Joey Ortega {E} Tattoo Artist Feature

by Christina Diaz

Triple Crown Tattoo
1157 Chicon St.
Austin, Texas 78702

Tattooing for 10 years, Joey Ortega has been creating and making all kinds of art since he could pick up a pencil. Born in Freemont, California and raised in Texas, Joey currently creates at Triple Crown Tattoo Parlour in Austin. He thoroughly enjoys his career and fosters the relationships he’s built over the years with his clientele. Joey also has the pleasure of working with his wife, Coraline who is his apprentice at Triple Crown. They work together and travel together. Joey met Coraline at a convention in Nantes, France on one of his travel adventures and they hit it off. He spends about 7 to 7.5 months a year in Austin and the rest of the time in France. “All in all, I think I lead a simple life, but a life that’s also full of grand experiences,” Joey says.

Joey humbly admits that he’s been able to meet and learn from so many amazing tattooers in his short 10 years of tattooing. But still has so much left to learn and grow and evolve as an artist and tattooer. “It’s a constant struggle to grow and continue to produce, but it is truly rewarding one as well. I wouldn’t exchange it for anything. I really feel privileged to be an artist and support myself and my loved ones with something I’ve created. Evolve…Keep moving forward till your dead, but do take time for yourself to keep the mind and body at peace and in health.”

Keep reading to learn about how Joey’s career has evolved from canvas to coyote skull?…true story. Keep reading!

{E}: Were you artistic as a child? 
JO: Yes I was. If I could hold onto something long enough to scribble all over everything with it I was drawing, or at least attempting to. My mother spent a good deal of time with my siblings and I as kids doing craft projects, drawing, etc. Especially when  there was any kind of holiday. It gave me a start that I just continued to run with on my own. I was constantly working on some kind of art project; be it a drawing, a painting, sculpture, wood carving etc…I think I was always drawing monsters, fantastical/mythological creatures and military related things. My father served in the US Army and his stories from Vietnam were always inspiring.

{E}: Are you self-taught or did you do an apprentice? 
JO: As a tattooer, I kind of had a “figure it out as you go apprenticeship.” I was piercing already in a shop when I was 18, the artist there took notice that I could draw but he didn’t teach me. He just paid me to draw tattoos for him here and there. This was when I was working in Killeen/ Harker Heights, Texas. This gave me my taste of tattoo art and what not. I wasn’t at the for too shop long before the owners started going through a divorce so….I jumped ship and went to a new shop. The guys there too, took notice that I could draw. The senior artist, Chris Arredondo, had only been tattooing a couple years at the time and he pretty much told me I should start tattooing, and that even though it wasnt much, he would  show me what he knew and help get me started. We were all kind of trying to figure it out as we went. There was another artist there (Ian jones) who had a year in who also started tattooing via learning from Chris. Even though it was a more unconventional form of an apprenticeship, I did have to do a lot of typical apprentice  duties (run errands, get lunch, draw, make line drawings and hand stencils for the guys, scrub tubes etc.). They didn’t really give me any hazing bullshit to deal with. Soon after I started tattooing my friends under Chris and Ian’s supervision, we left that shop and went to a new place called Kingpin Tattoos in Harker Heights, Texas. That’s where I really started tattooing in 2003. We each had our own room, so we weren’t tattooing next to each other. There we were, three guys tattooing in a high volume street shop, trying to grow and get better with each tattoo. Honestly,it was really tough. Each time I did a  tattoo I was happy with it, I’d do a couple more that were pretty bad or just mediocre.  So many things that I would have learned in a  proper apprenticeship that I just didnt know until later on, via someone showing it to me, or just figuring it out by trial and error. I think it took me nearly 2 years before I would say I was doing a decent tattoo at best. I’m really grateful for the start I had in tattooing though, it really made me appreciate it and understand that it won’t come easy and i will have to work really hard for it.

As an artist, I have had some formal training via art classes of all kinds. I’m just constantly producing art and trying to grow.I had really supportive relatives who always bought me art supplies and gave me positive reinforcement to continue to grow as an artist.

{E}: Describe your artwork.
JO: Oh man, this is a tough one. My work is really a mix of things and styles. It’s kind of all over the board to be honest. Maybe the best description could be that my art is an eclectic mix of styles. As a tattooer, I try to be versatile, but still adhere to specific principals and compositions in style. Based on American traditional, but heavily influenced by art nouveau and more realistic images. It’s a really illustrative style. I take something that’s a real image and jazz it up. I also from time to time play with jewelry design and  sculpture as well using  a variety of different elements.

{E}: Tell me more about the ornate skulls you create. How did that come about? What spawned that? How much time does it take to create one? Do you use real skulls? Resin replicas?
JO: The adorned skulls kind of just happened. I was working on jewelry for a while using brass baroque style filigree and just randomly thought it would be cool to do some adorned skulls with the filigree and Swarovski Crystals kind of like tibetan kapala skulls. It started mostly because I wanted to have a creative outlet thats isn’t so similar to tattooing like drawing and painting.

The sculptures consist of brass filigree stampings that I then shape by hand and with various tools and cut into pieces to fit the contours of each individual skull. There is definitely a lot of shaping, test it, shape it more, test it again. The brass is then pinned and riveted to the skull with thin brass wire to hold it all securely to the skull. Countless hours go into each depending on how complicated I make it. It’s kind of like making your own puzzle as you go, sometimes a piece that I cut doesn’t work out and I’m back to trying to figure it out. One section of a skull can have between 2 – 8 pieces that are layered just to fit the area and give the effect I want.

The skulls for the most part are real. I think the natural bone color mixed with the brass and  dark crystals really gives a antique quality to the pieces. Some skulls, mostly certain birds, are illegal to have and own, so in that case on special requests I have been able to use a museum quality replica. If I use a fake skull I want it to be as realistic and or natural looking as possible. Some people have definitely given me grief over using real skulls, but I’m not the one that is going out and killing the animals I use. I’m not killing these for the soul purpose of having a skull. Some are antique and some are from various places or friends that give them to me. I think by using the skull, which is already a really beautiful piece of art in itself. I’m giving the skull a new lease on life. I accent it’s shapes and adorning it to be viewed as beautiful and not so much associated with the more negative sides of death. It’s like I’m celebrating its life and make sure it will always be appreciated.

{E}: What inspires you?
JO: Life and the experiences that I have in it are inspiring in and of itself. I’m really inspired by people and their stories. Of course there’s visual stimulation, art nouveau and baroque work is some of my favorite visual aesthetic. It has so many beautiful lines and shapes that are visually appealing to most anyone. Erotic art from 1800-1900’s. Tibetan and Hindu art work as well. I’m so blown away by all the amazing talent and skills the carvers in Indonesia have.

{E}: Whom are some of your favorite artists and why? 
JO: Alphonse Mucha, his posters and designs have a soft realistic quality, but it’s still very graphic and strong flowing design. Von Bayros’ illustrations are a large influence. Renaissance artists like Michelangeo and Da Vinci. The work of Albrecth Durer. William Bouguereau’s work as well. As far as tattooers, I have a long list as well. Recently one person who has been a really large inspiration to me, like so many tattooers is Filip Leu. He’s tattooing my whole back from shoulders to knees, and he’s also tattooed my right thigh. His insight on tattooing, especially in large scale, has really changed the way I approach my larger compositions  for tattoos. He’s tattooed for over 30 years, and most tattooers know his name for his japanese pieces. Spending time at the Leu Family Iron has really helped me grow a lot as a tattooer. Adam Barton is another tattooer whose work I have always found inspiring. It’s a beautiful mix of traditional, art nouveau, and realism. All the guys at Skull and Sword, Grime, Henry, Lango, and Yutaro.  Ryan Mason and Greggletron from Scapegoat Tattoo. Also a friend of mine named Mark Pricks who presently lives in Denver. There’s so many great tattooers out there now that are inspiring. Every time I open my Instagram feed I see someone new whose work is just awe inspiring. Really it’s hard to not be inspired with the amount of good tattooers there are now.

{E}: What are some of your favorite art tools/supplies and why?
JO: My go to for painting is always FW liquid acrylic on Arches 140 cold press paper. Every detail of my paintings is done by brush, from the shading down to the tiniest details. The realistic paintings I do usually require lots of subtle textures like pores and fine hairs. The erotic ones in particular are really small, usually no bigger than a few inches by a few inches. I usually like to sketch with purple Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils. I can build up sketches really well with this color starting out with a soft sketch and the harder I press or the more I build up a drawing, the darker the mark that way I can take an idea from a basic sketch to a completed drawing on just  one page of my sketch book.

The tattoo machine is  a tool for art that I have a good relationship with. The things that we can do with a well made well tuned machine are pretty impressive. My machines always travel with me and I’ve had most of them so long that its like an extension of my own hand. Sure I can tattoo with other machines but  my Grime/Aaron Cain, Seth Ciferri, Angelo Nales, and Karl Marc machines are irreplaceable tools.

Check out more of Joey’s work here:
Instagram @oiseau_noir

Joey Ortega {E} Tattoo Artist Feature