Tattoo artist Ami James tells Bibi Nurshuhada Ramli how he is kept on his toes when it comes to his craft
TATTOO artist Ami James had his first tattoo when he was just 13. And it was “home-made”.
“Back then, in the cool 1980s punk era, tattoos were a norm for youngsters,” he says in an phone interview from New York .
“We were too young to get them done professionally, so we found a way to do it ourselves. Not in a smart way, though.”
He adds that children used to have their tattoos in areas that were not in full view of people. “I have mine — it says ‘Miami Punk Scene’ — 18cm up from my knee, so I never wear short shorts. My mum never knew about it.”
However, when he got his first professional tattoo two years later, it made him want to become a tattoo artist.
“At 19, I was in the army when I did my first professional tattoo. I had to wait till I got out of the service, and at 21, I got into an apprenticeship with an old-timer named Lou.”
“He taught me everything and gave me the chance to start. It was a rough start but it paid off inthe end.”
James stars in TLC’s reality show NY Ink. Season Two premieres on TLC (Astro Channel 707) today at 11pm. He previously starred in Miami Ink, which NY Ink takes its inspiration from.
The roller-coaster ride on NY Ink 2 continues with all the drama, pranks, incredible stories and amazing artwork in the heart of New York’s Art District.
James’ shop, Wooster Street Social Club in New York, is already on the international tattoo map. Business is booming, but with success comes problems for him and his employees.
“We gave our best in Season One and in Season Two, a lot of things will come to light. There will be some major changes and surprises.”
In this season, NY Ink focuses on really good art, tattoos and customers rather than the drama that it has delivered in the past.
James says that there is another group of employees who are not featured on the show. “They are the ones tending to the customers. They are the spine of the company.”
James has great advice for people who are getting their first tattoo. “Everyone should put a lot of thought into it. It’s not a purse that you can dump when it’s out of style. It’s something that’s with you forever so you have to do your homework.”
Be sure about the design and the artist. “Make sure you get the best artist to do it. Do your research first.”
A dedicated worker, James also has to balance time between his career and family. In May, James and his wife Jordan celebrated the birth of their second daughter, which puts more pressure on him.
“It’s a positive change in my life, but I’d have to spend more time at home. That’s hard because I travel a lot from New York to Miami (where his other tattoo shop operates) and when I’m in New York, I still have to work. It’s a juggle but we make it happen.”
Read more below about NY Ink and James’ career as a tattoo artist.
Is there a difference between clients in New York and Miami?
People have different personalities and their tattoos represent that. Miami is a smaller place, but New York has third-generation people getting tattoos. It’s like a culture in New York, and it’s a refreshing change from Miami, where most of our customers are tourists.
Which do you prefer?
In Miami, I can be more comfortable and I have longer hours, but New York is more of a hustle and bustle job. So, I prefer a smaller shop with walk-in business.
Do you find it hard to meet clients’ requests for tattoos?
We have our strong and weak points, so we try to stay away from tattoos that we are not specialised in. However, I try to do tattoos that I usually don’t feel comfortable doing because I know how much they mean to people.
I try to pride myself on being able to do almost everything. I take three appointments that are really up my alley and one that’s completely challenging. It keeps me fresh, and I love what I do. I’m lucky.
Are there any tattoos that you’re not comfortable doing?
Portraits have never been my strong point and they take a lot of practice. On the show, you’ll see that I’m not scared of taking portraits (orders) anymore, but there’s a long road ahead for me (to become perfect at it).
Is there a tattoo trend that is in demand now?
People like to get lettering and poetry. They’d get an amazing quote or something that’s significantly moving to them.
Are there any particular favourites among those that you’ve done?
I had to do two half-sleeves with a chest for this man in one month before he had to go back to Canada. Somehow, through the pressure of time and wanting to do something nice, it became my favourite tattoo. It’s really one of my proudest moments and my best job yet, working within that time constraint.
What’s your most bizarre tattoo request?
I was asked to put a tattoo on a man’s mouth (laughs). It was pretty unusual. I couldn’t do it but I referred him to someone who might. I don’t think even he (the tattoo artist) would want to do it.
Have there been any mishaps?
Mishaps will happen from your first day of tattooing to your last. It’s really how much of a mishap it is, whether the clients notice it or not. We’re not machines, so tattoos are never perfect.
It’s funny but the simplest tattoos are the hardest because the simpler the tattoo, the easier to mess up. You can’t hide your mistakes in a simple design.