Bob Million {E} Artist Feature

by Christina Diaz

Born in a small farm town outside of Louisville, Kentucky Bob found himself livin’ the gypsy life at quite a young age relocating throughout the state with his family, from urban areas all the way to a small eastern Appalachian town where the amount of teeth were outnumbered by the number of banjos.

Bob now lives and works from home in Boulder, Colorado and has been continuously painting, day-in, day-out, for about 7 months. He paints/works a minimum of 8 to 10 hours a day, and at least 5 days a week. “I treat painting as any other job in the sense of sustaining a habitual schedule. It helps to keep me motivated and focused. I make it a daily goal to work as hard as I possibly can, often times drudging through the doubt, frustration, and burn out. As I’ve seen so many times throughout my life, not many people are fortunate enough to recognize or have the ability to chase their true ambitions and dreams, which makes me all the more humbled and gracious for this opportunity.”

Bob’s aesthetic outlook was refreshing as are his visually stunning works of art. Each and every square inch methodically planned out juxtaposing classic tattoo imagery with a contemporary approach.

{E}: Were you artistic as a child?
BM:  I was and continue to be the definitive black sheep of my family. My parents love to tell me about how I was a pensive and reserved child, which was the complete opposite of my rebellious hellcat older brother, who inherited the trait from our mom. I don’t know if you would call me exceptionally artistic as a child. I colored in coloring books, stayed in the lines sometimes… nothing to brag about. But as I got older (maybe 8 or 9 years old), I took an interest in copying images of cartoon characters, mainly Ren & Stimpy. I found the exaggeration and grittiness of the way these characters were drawn to be wildly comical and luring. I mean come on, there’s nothing better to a kid than boogers and farts.

{E}: Tell us about your artistic career. How has did your fine art career evolve into the art of tattooing?
BM: After wandering through high school, I attended a community college in Louisville, where I studied Writing and Philosophy. The summer between my first and second year of community college, I signed up for my first ever art class, Drawing 101. Needless to say, I had the most important epiphany of my life that summer. My teacher was extremely supportive and convinced me to apply to art colleges. I felt I finally had some direction in life. I was finally good at something and interested in pursuing it. I was accepted to the Art Academy of Cincinnati in the spring semester of 2006, where my declared major was Fine Art with an emphasis in Drawing. And let me tell you, I was HORRIBLE at painting for the first few years. It was like giving an old person an Iphone and telling them to reprogram it to shoot lasers. But I stuck it out and improved slowly, but surely. Upon graduating with a BFA in 2009, I was also awarded with a traveling grant, which I used to explore the country of Japan. The goal of the trip was to investigate social and cultural traditions within the relationship of a solitary Japanese person and their friends, family unit, and overall society, while also relating it to the similar conceptual work I had done my senior year in college with American social relationships.

While in Japan, I met a really cool guy from Switzerland who wanted to get tattooed while there, so I decided to tag along. To this day, I couldn’t tell you where in the city of Tokyo this artist’s private studio is located, but I was absolutely blown away that people could a make career doing tattoos in such a fancy studio. This was like no tattoo studio I’d ever been to or even heard of in the states. The ancient Japanese art on the walls was immaculately framed, lush plants were growing in the sunlight pouring through the windows, and the tattoo chair looked like something that Tony Stark would’ve invented. It was a fusion of old and new shrouding such a mysterious art form. I was enamored by every wisp of the seemingly secret act of tattooing. I was hooked.

I had had previous interest in tattooing, but this solidified my desire to give it shot. I inquired about a few apprenticeships through email, just to see if there was any possible chance that I might get lucky and score an interview and portfolio presentation. Most emails went unanswered or I received a really shitty, short response, but little did I know how lucky I got with a potentially positive response from the reputably amicable Scot and Taren Winskye at Ink Well Tattoo in La Grange, KY. They agreed to take me on as their apprentice, teaching me the responsible and professional way to tattoo as well as running and marketing your own business.

I feel I learned the basic fundamentals of art making in college, but I really put them to use in my apprenticeship. I finally got the time to sit down and explore the techniques and rules of art making.

{E}: What inspires you?
BM: I have a definite inspiration stemming from folkloric and outlandish creatures that inhabit the world of tattoo imagery. Things like the Japanese Raccoon (Tanuki) and Fox (Kitsune), with their supernatural abilities and imaginative shape-shifting forms. I am also very inspired and drawn to darker imagery that deals with the notion of death, such as Metal Album Covers and art work.

As of right now, the longer I’m away from Kentucky, the more I’m influenced by it and it’s stark contrast to Boulder, Colorado. I feel such a deep sense of saltiness coming from a place of such impoverishment, relocating to this wealthy, yet odd place of affluent happiness, wealth, and delusion. I catch myself thinking about things like the gritty hard-working farmers and friendly southern hospitality, and even the negative things like obesity, poverty, trashiness, and ignorance. That part of home that’s familiar and has meaning, even though it may be unattractive and tattered. It’s what I know best, and consequentially, there’s a real weathered quality beginning to emerge in my work. I’m beginning to embrace and explore the ‘white trash’ side of my imagination.

{E}: What are some of your favorite art tools and why?
BM: Recently I discovered a fantastic product that I recommend to all oil painters, and it’s Gamblin’s Titanium White Fast Matte Oil Paint. It has several qualities that I’ve been looking for in a White. It dries relatively fast (depending on the medium you combine with it and amount you apply), and it’s super opaque for doing dark to light color changes.

Another painting tool that I just couldn’t do without is my series of mop brushes (the ones that feel and look like make-up brushes). They’re perfect for blending paint and smoothing out brush strokes.

Lastly, another recommended tool would be Jame’s Gurney’s book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter. I’ve read it cover to cover several times and still learn something new and useful each time. There are so many useful tips and facts about creating art that all artists and tattooers should know.

{E}: Whom are some of your favorite artists and why? How have they influenced your work?
BM: Two of my all time favorite painters are John Singer Sargent and Henry Raeburn. Both of these portrait painters use such a seductive luscious application of paint with steadfast ease and intensity I can only strive to achieve. They both also juxtapose a lifelike smoothness of facial features against a thick seemingly unscripted blur of paint to apply clothing and background. But when you step back and look at the overall painting, it’s truly immaculate. This juxtaposition has inspired me to try new and different ‘formal balances’, if you will. If I use bright and super saturated colors, I also try to use diluted, dirty neutral tones as well. If I use thick harsh outlines in a drawing or painting, I try to counter them with soft shading that creates an edge somewhere else in the work.

Some utterly phenomenal and inspirational tattoo artists that are making some amazing work these days are Wendy Pham, Rachi Brains, and Tom Strom. All of these artists create work that’s on the macabre end of the spectrum, booming with ingenuity and originality, while also redefining and expanding the realm of what beautiful yet unsettling tattoo imagery consists of.

{E}: Tell me about your art. How would you describe it? 
BM: I have a realistic, yet simultaneously illustrative approach to fantastical, often macabre, subject matter, which allows for exploration into the whimsically uncanny side of tattoo imagery. I’ve always found the stagnant, posed elements of a tattoo composition almost placid in a way. Everything is intentional and has it’s place. Not one square inch is neglected or unconsidered, even if it’s filled with black or left completely blank.

The typical imagery I create draws from both contemporary and traditional American and Japanese tattoos, but with a twist of dark elements and imagination. My work investigates the iconic imagery of tattoos and it’s continuously reinvented place among contemporary marketable art and fine art.

{E}: During your interview you mention defending one’s choice of materials. Tell us more…
BM: Yes in school, I was always taught to explain and defend your choice of materials, especially if they a rich history. Oil paint is my primary medium. It has such a plush history throughout the existence of art, which I feed from, yet also seek to modify it’s placement in contemporary art. There are several reasons I use oil paint as a primary medium, mainly for it’s slower drying times, which gives me the ability to work and rework the image to get it exactly how I envision. Through glazing techniques and layering oil paint, I can achieve an enriched smooth surface that breathes life into the subjects, creating more realistic light sources and textures.

{E}: Tell me about the first tattoo you performed.
BM: The first tattoo I did was one of the most nerve-wracking, yet exciting experiences of my life. My mentor never made me practice on fake skin or fruit. It was straight to skin with needle and ink. I used my first machine, which was a rinky-dink rotary (only meant to last a few months) and a tight 5 needle. The image I tattooed was a custom drawing I did of a Japanese Spider Demon, permanently etched into the shin of a coworker from the factory at which I was working. He was super laid back and cool about the whole thing, but that didn’t help calm my scattered nerves. My boss said the machine didn’t even need to be on. I was shaking like a leaf and sweating like a whore in church. I knew what I was supposed to be doing and how I was supposed to be doing it, and I carefully watched my mentor start the tattoo, but the fear of mucking up someone’s tattoo was overwhelmingly distracting. It didn’t turn out too badly, but it was no masterpiece. I’m just thankful I didn’t blow out any lines.

Check out more of Bob’s work here:
Instagram: bobmillionart

Bob Million {E} Artist Feature