The following is an interview that took place April-May, 2013. It is from Brazil & Mexico leading tattoo magazine called "Tatuarte". The final magazine interview/feature was in Spanish... so i thought it would be good to post it here for english readers. It has been left "as-is" (not the final magazine edit) for you to enjoy the nuances of a long distance interview done thru the internet (pre-internet interviews were done in person or over phone).
Internet messaging can create interesting/funny incidentals in it's self. I personally can not type good, nor am i fast at it, it can literally take me a half an hour to type one or two paragraphs (such as this one that you are reading now lol), and sometimes i literally forget my train of thought
. This interview was done over a four week period, hope you enjoy! -Clark.
2013 Interview for"TatuArte" magazine, journalist " Victor Valdez "
... • Victor. Hi, Clark, i'm Victor from Mexico and Tatuarte magazine... Thank you for agreeing to interview. I was preparing for you, structuring the questions to e-mail it to you, so you can send me the answers, but it felt kinda wrong... I would like it to be more like we were talking, so the interview can be more organic and fluid. So... if it's ok with you, we can chat via FB whenever you have the chance. What do you think? Let me know... •
• Clark. Sounds great, i might be a little sporadic getting back at you as i am a little busy, but this is good (and yes, more personal and better then the other way) shoot me a question or two at a time ,
• V. Great. Well, lets get to it. Please, tell us what we need to know about Clark North the person, not the tattoo artist.
• C. I like my privacy, I am a father of two grown boys, Ian and Cameron, Ian will be 22 this year, and cameron is 20 this year, i have been with my wife Terri for 18 years now.... I have been working since i was 13 (not tattooing) i did not finish school. I don't do well with needy people, i don't enjoy sports much, i have always drawn since i was 3 or 4 years old, i would rather talk art illustration and tattoo than sports when mingling, i don't enjoy crowds, i don't like getting attention or being stared at, i enjoy old movies and i like cats!
• V. Why did you have to work so early and what did you do?
• C. I woke up around 4 cause of my back pain, instead of being frustrated about it, i got to work, today at 1:00 i am starting a new back piece of the Japanese fire god Fudo Myo-o , so i did sketching's of it this morning, usually i draw on the skin but this is a theme i have not done 1000 times, so i will be doing a stencil to guide me during the tattoo... Then i was tired enuf to take a nap at around 9:30, just woke up from it a minute ago!
• V. Sorry, my english it's not so good... I mean, why did you have to work when you were 13, and what did you do for a living?
• V. Mr. North, are you there?
• C. Oops haha..... when i was 12 i started working in the food fields, picking apples, strawberries, oranges, green beans etc... Got up around 3:00a.m. did the job then went to school when ever that started, at 8:00 or 9:00. Then when i was 14 i started work at a fast food restaurant called Carl's Jr. Then when i turned 16 got a job loading trucks, i used to load tires! Pack a 1000 tires into the back of big rigs, that was about the time i started doing tattoos on friends. Not a lot, just once in a while, but i would do a tattoo now and them starting when i was 14 or 15, back then most of my friends hated tattoos, so it was a secret to most people.
• C. Sorry for late response!
• V. Don't worry about it! And what about your parents? Did they hated tattoos too? How does a 14-15 year old boy get started in the tattoo world? What did you know about that?
• C. Sorry Victor, I am very busy today, i would like to respond to this question tomorrow, is that ok? Do you have a deadline date, meaning, do you have a certain day that we need to have this interview done by?
• V. No, there's no hurry. Don't worry. I'll be waiting. Good night!
• C. My parents were on both sides of the tattoo thing, my mom liked tattoos, my dad didn't like them..... As far as how a 14 year old was is into tattoos, when i was 3, 4 & 5 years old my mom had a "day-time boy friend", he was in the motorcycle club and he was completely tattooed, he had been tattooed in the 1950's and early 60's, that was my first experience with tattoos, that was 1966, 67 & 68 when he was hanging out with my mom and being my daytime stepdad i guess .... I remember a lot of his tattoos, he was COMPLETELY COVERED with tattoos, he actually did the tattooed man corner of a tent for a traveling circus, at least thats what i remember that he told us. i used to sit at the kitchen table next to him while he and my mom smoked cigarettes and drank coffee, i would sit there with a piece of typing paper and a pencil, and i would try to draw tattoos, i remember he had a hula girl on his fore arm, the inside fore arm had her front, "Titty's" and all, and on the other side of his fore-arm he had the dancers back side, that way you could see her dance from the front or the back, she danced when he rolled his fingers, i still remember some of his tattoos today... anchor, eagle heads, pharos horses, gibson girls, elephants, donkeys, snakes, flags, club tattoos, death heads, skulls, the zig zag man, stars and biker dots, etc.....like i said his whole body was covered with tattoos, i used to try to teach my self and learn how to draw tattoos starting when i was 4 years old. oh and also i used to draw tattoos on my little brother, Paul, he is 3 years younger than me, so just imagine a 1 or 2 year old with tattoos drawn on him haha.... I do remember Back then people saying things to my mom about me, and that drawing tattoos was bad.... You know how people are, the other moms and the church people were we went to church, but she always let me draw on myself and my brother anyways, wasn't a big deal to her..... my dad, on the other hand, he hated them, he really hated tattoos.... But, you know what, by the time he passed away in 2007 he had me tattoo like 6 or 7 things on him, so i guess he got over it! Oh also when i was 8 and 9 years old i used to get $5 or $10 to draw tattoos, to be the entertainment at neighborhood birthday parties, i would sit in the corner with a little school desk and i would draw tattoos on all the kids, they were their 5 & 6 year old birthday parties, i remember when 5 or 6 kids wouldn't even get out of my line waiting for they're turn for me to draw on them even when they were serving ice-cream and cake, they stayed in line to get drawn on instead... So any ways i hand poked a few little tattoos on my self by the time i was 13, it was a total secret though, even friends would talk shit when i said i liked tattoos, so i mostly kept it to my self so i wouldn't have to hear them talk shit with they're opinions about what they usually called "drawing silly pictures on yourself".. i hand poked a little dot on my ankle when i was 9 just to see if it would really stay, i remeber telling myself that i was just seeing if i really had the right kind of ink, the kind that would work for tattoos, i hand poked a few things on my self and a couple friends by the time i was 16 or 17.... Oh i have a funny story.... i tattooed a couple brush strokes on my hand, you know, like an X, on my hand, it was funny cause about a year later, you know, a whole year after i had tattooed it on, my dad asked me, we were all at the dinner table, he asked me "why the hell do you draw that X on your hand every day, what is that, is it a club thing, do you and your friends all draw that on your hands every day?"... I remember thinking woe he really thinks i have drawn that on my hand each and every day, guess he was used to me drawing on myself, but it i guess it really confused him when it was the same picture every day haha.... Then my mom said to him.... "Frank, thats a tattoo, not a drawing!" He sat there looking at my face with a crazy look in his eye for what seemed like 10 or 15 minutes, and then he said " "Clark are you crazy? I would no sooner get a tattoo than cut off the head of my own dick!", i still remember the sound if those words.... ...in the 60's we lived in Maywood, Long Beach and then Huntington Beach, California, and back then H.B. had a lot if Club members living there, we even had a chapter leader living behind us, across the alley, i used to totally bother him by hanging out in his garage a lot and watching him work on his motorcycle, doing the normal shit and banging things into shape and painting his ride, it was pretty normal to be around heavily tattooed people back then in H.B. , it was the 1960's and 70's.... Men were "tough sons a bitches!" Back when a man could support his family all by himself! Ahhhh ... the good old days!
• V. Wow! Such a great story! But, when did you realize that tattoos could be your way of life? From whom you learned? How was that process?
• C. Victor, thank you for being patient, i have many things i am doing at one time ...i Will respond soon -Clark
• V. No problem, Mr. Clark.
• C. In the late 1970's i would visit Mike Brown at Ed Hardy's and Jack Rudy's "Tattooland" in Whittier California once in a while... he showed me how to make needle groupings on a stick or a screw driver and basically how to tattoo by hand, i would have to run an errand for him for the info and it was a little beyond my world, i only did it (ran errands) a hand full of times, then In early 1980 i talked to Cliff Raven about an apprenticeship, he owned "Sunset Tattoo" in Hollywood and he let me hang out for a couple hours each for 3 days, and then he got mad at me for something, told me to get out and that was the end of that... Then a guy i knew, Mike Roche, told me about Mark Mahoney, Mark was working at "Rose Tattoo" at the pike in long beach, so i went down there to meet and check him out, "very, very great artists from day one"!! About a half year later when i went down and asked for Mark i was told he had just quit working there the day before, i felt like getting a tattoo anyways, it was this solo guys first day on the floor as a pro, his name was Jonathan Shaw, as far as i know i got one of his first working tattoos... and then the next week a girl friend of mine took me to see Mark when he was doing stuff out of his house on Long Beach Blvd, it was before he went to work for Jack Rudy, later though, when he was working at Jacks shop, with Mike Brown, i would bring people to get tattooed every time they wanted a tattoo that i couldn't do, when they needed to be done by a pro, if a friend wanted me to tattoo them and it was more than i could handle, i would take them to Mike or Mark, i talked to Mike about an apprenticeship and he told me i was more of a Mohoney type guy, (i think he said that cause i had blue or green or yellow hair, funny to think about now), anyways i started just bringing lots of people to Mike and Mark then, and tattooing the easy stuff myself at home. Also i would take the friends that i had tattooed to them to check out the work and tell me how i was doing, they would give me a pointers and helped me a lot, as far as an apprenticeship Mark told me i was too nice for the tattoo world and that i should think about something else, but i still kept coming back to get tattooed or bring someone to get tattooed and was bringing in people that i had tattooed things on for pointers, after about 2 and a half years of this mark told me he would think about giving me a chance, possibly.... then that same month i got injured, jacked up real bad, i had lit an M-1000 quarter stick with my cigarette and the fuse didnt slow burn, it just blew up, shrapnel from it went into my leg, my arm and my face, went right threw my jeans into my leg, little pieces of i don't know what kind of stuff tore me up, even broke my nose, my right eye and cheek got the most jacked up, and i lost my eye and pert of my eyelids. Later that day after one of my surgeries the doctor said he had pulled out a piece of wood that was an inch and a half to two inches long and was it was bigger around than a pencil from my eye socket, it had ripped off a piece of my right cheek and a bunch of my eye lid, bottom lid mostly, pretty bad, half of my lower lid and a third of my upper lid, and bits of wood and shrapnel went into the back openings of my fore-skull inside my socket, it had completely destroyed my eyeball. i remember pieces of eye jelly stuff on my clothes and arm... sucked , bad fuckin day... then less than a couple weeks later my mom died, i was a wreck, i had to have 2 plastic surgeries to remove and fix the cauliflower scaring on my face / cheek and eye area .... anyways enough of that story. so it took me about 9 months to get to drive a car again, or to be able to draw again, all of a sudden i had no depth perception, it takes acclimation and time to adapt. Later i saw Mark and he really didn't feel comfortable with an apprenticeship anymore since i was still adapting to my new vision, or he was never really into teaching me in the first place i don't know, either way it's just fine and all good, because it DID take me time to adapt, then i went to live with my aunt Verna in Florida, my moms sister, and i lived with her for a year, in that time i was going to open a tattoo shop in Arcadia / Nocatee Florida, but i ended up moving back to California before i got real serious with it, cause i really needed some guidance on being a professional, when i went back to California, i got serious with my woman and wanted to start a family, so i went to Mark again and asked for guidance, thats when Mark was working at Gill Monty's "Tattoo Mania" on Sunset across the street from the Whiskey a-go-go at Sunset & Clark Street, right across from the "Viper Room", he finally told me he had a friend that WOULD help me out... .... Mark sent me to Rick Walters, for me to talk to him about learning to become a professional tattooer, instead of doing it like i had done in the past decade, i still remember it, Rick was closer to 40 than he was 50 years old and he was the guy with more experience than anyone i knew!... i remember Rick saying "so your Marks friend, come back here" pointing to the client chair in front of him, behind the counter he asked me how much money i had in my pocket, i told him i had $400, he said "give it to me and come back tomorrow" when he wasn't busy, and to bring all of my sketches, drawings and artwork with me, i did and when i came back the next day he had 2 machines for me, he didn't give me the machines right off the bat, he asked to see my drawings, and i had around 100 sketches and drawings and watercolors, he looked through them and said "Watch this" he made me follow him to the back of the shop ("Bert Grimms" in Long Beach) and he opened a locker, put all my stuff in it a locked it, he said you need to forget all this artsy shit and learn how to tattoo first, learn how to put in a good tattoo, the right way, then you can have that stuff back... i didn't see any of it again for a couple three years, he was willing to help me out, he said it's not an apprenticeship, but a "help out / hook up", as a favor to Mark. I would go down to Bert Grimms around 12:00 or 1:00 in the afternoon, during Ricks shift, but i had to be out of the shop before the night shift got there because they would be pissed for me getting helped out by him, so i would leave around 3:00 or 4:00. Rick taught me how to properly stretch the skin, angle, move, flick and twirl the machine for different techniques, how make needles, how to build, fix and tune machines, how to spit shade paint and he showed me the best style of tattoo designs to learn color tattooing (which was something that i had never done before), i tattooed at home still, not at Bert Grimms, i would bring my clients to rick so he could direct and guide me with technique and solidify my ability, he would tell me right in front of them what i had fucked up, what i had done right or wrong, and he would make sure i was not trying to do things that were over my head. it went on like this for 3 or 4 years, for me to be professional enough to get a job at a shop. My tattoo timeline is.... started tattooing myself and friends in the 1970's, then sent to Rick Walters in 1989, then got my seat in a professional shop in 1994 .... which was "Kari Barba's Outer Limits Tattoo" , none of which was handed to me, and none of which was easy, and it all took a long time... even when i started at Kari's shop, she didn't let me have a chair most of the first year, i was shop helper, even though i was still tattooing at home, i was not allowed to tattoo at her shop until she got to know me, and she had me re-trained in the way she liked her shop to run.
• V. Well... Lets continue then... So, that was all about your learning and your teachers. But what about your influences? The traditional Japanese style its your distinctive mark. How did you get there?
• C. I have loved Japanese Edo art for my whole life, so i guess that makes it 45 - 50 years of admiring edo art, as far as japanese tattoos my first real notice of it was in the 1970's, durring the 70's tattoo craze in photography and movies.... and the coolest Japanese calendars, full of full-body tattooing, it was all done by masters and experienced skilled craftsmen. It has always been my goal to be good enough at tattooing to be able to tattoo like a Japanese tattoo master, my final goal you might say.... It's always been my favorite, and they are the most skilled as far as following the shape of the body and making use of the large skin areas, and doing imagery at full size rather than scaled down to fit someones fear of having a large tattoo.... It's like " the real tattooing" not just some little fuckin thing for some poser to pretend like they are all tattooed up, only people that have self control, that can really, really control themselves during pain can have full sized tattooing, and it takes true determination and patience. My favorite is the edo era tattoo designs that fit the entire body, or at least a large full sized piece of work.... I got so tired of doing tiny tattoos any ways..... Hey Victor, would u like to do this over the phone, i cant type very good and each time i respond to ya it takes me a couple hours, if not its all good, but they used to do interviews over the phone, and the journalist would record it on tape recorder, then it would take an hour or 2.... Either way is fine though
• C. Be sure to read my previous installment to your interview (above) , I totally understand you not responding this past week....... patience with the time it takes me to find the time to respond is probably very difficult, i just don't have much free time for typing like needed for interviews, but i am totally willing to continue if you have the patience for it, or perhaps just send me all questions at one time.
• V. Hi, Mr. North. Sorry i couldn't respond to you this past week. I've been busy with family issues. Yeah, this kind of interview has been a little problematic, jaja, but i totally understand that you're a busy man... I think that the best way to get through this is sending you all the questions at one time. Like i told you before, there's no hurry. And... I have a special request for you. It would be a terrific honor have you on the cover of the magazine, it can be either a tatoo or an illustration or whatever you want us to publish, but the tricky issue is if you could work it out with the magazine logo. But don't feel your self forced to do it, that's only a bold suggestion, jeje... I will sending you the PDF file of the last month issue so you can take a look at it. Let me know what do you think about it.
• C. Perfect and of course, no problem.... I will look for your e-mail, Thank you
• V. Hi, Mr. North, here's the rest of the interview questions. Has been one of my difficult (ha!), but those things are the ones that are worth, aren't they? Well, i'm sending you the link with the PDF's that i was telling you earlier. Plese, fell yourself free to make it your own cover, do with it whatever you want. I'll be in touch. Thank you very much.
• V. Do you consider that you've reached your goal as an artist?
• C. As an artist I have set individual small goals and I've always set goals for myself to be able to do certain things in art but as far as reaching an overall goal I think that it would take me over two hundred years. As a tattooer I've had a goal my whole life to be able to do traditional Japanese style tattoos with intelligence. And I didn’t really start doing tradition style Japanese art tattooing until I thought I was good enough as a tattoo craftsman to do what was required of me. So as far as the stuff I’m doing right now, I’m still studying to be good at it and I feel like its important for me to continue studying for the next hundred years. So I guess that the way I guide myself in art would be like climbing a ladder and each time I take another step it’s another soft goal reached.
• V. As an artist, due to the fact that you're not only a tattooist, where do you feel yourself more comfortable?
• C. in art outside of tattooing I’m actually MOST comfortable doing realism because it’s the easiest for me, but the important art I feel is creating things that you cant see in realism. So the most important things to me that I do are the things I have created rather than duplicated, but I think the lineage of tattoo and art is important to me also, so I want to always keep elements for tattoo evolution in my art.
• V. What’s happening with you and the other tattoo styles: American traditional, new school, black and grey, portrait, etcetera?
• C. I think a great thing that’s happening right now is that I notice a lot of tooters wanting to know more about the past and its great that that is happening. Knowing where tattoo techniques and styles have come from is important and it’s nice that it’s happening again.
• V. What is tattoo for you and how do you live it? In all those years of career, what's the best thing you've learned? And the worst?
• C. It’s impossible to zero in on any one thing, it’s a life long study and there’s no easy way in less than forty pages to even answer that question.
• V. For all those who want to become a tattooist, name the most important(s) thing(s) that they have to take in mind...
• C. I think that most important things about tattooing is understanding that it is its own media. Your working with the skin which will be changing every day for the next seventy years and if you want people to keep coming back to you and if you want people to really appreciate what you can do for them I think one of the most important things to study is what tattoos do in the skin -weeks, months, years and decades later. Use that in your tattooing as you work and don’t ignore the fact that you’re working in a low contrast, transparent, fuzzy, blurry, media. Your working with the skin, which never stops changing, which means that the tattoo that you do will never stop changing and understanding those changes. Understanding that the blur and low contrast IS GOING TO HAPPEN so you must understand how to USE IT IN YOUR TECHNIQUE. The day you do know that parts are going to blur and that parts are going to be low contrast, knowing that fifteen shades of red for example will simply all look like the same shade of red in twenty years time.
• V. Anything else you want share with us?
• C. Personally I still study every single day, i still draw and or paint at least an hour a day, i feel that my clients require me to really really care about what I'm doing for them. So......... my advise is never stop studying. The skin is the last place to try out a style, a visual technique and idea, know it before you do it in the skin!!
• V. Hey, Mr. North. How are you? I just finished translating your interview, so we are ready to publish it. If there's anything left you want to add to it, please let me know. Oh, and we are also waiting for your cover proposal. Whenever you're ready. Have a good day!
• C. I would like to add my tattoo family tree … -Bert Grimm – who taught -Bob Shaw – who taught -Phil Sims – who taught -Rick Walters – who taught -Me.
• C. Thank you Victor! I will be sending you the image this coming Sunday or Monday, that is my plan anyways :) -clark
• C. Great Victor thank you, i'm sorry man, haven't had time to figure out a cover for the magazine yet, you have been most patient with me and i do greatly appreciate that from you, you are a good man.
• V. Hey, Mr. North! How are you? Sorry to bother you, but we have reach the limit. If we want to get published your interview on the next month issue, we need your cover proposal for tomorrow tops. If you don't have it yet, don't worry, we can use any other image that you sent us before. Is that OK? Thank you, have a good day!
• C. Hello Victor, i apologize for my not keeping on top of doing a cover for your magazine, and i know it no doubt caused you trouble or stress, sincerely! my normal job was all i have been able to do this past month and i do hope you understand. Thank you respectfully -Clark. www. ClarkNorthArt.com Sent from my iPhone On Jun 18, 2013, at 12:15 PM,
• V. Hi, Mr. North. You don't have to be sorry at all. I totally understand that you're a busy man with a lot a things to do and attend. The cover magazine thing is completly resolved. We are gonna use an image from your website and it's totally fine. No problem at all. Your cover / interview is gonna be on the august number. I will send you an email asking for your address so i can pack you some mags. I hope you like it! Thank you very much for your attention. It was a real honor to have worked with you. P.S. I didn't know about your friend Dave James and i'm truly sorry for your loss. I know that losing a friend can be difficult and i hope you get well soon. Victor. S