A master of his own art and style, John Martin’s talent shines through his tattoo creations. Meet him and his work in this week’s Tattoo Artist feature.
Brought to you by Zappa.
Full name: John Martin Viljoen
Shop: Awhe Tattoo and Lifestyle Studio
Years tattooing: 9 years
Tattoo style: Photo Realism, Geometric Design, Pattern-work, Etch-work
Hourly rate: R750
Give us some insight into how you became a full time tattoo artist?
Hard work and a tone of dedication, along with the support from my family, my beautiful wife and my little boy Malakai. What started as my first after school job with Sky in 2010, tattooing turned out to be my ultimate calling, I’ll probably spend my life mastering it. I’ve been fortunate to be part of Awhe Tattoo for a long time now, my work really is a big part of my life and my colleagues are like extended family members.
Have you always had an artistic background or was it something you had to learn and grow into?
I’ve been drawing since I was 12 years old, inspired by Dragon Ball Z characters and the amazing animation, selling my A4 works off to kids in my class. Later in my early high school years I had more inspiration and guidance from Hugo Vosloo, an amazing landscape artist in oils, from my hometown Harrismith. I won’t call myself naturally artistic, I had to practice, over and over again, everything. With persistence my artworks improved more and more every year.
Besides tattoos and tattooing, what other mediums of art do you enjoy and practice?
Gardening is right on top of my list, I see it as one of the hardest art-forms to master yet most rewarding. It teaches discipline and patience like no other I feel. I’ve recently taken up the art of grafting different cactus species and it definitely is an art-form in itself.
When I draw, I enjoy drawing geometric pattern-work in my free time using mixed mediums, I also enjoy painting in oils, although I seldom make the time.
Most of my recent designing gets done digitally on iPad Pro, it’s compact and mess free so I take it everywhere on the go.
What about the tattoo industry intrigues you?
What intrigues me most is how our tattooing changes the lives of the people we work on, it breaks away their normal one prick at a time, it sculptures uniqueness. All by just showing the outside whats inside, the old saying “wear your heart on your sleeve”. Nothing more freeing.
What was one of the most difficult things to learn and master on your way to becoming a full time artist?
I’d say being original with my art, it’s so easy to take too much inspiration from other artists. It is necessary as a student, mimic with precision, but then you have to build your confidence to take a step away from everything you have learned. It takes years to find your true own expression. Only now after almost 10 years I feel I’m getting closer to my own artist.
What does the average day in the life of John consist of?
Wake up next to my beautiful wife, look over her shoulder and spot my boy standing up in his crib with a big smile as he sees I’m awake – time to play with dad. Get to work at 8:30am, coffee, first appointment in at 9, usually design for an hour, tattoo till 1pm, lunch at home with the family. 2pm I’m back in the booth with my next client, work till 6pm. Home, dinner, laughter, bongs, bed.
What do you like doing to ensure you keep progressing as an artist?
I’m always buying new machines, trying a wide variety of products: needles and inks. I follow a bunch of artists from around the world who I take inspiration from, always trying new and challenging projects. If it’s too much detail I’m probably the guy thats going to try make it work on skin. Most important ,I think I”m hard on myself all the time, staying humble, there’s always something to learn.
What style of tattoo do you enjoy doing the most?
I enjoy geometric and blackwork tattooing most, it just works in my head. Big and bold, tones of contrast. I can keep my focus not changing colour, cover big space, and play with every imaginable texture. I like rough sketch style line-work and the fine line in controlled chaos. Every form of spiritual, psychedelic and even alien artwork fascinates me.
How would you best explain your ideal client and tattoo idea?
My ideal client knows my work and what styles I do best. I like natural subjects, animals, plants landscapes in soft black and grey or intricate line-work designs. He/ she will be willing to sit and design along with me on our first appointment. Artist freedom to assure best results wherever needed in design, sizing and placement. Bigger is better, I’m loving large scale tattooing covering big panels with one subject and pattern work.
Where would you like to see the tattoo industry and your career take you?
I’d love to see a more close knitted community of artists in South Africa, less drama and more art. The Pretoria Tattoo Show showed us that we have enough quality local artists to have international grade conventions with great success. Artists pushing the boundaries working together in collaboration projects and growing together doing workshops and seminars. A study of tattooing and its potentials between local artists.
On a more negative note, I’d really like to see some laws laid out over South Africa’s tattoo industry, the amount of backyard tattoo schools and scratcher studios with no sense of hygiene is shocking.
Myself, I’ll be tattooing on an island somewhere hidden in the Caribbean with my family, living off of the land and sea.
How do you envision the tattoo industry in 10 years time?
I can’t to be honest, the quality of tattooing has improved so much in the past 10 years, from the equipment to the people we work on, it’s already a new world I’m still trying to get use to. I mean wireless machines are already floating around! How much better can it get? I think I’m in the right industry no matter where life takes me and my family.
For anyone wanting to book and appointment with you, what’s the next step?
Follow my pages on Instagram @john_martin_tattoo /@awhe_tattoo_lifestyle_studio andFacebook.
Contact the studio reception for enquiries on availability and quotations, or mail email@example.com. Ask for John.
Tattoos by John Martin Viljoen
Photos by Alexander Wolf Photography.