Stetson visited tattoo artist, Josh Arseneau at Electric Anvil, where he works and took a stroll around his Brooklyn neighborhood with his dogs Larry and Shaq. Read along for the full interview.
Stetson: When did you start your career as a tattoo artist?
It’s not fair to say that I started my career when I was 19, but that’s when I started tattooing. I was so excited after getting my first tattoo that I wanted to start running before I could crawl, so to speak. I saved money and bought a kit from the back of a Tattoo magazine sometime in 1994. It was, of course, a complete, nightmarish mistake. I didn’t even know how to set up a tattoo machine! I was looking at pictures and trying to figure it all out. I did some terrible tattoos on a few friends and realized I was in way over my head. Over the years, I learned some tricks and did a little work here and there but I never had a formal apprenticeship. I certainly regret that now! That’s truly the only way to really learn the trade and could have saved me ten years of my life.
In any case, by 2009, I finally took the plunge and fully committed myself to my craft. I had a great support system at that point; Atlas Tattoo in Portland, Oregon. I’d been getting tattoos from that crew for ten years by that point and they were kind enough to offer bits of advice when I asked for it.
My true career started in 2012 when I went to work for Dean Williams and Oliver Peck in Dallas, Texas, at Elm Street Tattoo. They took a huge chance on me and I hope I made it worth their while!
Hat: Stratoliner Fedora
Stetson: What was your first tattoo?
JA: I remember when I was 16 or 17 I saw older guys with tattoos and thought, “damn they look cool; I’ve got to get one!”. So, when I turned 18, I went to a shop I had been driving past for some time. It was a shop named Southern Thunder Tattoo in Salt Lake City, Utah. I think it must have been the summer of 1993. There were only two guys working there; Mick and Bones. Mick was the tattooer and Bones ran the front. I brought in the image that I wanted tattooed, which was a tracing from an album cover of my favorite band at the time; it’s kind of an eyeball thing with claws on it. I still have it and will never cover it!
They were stoked on the image and it didn’t take any time before I was in the chair. Mick smoked a cigar while he tattooed me and Bones told stories. The one I remember was about the gnarl of scar tissue on Mick’s forearm; something about “cigar tattoo removal” of an unwanted design applied in prison…
Hat: Open Road
Stetson: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not tattooing?
JA: These days, when I’m not tattooing, I enjoy drawing, painting and hanging out with my wife, Emily. She’s the best! I spend a lot of time with my two dogs and I’m also trying to learn French. I try to work out a few days a week on top of all that. Never a dull moment!
Stetson: Do you have a favorite tattoo artist of all time?
JA: It’s hard to say if I have a favorite; my influences range far and wide. I will say that some of my tops(dead and living) are Sailor Jerry, Mike Malone, Bert Grimm, Oliver Peck, Dean Williams, Scott Harrison, Jerry Ware, Dan Gilsdorf and my good friend, Tyson Arndt. To name everyone that has made me a better tattooer would take all day!
Stetson: What has been your favorite moment of your career so far?
JA: One of the times that immediately comes to mind happened pretty early on in my career. I was in Sweden with Tyson and Oliver and we had just finished a convention. It was my first, and the guys were asking me how I thought it went and how busy I was. When I told them how many tattoos I did, Oliver gave me a high-five and said, “you’ll never have to pay to travel again!” That moment really registered with me because I realized, then, that tattooing can open so many closed doors. All you have to do is work your ass off and the world can be at your fingertips.
Stetson: What is your favorite part of being a tattoo artist?
JA: I think one of my favorite things about being a tattooer is the freedom. It’s easy to complain about the day to day minutiae, the slow months of the year and problem clients, but overall this is the best job in the world for me. I never was the type to sit behind a desk and I was never that great dealing with strict bosses. Things have worked out great and I feel very lucky!
Stetson: Do you travel for work?
JA: Whenever I can! I love to travel. It’s a huge part of the tattooers’ DNA. I think traveling is a great way to learn about the world and yourself. When you can mix it up with working and meeting new people, it’s even better!
Stetson: How does Stetson fit into your style?
JA: I’ve always loved wider brimmed hats as a part of men’s’ style. I think they look distinguished and are the perfect way to add a touch of personality to an outfit. For me, the perfect solution to this is the Stetson Open Road. It’s got that western vibe but it can just as easily be worn on the streets of Brooklyn. I’m hooked on the woven Hemp Open Road version; I think it’s going to be in heavy rotation this summer!