Talking Shop with Tattoo Artist Jimmy Butcher

Jimmy Butcher will be at Bang Bang NYC in August

Jimmy Butcher didn’t set out to be a tattoo artist. Not at first anyway. But the multi-talented multi-media artist has one of Savannah, Georgia’s top tattoo studios, and next week he’ll be in NYC for his fourth residency at Bang Bang, the NYC tattoo studio that can be as hard to get an appointment at as it is to get a table at Rao’s.

His style fits in with the detailed, fine-line black-and-grey style Bang Bang is known for, and from August 24 to 31 you can book a spot with him there while he’s in NYC. Reach out to him @thebutcherbrand.

To hear him tell it, Butcher moved to Savannah in 2003 with no money and no plan—little more than an art degree. He gets there and he’s doing freelance design work for local businesses and bands, waiting tables and doing some construction on the side. The job happened to be next a tattoo shop, where he would hang out and draw after his shifts. Well, it wasn’t long before he had a tattoo machine in his hand. An apprenticeship led to him opening his own shop, which over the past eight years has become a mecca for art and tattooing with a clientele that includes our friends in Portugal. The Man.

His custom sneaker work has also gotten a following. He caught Will Smith’s eye with his “Bel Air” twist on the Nike Air More Uptempo. And none other Ed Lover rocked some of Jimmy’s custom Addidas at the 30th Aniversary celebration of Yo MTV Raps at the Barclay Center.

We asked Jimmy Butcher about ink, art and coming to NYC.

How would you describe your tattooing style?

My tattoo style is primarily black and gray, with a meticulous attention to small details and thin line work. Over the years my tattooing style has changed many times, but currently I gravitate toward doing smaller delicate pieces.

Your favorite type of work to do?

My favorite type of work to do, is anything that allows me to push the boundaries of what a tattoo can be, conceptually. For example, mixing realism, with an illustrative element, or American traditional subject matter with a touch of painterly treatment is an exciting way for me to experiment artistically with what a tattoo “should” or “could” be.

Ever talked anyone out of a tattoo?

Typically, I do not ask too many questions about why a person wants to get a tattoo, or how it may affect their personal lives or professional careers, because since getting a tattoo has an “adult” age restriction, I respect that people are responsible for their own “adult” decisions. However I will steer any potential customer away from a design or concept that is just bad design, or aesthetically unpleasant. As well, I will draw the line with anything hate related or particularly offensive, so no I’m not sure I’ve had to actually talk anyone out of a tattoo per se, but I’ll do what it takes to maintain the integrity of my work.

How did the Bang Bang thing come about? 

Several years ago, I had decided I really wanted to work in New York and I was looking for a place to do a guest spot in NYC. Knowing that my work, and general style doesn’t always fit with the American traditional style shop, I was seeking a place that felt like something that matched my vibe. I stumbled upon Bang Bang, having not known about them before, and decided to reach out based on the general feel and aesthetic of their branding, and look of the website. I contacted them, and based on my work, they set me up for guest spot. That was 4 years ago now, and I have been returning each year for a week at a time. I respect and admire the artists at Bang Bang so much, and have cultivated great relationships with many of them. They always make me feel at home, and I consider them all a part of my extended tattoo family. I always look forward to working with them

What’s the best part of traveling to do a tattoo residency? Why do it?

Traveling to do a tattoo residency is always a multi-faceted experience for me. I get to create new, or build on existing, relationships with professional peers in different cities. It’s often important for me to step out of the comfort of my own shop, and see how others work together and challenge myself to adapt to unknown, and exciting environments. Also, I almost always return home feeling like a better artist, with a fresh perspective from any tattoo residency.

What’s a tattoo you wish someone would ask for or that you would most like to do?

The first thing that comes to mind, is that I’d really like to do tattoos of Basquiat’s work. Although it maybe be extremely difficult—the idea of it is really exciting to me. Otherwise, I really just like it when people let me get weird and a little abstract with tattoos. The more I get to apply my painting style, the more excited I am for the project.

One thing you learned from when you did your first tattoo to now that you think about the most?

Confidence. The key to progress, particularly with making permanent marks is trust in training, experience and executing with confidence. That, today, plus 15 years of experience, is what allows me try new styles and experiment with pushing conceptual boundaries.

How is the art scene in Savannah different from other places?

The art scene in Savannah is great. We have one of the best art schools in the world, and rapidly growing progressive art community that is currently buzzing with energy. I’m excited and honored to be a part of that. I think its different from other cities because, although it’s not new, its growing and changing rapidly, as the economy grows, and it always feels fresh. Many local artists are really hitting their stride and helping usher in the next generation of innovators.

Mad magazine was also a major influence.

Who has influenced your painting and other art?

I am heavily influenced by by classic hip hop and street fashion culture, in all mediums in which I work. Although it may not always be obvious, there is most likely an underlying influence, as it’s kind of the frequency I have always been tuned into. Sometimes that influence comes simply in the way of just the work ethic, or confident approach to a project. Mad magazine was also a major influence in my desire to draw and create as a child. Robert Williams, Keith Haring, Bill Plympton, and Matt Groening are some of my artistic influences. I’m also influenced by fashion and sneaker culture. Alexander McQueen, Iris Van Herpen, John Elliott, and Tinker Hatfield are some of my favorite designers.

What do people most misunderstand about tattoo artists?

I find that people most misunderstand that a tattoo artist can be, and often is, so much more than just that defined as a “tattoo artist.” Many artists are working hard to break the stereotype of what was classically assumed about the tattoo artist. Artists crossing over to the tattoo medium, or working in many other mediums like myself while also maintaining a professional tattoo career help to change the idea and expectation of the tattoo artist and the tattoo community. Tattoo artists are starting to be respected for being active members of their communities, engaging in entrepreneurial, and philanthropic endeavors and being positive role models—as well as style icons. I’m excited to be a part of this shift.