Lyle Tuttle

Written by Rocky Geneva on . Posted in blog

Lyle Tuttle, well-known American tattoo artist and historian of the medium, the forefather of modern tattooing, we all heard his name, we’ve all seen at least one of his creations. But after all this, how much do we really know about him?

I’ve been searching for some reading in tattooing history by Mr. Tuttle and found out some interesting things about his life and work. He was born in 1931 and grew up in Ukiah, California. As a youngster Tuttle embraced the passion for tattoos, he started falling in love with them growing up during the World War II, many servicemen coming back from the war or on leave would have a tattoo dribbled on them. So in 1946, at the age of fourteen, he went to San Francisco and purchased his first tattoo for $3.50 by a tattooer named Duke who ran the shop. It was a heart with mother written in it, because it was the only one that he could afford at that time. After that it was all uphill for the soon to become one of the best in the biz.

His parents were conservative Iowa farmers, living in California, but they allowed him to be himself, and think with his own head. So three years later in 1949, he was tattooing professionally. In 1954 he opened his own studio in San Francisco, this first shop was open for nearly 30 years. The shop’s name was Lyle Tuttle Tattoos, and it was located near a bus station. Tuttle considers that this is a personalized business, everybody knows his name not the shop’s name. He doesn’t get the need for all these elaborate names and such that occur nowadays.

Tuttle is convinced that women’s liberation  put tattooing back on the map. With women getting a new found freedom, they could get tattooed if they desired. Then the black people started getting tattooed, that was the other big blast for the tattooing industry. Once magazines and newspapers like The Wall Street Journal started coming out with articles about tattoos, it more acceptable, and this brought a better grade of artists into the picture. Tuttle appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and was photographed by Annie Leibovitz for the inside cover of Rolling Stone in October 1970, also The Wall Street Journal did a front page story on him, in the personality profile section in 1971, becoming an iconic image of modern tattooing.

When the first convention happened in ’76, Tuttle had already been tattooing for over 25 years. He was a tattoo superstar who rose to fame in the late ’60s tattooing a predominantly female clientele and celebrities like Janis Joplin, Peter Fonda, and Cher.

Many tattooists of his day disliked his statements to the press and so called “shameless self-promotion”, so his fame within tattooing was somewhat controversial. When Tuttle was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in October 1970, Sailor Jerry put the picture inside his toilet. Despite criticism for being the tattoo media darling of his time, he is credited with presenting tattooing as an art form to the mainstream and promoting safe and hygienic industry practices.

He has been tattooed on six continents, and has never knowingly tattooed a minor. He has become a legend and a teacher within the industry in the years he has been tattooing. Tuttle officially retired around 1990 but continues to travel the tattoo convention circuit. He will still occasionally tattoo his signature on a friend or acquaintance. Although Tuttle no longer tattoos, he attends the conventions, and is still extremely involved in tattooing, speaking on the history, machines and the folklore of tattooing. He devoted more than fifty years of his life to this industry, and is enjoying where it’s at now.

His life motto is “No sweat.” Don’t ever sweat over anything and don’t let anyone make you sweat. He has it tattooed on the back of his leg in kanji, but the phrase couldn’t translated exactly so it reads “Perspiration No”.

Lyle Tuttle’s Tattoo Museum in San Francisco boasts the largest tattoo memorabilia collection in the world.


Realistic Trash Polka

Written by Rocky Geneva on . Posted in blog

For a time now I’ve seen a new style in tattooing, a style that reminded me of the punk rock days, old school graffiti and the former Eastern block’s color pallet. A style that creates a perfect mix between grunge graphic elements, realistic portraits and typography. This was something amazing, that I’ve never seen before, after a little research the name Realistic Trash Polka came up.

This type of artwork reminisces of a World War II propaganda poster combined with a gruesome obituary, all put together in a collage surrounded by vintage and modern filigree and paint brush strokes. I’ve seen influences of this style in a few portfolios from artists in east and central Europe, and it really caught my eye.

Taking the research a bit further, a tattoo parlor named Buena Vista Tattoo Club came up many times. Buena Vista Tattoo Club is a german studio based in Würzburg. That’s when I discovered the founding fathers of this unique style were tattoo artists Volko Merschky and Simone Pfaff. As an artist Volko studied  interior design and Simone studied graphic design, they also did photography. Together they developed this new style containing halftones, color overlay, brush strokes, stains and vintage fonts that seem to come from an old typewriter in a black and white plus one color palette are the elements surrounding stunning realistic skulls and portraits, usually displayed on large skin portions.

In their shop you have two opportunities, the first is to give them total freedom to create the art freehand, but  as a customer you can also give a certain theme, maybe some keywords in combination with a song, poem or a quote. Out of this, the design will be created by these two artists from their understanding of the theme. By doing it this way, they can develop their own style and create completely unique designs that are sure to be one of a kind.

Working with moods, it’s more an abstract way of working, but that kind of input lets them give their best with your idea. Telling them exactly what you want in the design, that’s not how they work.

They also started a band together called, Dobbs Dead. As with Volko and Simone’s art, the debut Dobbs Dead album may not be for everyone. Much like ABBA and many other European bands that choose to perform in the English language. Haunting, heartfelt and dramatically understated because there are no drums, no bass, the sole power of the album comes from the poetic and lyrical capability. Feel free to check it out, as you may come to get your head around what they are trying to achieve. After all that’s how they Realistic Trash Polka reached the surface, through customers who were open minded enough.

Here are some of the coolest designs from these two amazing artists. Also you can always check out more of their artwork and music on the Buena Vista Tattoo Club official page.









Well, the tattoo designs we create don’t fit into any known or common styles, so we made up our minds to think of a term that would describe it best. We came up with Realistic Trash Polka because all in all, it’s a mixture of realistic elements combined with abstract or sometimes, graphic parts which represent the ‘trash’ part of the phrase. While this may be an unusual combination, it’s familiar from music, as a polka. So, the term polka comes from our inspiration from the music – especially from our own music and songwriting. Basically, Realistic Trash Polka is all of those things combined with what happens when we come together to create. It’s simply the two of us, our name, our brand and our style.

― Volko Merschky


Tattoo fact

Written by Rocky Geneva on . Posted in blog

Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe holds the record for highest altitude tattoo, having been inked at 45,000 feet in 2008.

Mario Barth of Starlight Tattoo gave the Mötley Crüe drummer a black and gray tattoo of a peacock on his right thigh, as they flew from Burbank to Miami in a private Gulfstream jet. The tattoo was said to cost $150,000 dollars.

This stunt landed Lee and Barth in the Guinness Book of World Records for “First-Ever to Perform a Tattoo in High Altitude.”


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