From humble beginnings back in 1998 – through hard work, perseverance and a massive passion for tattooing – Ronald Jacobs is regarded as one of South Africa’s best. Meet him as our featured Tattoo Artist and get to an inside view into his career.
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Full name: Ronald Jacobs
Shop: 1933 Classic Tattoos
Years tattooing: 15 years
Tattoo style: All styles
Hourly rate: R1250 or R5000 for a full day
Give us some insight into your journey of becoming a full time tattoo
I initially started my piercing apprenticeship when I was 18 years old , back in 1998. I was fortunate enough to learn from the late and highly respected, Eddie Graham, at Wicked Body Piercing in Yeoville. I had always wanted to focus on piercing and body modification but in 2004 I was given the opportunity to learn how to tattoo.
I apprenticed under Marisa at what was then Tattoo World, and then spent almost two years in London learning from two amazing artists I worked with.I had to unlearn a fair amount of bad habits but the journey, for me, has been worth every single second of struggle and joy that I’ve experienced over the years. As much I miss piercing, I do find tattooing to be far more rewarding form a creative point of view.
If you weren’t a tattoo artist by profession, what would you be doing with your life?
This is such a tough question to answer.I honestly don’t know who or where I would be without tattooing.It is the one thing that has brought so much in to my life that I’m sure no other profession could offer.
But I guess, and those that know me may agree, that if I could do something that involved me being on my bicycle and outdoors, and being paid for it whilst being able to hang out with my daughter every day, that would certainly be a great time for me.
How much has the industry changed since you first started out?
Well it is has really become just that, an industry.I guess it was more a skilled trade that was so closely guarded by those who worked their asses off and dedicated every waking minute to build and push something they believed in so damn much.I like to think that being in the industry since ‘98 I kinda caught the last little bit of what people would call the “old school”.But, I learnt so much from so many amazing people in the business at the time like Royston, Moog and other non tattooers back then.I worked for so long and made so many hustles just to stay in the trade I so desperately wanted to be a part of.
I’m not saying that people starting today don’t work hard to get where they are, we all do.What’s changed though, is that there used to be a sense of value in earning your way into this trade and knowing that all the time and bull you had to go through was teaching you true love and appreciation for a skill set that would be passed on to you by someone who knew better and had dedicated just as much time to learning and sharing such treasured knowledge.
Nowadays it’s all about instant gratification.Nobody wants to earn or work for sh!t anymore and that’s not just in the tattoo game, it’s everywhere.
There seems to be this weird, glamorous association with tattooing but really it’s a lot of hard work and it consumes every last little bit of you and those that don’t get that, fall off the wagon just as quickly as they hop on.
What are your pros and cons of this evolution of the tattoo scene and
The fact that tattooing has gained such huge popularity has been incredible and the fact that it has also been the driving force for artists to push boundaries, and it seems like there is an endless well of creativity and that, artistically, is a massive factor.And, it’s also really great to see such amazing work being put out locally too.
The biggest downside for me is that there are also so many young people coming into what has now become a big industry and not taking the time to learn how to do things properly, getting impatient with regards to doing an apprenticeship and opening there own stores with no understanding of how to do things correctly.Shops sprout up everywhere and in turn, the said industry, becomes so watered down with shop on top of shop pushing out mediocre work and all it’s really doing is making it harder for anyone to survive in the business.
For a lot of people its all glitz and glamour and I genuinely just wonder how many people are starting to tattoo, that have a true understanding and passion for what they wanna do and what it took for so many people to get tattooing to the socially accepted point it is at today.
That is the value of doing and completing a solid, traditional apprenticeship and why it is so important for us, as Tattoo Artists, not to give up on those who genuinely want and are prepared to work their asses off for a trade that has so much to offer.
We need to make sure that the tradition is not lost and by doing that we’ll make sure that tattooing will always be around and not just become a massive, money driven juggernaut.
It’s hard to see and accept the way tattooing is going but I honestly believe things will go full circle and the dedicated few will always keep tattooing as beautiful as it should be.
How would you compare yourself as an artist now to 10 years ago?
Damn, I don’t think there is much to compare. Chalk and cheese really.But that’s tattooing and the joys of being in a creative line of work, you are, or should at least be evolving constantly.
What do you do to make sure you keep progressing as an artist?
Working and being surrounded by artists that constantly inspire and motivate me to just wanna be better.Working alongside Séona (@seonaleigh), Rasty (@rastyknayles) and Rekso (@rekso_le_hond) is super motivating on a daily basis so progression is constant and so easy.
Tell us about 1933 Classic Tattoos. How did it start, where did the name come from and the strengths the shop has grown to?
1933 Classic Tattoos was started by myself and Rasty in a rather unexpected manner.It was essentially going to be a second store for the studio we were both working at, but a few weeks before, plans changed and the new “branch” was not going to happen. As a result we opted not to lose the space and go at it together and so began our story together.
It’s been a lot of hard work and late, late nights and dedication to get the shop to the point it’s at and none of it was a case of luck or chance. We have worked for and earned every bit of success that we share together at the shop.
The addition of artists like Séona and Rekso is also something that we are all excited about because they are certainly names to keep an eye out for and I feel so damn fortunate that they choose to work with us at 1933 every day.
As for the name of the shop, it is directly linked to the two different street addresses to the property – 19 Henri Street and 33 De Korte Street – being the main entrance. It’s always a bit of an anticlimax when people ask.
What have been some of the highlights of you career?
I think first and foremost would be being part owner in a well respected studio that I could not be more proud of and knowing that none of it has come easy.Being able to work alongside such great talent every day and still being able to wake up so many years down the line and still be amped to get to work.
Have you had any weirdest experiences in your career as a tattoo artist?
I don’t even know what weird is anymore. From starting in the piercing/ body mod scene to tattooing.I’ve seen and heard it all.I think my perception of “weird” is so distorted that everything just seems normal.
What does the tattoo industry mean to you?
Tattooing means everything to me. It’s brought me to this point in my life and has brought me lifelong friendships. It introduced me to my wife and as a result given me an amazing family.It’s taught me not to judge a book by its cover.It’s taught me to never give up on myself and to never stop wanting something you are passionate about. Without the intention of it sounding too cliché, it really is a lot more than just a profession, it really has become a part of everything I am today.
What style of tattoo do you enjoy doing the most, and why?
I would love to be doing a lot more neo traditional work.I love the bold line work and have always loved working in colour.
I have also been fortunate enough to do a few collaboration pieces with Rasty and totally wish people would get more of those.It’s so much fun mixing up the styles.All that being said, I also find great reward in being able to pull off good black and grey work.
But if the choice was to do either or, colour for me, hands down.
Drawings by Ronald Jacobs
For anyone wanting to book and appointment with you, what’s the next step?
The process is pretty straight forward. You can simply email the store on email@example.com with any reference ideas you may have as well as a breakdown of your concept.
I generally don’t book more than 2 months in advance so that means we could certainly get your tattoo started pretty darn soon.
Alternatively you can pop past the store Monday – Friday between 10am-11am for a consult in person or give us a call on 0722056055.
Tattoos by Ronald Jacobs
Photos by Alexander Wolf Photography.