Tattoo Artist Interview - Juan Puente
This week, The London Tattoo Convention chats to tattoo artist Juan Puente; with decades of experience, Juan followed in the footsteps of some of the greatest names in tattooing and has in turn paved the way for a new generation. Now based at San Francisco's legendary Black Heart, Juan has a wealth of tattoo knowledge and creative experiences to share, from building his own line of machines and power supplies to documenting the life of Horiyoshi 3 on camera...
Can you take us back to the beginning of your journey; what sparked your interest in tattooing and how did you enter the tattoo world?
80's punk rock would have been my introduction to being around tattoos at a young age. I didn't want them at first but always loved seeing them. One day, I finally got my first one and that was all it took. I started getting them quite often and then it went from there.
What were your earliest artistic influences in tattooing? Which artists or movements inspired you?
I’m assuming like most tattooers that have been doing it as long as I have, magazines had a huge influence and were readily available. I was raised in Southern California and in my area I was fortunate enough to have a small local shop called Laguna Tattoo that had some stationary legends like Leo Zulueta and visiting ones like Bernie Luther coming through the doors. Other legends in the area were Rick Spellman, Bob Roberts, Jack Rudy and all his crew, epic times. Like most 90's tattooers, I have a bit of tribal on me but I got it from the source at the time, Leo Z. In those times movements were just starting so the evolution was happening all around me along with everyone else.
What is your favourite style to tattoo now?
At the moment, I find myself doing a lot of black and grey. It is what I started with but not the only thing that I do, it is just the most requested and I do love doing it.
Over the course of your tattoo career, how have you seen the tattoo community progress? What do you feel have been the biggest changes to the industry, for better or worse?
When I started it was more of a community, you knew who was around in a 100-mile radius. Maybe not personally, but you were aware. Magazines were helpful but it wasn't in real time. Now you know who is around via social media and some magazines. What took months to show in a magazine now takes seconds. Progress can be seen in many ways. There are great tattooers that have not had to go through what tattooers in my generation have had to go through, but they are still doing great work. Then you will always have the shitheels that are still scratching out of their house. It has extremes now, I'll just keep working hard and making my customers happy.
Have you ever taken on an apprentice? What would be the most important piece of advice you could give to a newcomer?
I’ve never had an apprentice and I am not sure if I ever will. I know very few people that have had apprentices and that are completely happy with them. If you finished an apprenticeship with someone then that person should be you, completely your image, right? The most important piece of advice, hmm... I've given a lot of advice over the years, all solicited and I am happy to answer. Probably the most insulting thing is when you ask advice and you get it, don't get defensive, just take the advice, you asked for it. Some years ago, I was asked for advice and the tattooer showed up late and kind of nonchalant about it and later on did just the exact opposite, then couldn't be bothered to visit the shop being only blocks away. It hasn't worn me down but if you ask for advice, it’s because you want to learn. If you know it all, don't ask for a thing...
In addition to tattooing you are also a keen photographer and cinematographer. How did these interests develop and what have been your favourite photography ventures to date?
I love capturing a moment. Still photos are tricky because you have that split second to capture emotion and surroundings. Film and video is a little more forgiving but also takes an eye. I was fortunate to work with Horiyoshi 3 on two projects, one for a museum and one for a book that I published. Those are times that will never happen again so being a part of it was a blessing.
Do you have any upcoming or recent projects to share with us?
At the moment, I am just tattooing as much as possible and making tattoo machines and power supplies, still learning every day.
If you are still taking bookings for the convention, how can customers book with you? Do you have any exciting pieces planned, and will you have any merchandise or artwork for sale? What are you looking forward to about LTC this year?
I was at the first few London Tattoo Conventions and I am fortunate to be part of this year’s edition. I am looking forward to seeing my friends from all over the world and catching up. The fine people reading this can get a hold of me at email@example.com - I'm there to tattoo whatever you need and I'll have some shirts, machines and power supplies for the professional tattooer.