In today’s tattoo world, there are so many talented young tattoo artists out there. What was once seen as a bad boy profession full of ex-cons, gang members and bikers, is now more highly revered as a viable career and profession. The tattoo industry is becoming more attractive to fine artists right out of, or instead of, art college. The tattoo culture is now attracting a wide array of bohemian artists who are not the bad boys of yesteryear. They are extremely creative minds who have found intrigue and love for another medium of their art… skin and ink.
One such artist, Bill Kieffer, is a painter, a sculptor and an illustrator. He has a background in commercial art and design and applies this experience and knowledge to his profession as a tattoo artist at Zulu Tattoo in Los Angeles, CA.
Bill has been at Zulu Tattoo Los Angeles since July 2015. He has been tattooing for 14 years and worked for years in the promotions/advertising world. He wanted to move into an industry where the core goal of the process was in artistic creation rather than in selling something. Bill is a talented fine artist who works in many mediums other than skin.
Who are your biggest influences in the art world?
In the visual fine art world, the immediate classical artists ones that come to mind are Rembrandt, Da Vince, Goya, Rockwell, Sargent, Klimt, Ivan Albright, Frank Stella, and Gaudi. Some more contemporary influences would be Warhol, The Duchampes, Chuck Close, HR Giger, De Es, Dr Suess, Robert Crumb, Frank Frazetta, Brian Froud, Matt Mahurin, Dave McKean, Brad Holland…. too many to mention, really. I’ve always been equally influenced by different media, especially film, so I have to give credit to others like Stan Winston, Tim Burton, Ray Harryhausen, etc..
What is the most memorable experience you had with a client?
I tattooed a woman in Chicago who was very embarrassed of her stomach, and when we met, was extremely shy and withdrawn. She had scars from having a c-section, a kidney removed and multiple stab wounds. (she’d had a VERY hard life). We tattooed a tree of life piece on her, covering the scars. Having her stomach turn from a symbol of tragedy into something she wanted to show off had truly changed her. After a few months had passed, she came back to visit, and she was a proud, beaming person who was almost unrecognizable from the depressed, sad one I had originally met. Her energy was transformed, and she told me it was a direct result of the work I had done for her.
What do you think is the most important part about the client/artist relationship?
There are two: Communication and trust. Once the client has researched and found the artist who matched the skill level and style of work they desire, they need to communicate their expectations to the artist fully. Then, the artist need to communicate their process and expectations to the client. Then it is of key importance for the client to trust the artist to do the work that they hired them to do, in the style and manner in which they excel. The more trust is established, the freer the artist will be to shine, and the more unique and memorable the outcome will be.
What tattoo have you not yet done in your career that you are dying to do?
People wanting to see my imagination brought onto their skin is always an honor and a joy to me. I love to work with tattoo collectors who engage me to create a unique piece of my art for them, and allow me the artistic freedom to make it truly special. In subject matter, I tend to gravitate towards animated, action-filled scenarios, imaginary creatures and co-minglings of photo and drawn elements. I love mixed media, and am hoping to introduce more of my photography and sculpture into the tattoo design process. I also really enjoy humorous illustrative pieces, where it can be both beautiful and fun for everyone.
What is your favorite tattoo that you’ve ever done?
I can’t say there is a single one. But my proudest moments are when I do something that is so colorful and/or dimensional that people think it’s not a “real” tattoo. I’ve heard this comment on a number of my animal, underwater and nature pieces.
What other mediums do you work in?
In the past, I’ve worked in decorative art studios, mural companies, costume and prop companies, etc, so I love applying most any media to the task at hand. Currently, my other art consists mainly of painted sculptural pieces. I try to keep it as nontoxic as possible, so lately I’ve been perfecting my paper mache and air dry clay techniques. Much of my subject matter revolves around the aquatic conservation end, so I try to incorporate found trash and materials into the works that I find while diving or at the beach.
Tell us about your process in creating custom work for your clients.
I work best with a rough concept, and the client lets me run with it. Since it is on their skin and permanent, I will show sketches and then make adjustments toward the final design. When we meet, I like to have the design finalized so the appointment time can be spent tattooing. Tattooing, especially large pieces, is a process. So again, it’s important to be allowed the freedom to diligently bring the tattoo to the final crescendo, based upon the agreed design.
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