The following interview appeared in a German tattoo magazine, completely in German, of course. So here is the English version. Many thanks to Travellin' Mick, who interviewed me.
- Please give me some details about your biography, the usual: How old you are, where you were born, grew up, etc. I’ d like to know a little bit about your family background as well: Were there artists in your family? Were you encouraged to draw or sth like that? What did you do before you became a tattooist? School, job, uni,…? Do you have an art school background?
I am 27 years old. I was born and raised in the New Haven area of Connecticut, in the United States and I currently live and work in Austin, Texas. I had a fairly typical suburban upbringing in most respects, but I was encouraged to develop my talents and abilities on my own. So my parents never bought me all the coolest new kids’ toys or whatever was fashionable at the time. I took some art classes as a child, and always excelled in required art classes in public school. Later I attended a special arts-oriented high school during my senior year, and from there I enrolled in a local art college. In addition to this formal training I was working independently, trying to get as many freelance art jobs as I could, painting murals, designing logos, album covers, absolutely whatever I could get my hands on.
Three semesters into art college—where I was learning a lot of crucial foundational fine art skills—I landed a formal tattoo apprenticeship at a local shop, so I dropped out of college to pursue tattooing full time. Luckily I progressed quickly with tattooing and was able to pursue my painting and other fine art mediums just as I did while in college. So I never stopped learning, thankfully, and dropping out didn’t have a horrible effect on my progression or motivation. In fact I became more motivated because I HAD to be—I was doing it on my own with no academic structure to guide me or discipline me. This has served me very well to this day. I’m a naturally self-motivated and disciplined person and I’m still trying to learn as much as I can, constantly.
Growing up I was heavily influenced by my great aunt Ellie, my grandmother’s beloved sister, who was an accomplished watercolour painter of wildlife and nature scenes, as well as a skilled calligrapher. Many family trips to her home shaped my interest in visual art and helped inspire me as a child. To this day I still set up my drawing table based on how I learned to do so from watching her. Sadly she passed away several years ago, but her passing inspired me to learn about another family member, a great uncle on the same side of the family (my mother’s side) who is an exceptional landscape painter.
My father, although not skilled per se in visual art, is a master wooden boat builder and one of the most clever craftsmen I’ve ever seen. He comes up with all kinds of useful applications for wood and epoxy built structures, and thrives on working with his hands to make and build things. This sort of mechanical creative thinking has definitely played a part in my own creative thinking, even though my own outlet is slightly different.
Both my mother’s and my sister’s hobby and passion is sewing. From a young age my sister has been making her own clothes and creating with fabric and thread, even going as far as to make her own wedding dress. Her and my mother both enjoy creating in this way with their hands.
So I think that being surrounded by all of this productivity my whole life has played an instrumental role in my similar development. While I don’t necessarily come from a strong lineage of specifically visual artists, there is a lot of ingenuity and creativity and craftsmanship in my family that’s been a blessing and a great influence.
- How did your interest in tattoos develop? What was your first contact, when did you get your first one, how was the decision to become a tattooist made? What did your family think about it?
I became fascinated by tattoos in my early teens, mostly due to the antisocial, rebellious stereotypes associated with them, but surely also because of the unique and exciting artistic outlet they provide. Looking back though, it’s hard to say which was more important—the combination of art and rebellion was too intriguing, and I was hooked.
I waited for a while, then tried unsuccessfully for several years to land an apprenticeship, and finally succeeded when I was 18 years old and in art college. My family was very concerned about my decision to drop out and pursue tattooing but I reassured them the best I could that I had confidence it would work out. My parents and I were not even speaking at that time, unfortunately, due to being at odds about all of my anti-establishment, free-thinking lifestyle choices, so naturally they were not happy about the interest in tattooing. Thankfully, though, all of that has a happy ending. My parents and I have since repaired out relationship and they are now very proud of me and supportive of my career.
- Did you enter a formal apprencticeship? In hindsight, was this decision/opportunity the best way for you? Or would you wish for yourself to have gone any other way?
How did your own career develop? On your own or in shops? Where did you work and how did that influence your career?
I had a wonderful experience as an apprentice at a local flash-oriented street shop in Connecticut, called Tattoo International. The owner Mark Savaikis was very encouraging and supportive of me, and kept me moving along in my learning at a good pace. He didn’t treat me like a peon or a slave. However, I paid a lot of money for this apprenticeship, so he had an obligation to teach me, but it was money well spent, obviously. I also had the opportunity to learn a whole lot from other talented tattooers who were in the area, like Lou Jacque, Eric Merrill, Julio Rodriguez, Joe Capobianco, and all the other guys at the old Darkside tattoo, where I eventually got a job. I was extremely fortunate in how I came into this profession and I have no regrets or second thoughts whatsoever. Tattooing has given me everything in life I could have possibly hoped it would, and then some. I’m extremely grateful for it all. Even the times I get sick of it are not without a deep appreciation either for the craft or the people who make what I do possible, who help me earn an honest living doing what I love—making art.
- There seems to be a group (at least that’s our impression in Europe from far) of you guys doing this hyper (almost sur-) realistic color work (Mike de Vries, Carson Hill, Nikko Hurtado, Jeff Ensminger, Adrian Dominic, Nate Kostechko, etc. etc.) What is your connection to them, if there is one?
Well, firstly I am friends with all of them. So we always see each other’s work, and sometimes tattoo each other, and that helps build this little informal “movement” if you will, of our style that we each cultivate on our own, but in the presence of others whose energy we feed off of. I sometimes like to think of it as the ‘next generation’ of artists coming up and being influential, and influencing each other, much how the previous generation of Guy Aitchison, Aaron Cain, Marcus Pacheco, Paul Booth, Filip Leu, etc. all rose to prominence around the same time and are basically all friends with each other. However, this could just be a delusion of grandeur, who knows! I’m just thankful to be able to do what I do and be respected or admired for it, and have cool artists around me doing the same thing.
- Have you worked on Neuma machines before? They are creating quite a following in Europe. What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of them? Would you recommend young artists to start tattooing on Neumas? Why or why not?
I have tried Neumas before, with mixed results. I produced very nice, well-healing tattoos with Neumas the few times I’ve used the system, but I found the adjustments I needed to make to the way I prefer to tattoo, to be too much of an inconvenience for now. So I stick to coil machines, they’re what I learned on. So I feel Neuma is a very solid product, and a really great alternative if people are looking to try something else. They have definite advantages over coil machines, but some disadvantages also. Its all just comes down to personal preference—try it and decide for yourself. I do feel that people should learn with coil machines and then try Neumas later if they are curious.
- Was Evian your first visit to a European convention? How did you enjoy it? Where are the differences to American conventions, if any? Which conventions in Europe will you visit in the future? Are you planning to do guest spots in Europe? Do you have lots of European clients?
Evian was indeed my first European convention, and I had an amazing experience. I am planning on doing more European shows in the years and months ahead. The language barriers are a little intimidating but everyone was very friendly and had great attitudes. There were so many nationalities and cultures all coming together which was exciting and inspiring, whereas at American shows it tends to be mostly just American artists with maybe only a few internationals. I would like to also do guest spots in Europe so I can see more of the continent and learn more about life, culture and the histories there. I’ve done one guest spot abroad, at Triskele Tattoos in Northern Ireland, owned by a wonderful woman Jenine, and that was a great experience. I tend to prefer guest spots to conventions because shows tend to be very hectic and tiring and stressful. So a handful per year is perfect for me, I don’t get sick of them that way.
- How did your particular style develop? Are you influenced by any art outside tattooing? What does appeal to you about it? What other art forms/media do you work in?
My style is actually hard for me to pinpoint. I feel like other people have an easier time describing it than I do. I’ve always just done what I felt passionate about and followed my talents where they’ve led me. Obviously I have a predisposition towards a realistic, rendered look. I want to create the illusion of 3D form, on a two dimensional surface. And I want to do it with subtlety and refinement, coming from a more academic approach. So I’ve always been highly influenced by any variation of realism painting, the Renaissance, Dali, and definitely photography. I was taught in art school to paint in the classical “Trompe L’oeil” tradition so that is a huge influence conceptually and technically. Any form of realism, oil painting, and photography are huge inspirations for me. There are many other diverse art forms and movements that inspire me and have helped shape my own style in smaller ways, but in the interests of time and space, those are the main ones.
- How should potential clients contact you? Contact info for the article? Are there styles/topics you would like to work on more than before? Which way do you want to go artistically?
People should get in touch with me through my website, www.nickbaxter.com or try to find me at a convention. Appointments are usually very limited because I like to devote as much time as I can to pursuits like painting, photography, and other personal interests. So I usually take only the most inspiring, fun, or intriguing requests. I’m looking to do more “bio-organic” and “bio-mech” work, as well as anything highly surreal or unusual where I can employ various visual special effects, such as “Trompe L’oeil” realism.
How do you see the relation between European and American tattoo artists developing? What could be done among tattooists to improve the situation/understanding between those two cultures?
I’ve only been overseas a few times so I might be limited in answering this question, but it seems like relations are really good. Tattooing is becoming way more globally connected. I’ve noticed a lot more lately that artists in Europe are drawing inspiration from some of the newer American artists, and vice versa. It seems like there’s a new wave of amazing European artists coming up just like there is in America. I think the best thing to keep improving on all of this, is simply to keep travelling and visiting and learning. Europeans need to come over here and teach and learn, and we need to go over there and do the same. Just connect and share and feed off of each other in a positive way instead of in a strictly competitive way.
- What do you like doing that has nothing to do with tattooing?
I love the outdoors and adventure, anything having to do with nature like hiking or exploring new places. I try to take part in various activist projects and stay involved in environmental, animal rights, and other productive ‘anarchist’ efforts. I’m also into sports, believe it or not, both playing and watching them, and I run, work out, and meditate regularly. I’m really interested in the fields of psychology and mental health. I’ve been vegan and straight edge (sober/drug free lifestyle) for 11 years. I love hardcore/punk music and still try to go to shows whenever I can. I’m pretty eclectic, I guess. I basically just try to be a healthy, well-rounded and actively engaged person.