Breaking the Taboo: Paul Berkey is killing the stigma with style
He can tackle any tattoo concept that walks through his door...
When Paul Berkey was growing up, tattoos were taboo — you had to be a certain kind of degenerate to wear them. But in the last decade that’s changed immensely. Now he says, he mostly finds himself tattooing surgeons, lawyers, writers, artists, teachers, people from all walks and aspects of life — people who are drawn to Berkey’s illustrations for their crisp lines, bold imagery, his mastery of color and ability to tackle any concept a client walks through the door with. He’s helping kill the stigma and he’s doing it with style.
How long have you been tattooing for and how did you get into it?
I've been tattooing since 2004. I went to the Art Institute here in Denver a million years ago. And while I was in art school, I had people that were ambitious to get tattoos. It was the cool thing to do, we were all fresh out of high school and so I was drawing designs for friends and family. I went with a girlfriend who was getting a tattoo that I had drawn up and I'm watching it being done and next thing you know, I'm ordering a cheap tattoo kit from China.
Were you nervous at all to move from paper to skin?
Yeah, absolutely. The crazy part about tattooing skin is just the high variability. No skin is created equal from person to person, even from one location on the body to another location on the body, the changes are huge. Whether you're tattooing over a shinbone or the squishy area between a rib and a hip — that learning curve is massive, and it came with a lot of freaked out moments. It’s a fairly steep learning curve too, so in the beginning, learning how to work with your tools and learning how to work with something as permanent as needles are going to be, that took a minute. But here we are.
How would you describe your style of art?
I would say I've got kind of a neo-traditional style with new-school flair. I like to do things with a kind of a graphic arts touch, with a hint of realistic qualities when it comes to shadows and line weights and things.
Where do you tend to draw your inspiration from for original pieces?
It varies. I tend to look at a lot of concept art and a lot of comic books. I like a lot of anime and Japanese art that's done with what might be considered a comic effect. So I think I think I draw a lot of my style and line weights and the way I perceive an image, from those styles. And then obviously I give it my flair.
What are some of your favorite things to tattoo?
I like anything with wings, with leaves, anything under water — I just feel like they are open ended, they don't have a real harsh bind to them. I've been really known for flower work for the last few years and so I do more of that probably than anything else — which is cool. I'm really happy with doing that kind of stuff. It doesn't have a lot of rigid rules.
What's your favorite aspect of tattooing?
Oh, man, there's so many awesome things about tattooing: one, I'm a people person. I really enjoy the connection I get with somebody seeing them for four, five, six hours at a time, sometimes as often as once a month. You’re really altering this person's life; you're changing the way people perceive themselves; you're changing their appearance forever. It's a very intimate setting. You know, somebody is putting that level of trust and value into what you do — I really enjoy that part of my job.
Anything else you want to add?
I guess, just that the typical stereotype and taboo of tattooing has kind of been broken.
I always tell people that bring up, 'what's that going to look like when you're 70?' … Well, what are you saving your 70’s for? Are those the years that you plan on being the pageant winner? You should live your life and put some bookmarks down to remember the years when you could do whatever you wanted.