East Meets West in This Decorative Style of Tattooing By Ian Lutz
There’s still plenty of people tattooing with soul out there, but it takes a discerning eye to find them.
If our bodies are temples, then Ian Lutz is a temple decorator. His intricate, yet boldly lined tattoos are akin to the sacred, ornamental patterns and designs you would find hand painted on ancient walls. The Denver artist's use of black ink with the occasional traditional color palette creates strikingly beautiful tattoos that his clients wear like tribal badges of honor. We caught up with Ian after his return from Thailand to find out a little more about him and how he defines his style.
Shop: (Owner) World Tattoo Studio
Years Tattooing: 14 years
Style/Specialty: Ornamental, American Traditional
Drink of choice:
Sober, but I drink a fair amount of coffee
What would you be doing professionally if you weren’t a tattooer?
I actually think about this one a lot. I’d hope I’d be doing something else creative or constructive. Most likely some sort of woodwork. I grew up in my dad’s woodshop. We built signs, displays, trade show booths… that type of thing.
Do you have any hidden talent(s)?
Is anything really hidden now that we have social media?! I’m a real busy body, and like to dip my toes into all kinds of things. So I would say I am moderately talented at: using a sewing machine, wood carving, riding BMX, working on european automobiles, riding scooters through southeast asian traffic.
What’s in rotation on your playlist right now?
Alice Coltrane, Wisdom of the Sages podcast, Mia Doi Todd, Philip Glass, Gabor Szabo, I mostly listen to jazz and traditional/devotional Indian music.
What made you want to get into tattooing?
To be honest it pretty much just happened to me. I had an older brother who was really covered in tattoos. He joined the military when he was 17, ended up traveling all over and fighting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can’t completely remember all of his tattoos, it was so long ago. When I turned 18 he took me to get my first tattoo. I guess I was hooked because I just kept getting them, quickly too. It was my brother’s idea for me to get into it. I ended up finding an apprenticeship in Fort Worth, TX. I worked for my mentor for 5-6 years at his shop Elite Tattoo Gallery. At its root, I believe the attraction I have for tattooing comes from a very human compulsion to customize one’s belongings, including the body.
How would you describe your style?
Generally, I’d say the closest thing you could relate it to would be tribal tattooing. However, I find that a good portion of the population is turned off by that term. I describe it as ornamental, or decorative tattooing. It’s not necessarily abstract, but for the most part it wouldn’t be considered figurative. It’s really a combination of styles, tattooed with the bold quality you find in American Traditional tattooing. People commonly call them “geometric” designs but I wouldn’t say that’s accurate.
First tattoo you ever got?
It’s kind of embarrassing in hindsight, but I got a huge, black, Texas silhouette, with a bicycle sprocket and the area code 817 in the middle of it. I designed it myself and brought it to my brother’s friend. It was like a symbol of my bmx crew haha. I think it was like $60 and it covered half my chest.
Do you have any tattoos you regret? (Getting or giving)
All the tattoos I have that I don’t prefer nowadays I am just getting bold black designs tattooed over the top of them. I do have a funny story about a tattoo I regretted doing though… My first major road trip as a tattooer I ended up in Portland, OR staying with a friend. It was a total skater house, probably like 7 dudes living there. It was a really hot summer and there was no AC to be found. They had a friend who wanted a tattoo, and said he was rich, so he would likely have AC in his apartment. I got to this kid’s house, super nice dude. He wants some huge satanic bold black design on his entire chest. I agree and we start. Well, he doesn’t have AC, and here I am, this guy laying out on the sofa or something, I have a headlamp on, can’t see what I’m doing. The pattern is coming off due to his profuse sweating. I’m killing the guy and the tattoo wasn’t looking so hot. I felt so terrible and to this day I’ve never wanted to leave my body so badly. But that’s tattooing… You have to keep it together and get the job done. Most of the time you don’t have much of a choice.
What’s the strangest / most unique tattoo request you’ve gotten?
What’s considered strange varies quite a bit from person to person, doesn’t it? I once blacked this guy’s nipples out 3 separate times. I didn’t think the first time was that strange, but the 2nd and 3rd times certainly confused me. I think he just wanted them to be really black. Like 2 pieces of charcoal just sitting there.
What is your favorite part about being a tattoo artist, and what is the most challenging?
Earlier in my career I would have said that I most enjoyed finding a group of people that I fit into. Tattooing felt like the place where people that didn’t belong elsewhere ended up. I couldn’t say the same 14 years later. I really like the idea that life doesn’t have to be lived one certain way, and tattooing provides a great vehicle for doing things the way I see fit. As an added bonus, I get to connect with people on an intimate level every day. Some days I’m a comedian, some days I’m a talk therapist, some days I feel like an architect. Tattooing is a very dynamic profession. There are many aspects people don’t often consider.
The most challenging thing for me, at this point, is taking care of myself. I spent so many years neglecting my physical well-being. I would just tattoo, ride motorcycles, and party. That feels like a lifetime ago now, but my body is still playing catch up. Tattooing is what I like to call an “ergonomic nightmare”. Most people don’t think of it, but it’s actually very taxing on your body. So, that’s the hardest thing for me. Wanting to tattoo 7 days a week, but physically having a hard time doing so.
What kind of changes have you seen with tattoo trends over the years and what’s been the worst one(s), in your opinion?
In my opinion, tattooing has become so completely mainstream. In the past you would see a trend, say, nautical stars, or Koi fish half-sleeves. These things would be popular for 2-5 years at a time. Now, with the internet and social media, the hot item changes weekly. Everyone has access to all the images all the time. Gone are the days of finding a cool reference book that maybe, just maybe, not everyone and their mom has. So, I think things end up looking very homogenous and uninteresting. The level of tattooing is at an all-time high regarding quality, but perfection isn’t everything. There’s still plenty of people tattooing with soul out there, but it takes a discerning eye to find them.
Where do you get inspiration from?
I collect books of illustrations and I take a lot of artistic influence from religious art. My favorite are the intricate designs hand painted on temples. I’ve traveled to southeast asia many times and am very attracted to eastern philosophy and culture. It could more accurately be described as an obsession I guess.
How can we check out more of your work? (Social Media / Contact info)