just don't have enough time in a day to remain hyper-focused on what I do at any time. It's like, if you came to my house, the place I live, the place where I sit down at the end of the day, the place where I, you know, should be away from work, it's like my coffee table is filled with paint and paintbrushes and reference material and all that stuff. I’ve got two paintings on the go at all times and right now I’ve finished those two paintings. I’ve got three paintings that I'm making that I have planned for someone, and then I'm gonna do the biggest painting I've ever done in my life.
PC: You’re using the time you have eh? I like that! Have you always been like that?
JMc: Some people might look at my stuff and not like it. Some people might not understand it. I can't control how people look at my work, but the thing that matters to me most is that people looking go, “The guy’s respectful. He's trying hard and he works a lot.” That's what matters to me.
PC: How I believe you...Thank you very much my man! You know, I’m really enjoying this conversation - we’re covering a lot of stuff here, this might be a two-parter post...lol. Tell me, with everything you’ve got going on and because we’re showcasing some of the artists’ favourite tunes, I’d love to know what tune you’ll be listening to while you paint your new shop?
JMc: Aw man!! Just one single song?
PC: You can go with a few, lol, and if they’re PG18 we’ll play them for sure... Lol!
JMc: I’d go with “Black Betty” by RamJam and/or “In the Ghetto” by Elvis!
PC: Ho snap!! good jams!!! Can wait to see more tattoos from you Jason! Take care bud!!
Follow Jason McMillan on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mcmillantattoo
HEY READERS! Patrick and Jason had such a great time talking, they covered so much ground we couldn’t fit it all in this week’s post. BUT - if you’d like to hear more from their conversation - let us know in the comments and we’ll post the rest of it in the blog for you!