Interview with Gordon Combs
Striking boldness, Solid colors and an eye for detail are aspects in traditional tattoo designs that Gordon Combs uses relentlessly to set himself apart as a different breed of artist . Gordon Combs has been in the tattoo game for 11 years and is currently working out of Till Death Tattoo based in Denver, Colorado. My name is Brandon Murphy and I have recently moved to Austin, Texas to team up with Mindzai Creative as an in house graphic designer and digital illustrator. Being consumed by tattoo art culture, I was stoked to take on one of the first projects of interviewing Gordon as a part of the 4 artist "A Different Breed" tattoo box set sold via Mindzai Apparel. Printed by Mindzai Creative, the "A Different Breed" boxset includes art from tattooers Gordon Combs, Ben Siebert, Marc Nava and Graham Beech. Each set includes 4 exclusive prints, an embroidered iron-on patch, a 1.5” enamel pin, 4 die cut vinyl stickers, 4 tattoo trading cards, and is mailed in a custom printed box. Pre orders of the box set will also include a limited edition shirt. Today, Gordon and I talk about the in's and out's of his tattoo world, key aspects of what makes a notable design and the influences that led Gordon to where he is today.
Q: You recently made the move from Art Work Rebels in Portland to Till Death in Denver. What made you make that move? How does Denver compare to Portland?
A: We moved because my wife got into a masters program at Naropa in Boulder. I’ll always love Portland, I think the Northwest is some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world. For now I’m enjoying the sunshine and friendliness of Colorado and get my Portland fills on my trips back once a month or so.
Q: How does working Denver compare to Portland or any other cities you’ve worked in?
A: Portland has an amazing tattoo scene, and I’ve got a soft spot for the talent there. I also feel like everyone between shops in Portland are really friendly and connected and that feels particularly rare. I haven’t worked in Denver for long enough to really have a solid opinion of tattooing there, but everyone I’ve met has been sweet and supportive and all of my clients have been amazing.
Q: How long have you been tattooing and where did you apprentice?
A: I’ve been tattooing for 10 years, and I started out working at a shop called Braindrops in San Francisco with the help of Cecelia Wingate, Brian Hutflies, and Philip Milic.
Q: What first got you into the world of tattooing and becoming an artist?
A:I have always been into drawing - I went to school for oil painting - and I started getting tattooed as soon as I could with whatever money I could scrounge together. I spent whole paychecks getting tattooed; I was so pumped about it. I eventually got a job at the shop I had been getting tattooed at in San Francisco and found my way into tattooing from there
Q: Where do you work currently? What other shops that you have worked at do you feel have been instrumental in your progression as a tattooer.
A: I work at Til Death in Denver and Art Work Rebels in Portland. I haven’t worked at very many shops so I consider all of them to be instrumental in my career. I met and became friends with Paul Dobleman in my first year of tattooing when he first moved to the Bay Area which was huge for me in terms of influence. I worked at Seventh Son Tattoo in SF for 5 years after they took a big chance on me when I was very green. Getting to work with Luke Stewart, Jason Kundell, George Campise, Jeff Croci, Joey Armstrong, and Matt Howse forever changed my understanding of tattooing. Jason Kundell has had and continues to have a particularly profound impact on my drawing style and the way I approach design. Hence the move to Portland when he opened shop there. The shops I’ve had the privilege to work at both permanently and guest spots have introduced me to more influential material and individuals than I can possibly list. It’s overwhelming to try.
Q: How would you describe your own personal art style?
A: I would describe my personal art style as a combination rip off of everyone whose art I’ve fallen in love and my own illustrative tendencies.
Q: Who are your main influences?
A: I’m influenced by too many people to possibly list. Honestly the three guys I’m doing this print project with - Marc, Graham, and Ben - are all incredible and I look at their work constantly. Jason Kundell, George Campise, and Luke Stewart have been huge in terms of composition design choices. Theo Mindell, Paul Dobleman, Matt Howse, Bryan Randolph, and all of the Spider Murphy’s crew have been huge influences. If I could steal anyone’s abilities it would probably be Grez.
Q: At what point did making art transition from being a hobby to your main passion?
A: I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do art, it’s the only thing that’s ever come naturally for me.
Q: What sort of traditional or digital art tools do you use to create your work, be it tattoos or paintings?
A: I just use paper, pencil, and ink at the moment, I don’t own a computer or tablet or really know how to use either one very well. I would like to learn digital art at some point, I’m always so jealous of people who know how to use all kinds of mediums.
Q: What is your design process when working on a project for yourself or a customer? Do you have general set steps, or handle each project in its own individual way?
A: I don’t have a process really. I’m a pretty disorganized person that loses their drawings a lot.
Q: What is your work environment like? Any tips for creating a productive environment?
A: Currently I have a pretty relaxed work environment, everyone’s on their own schedules and works when they want to. In the past I’ve worked at places that are much more work intensive with higher expectations. Both have their merits and I enjoy working at both types of places.
Q: Looking back to when you were started to get the ball rolling with your tattooing, what was something that really helped you grow and take a big step forward?
A:When I first started to apprentice I was in a bad situation under someone who cared only about money and lifestyle. As much as I hated the situation at the time, it gave me some really good perspective about what I ultimately wanted from tattooing. I was later able to ditch my apprenticeship and got help from a few sympathetic friends, Cecelia Wingate and Brian Hutflies, who really taught me work ethic and pushed me from the nest.
Q: Do you ever deal with the struggle of a lack of inspiration? If so, what do you find usually helps to get inspiration flowing again?
A: I have a really difficult time with subject matter. I always have. I can find inspiration within the drawing process but I constantly struggle with ideas. How these other tattooers do it I have no clue.
Q: What have you found to be the most challenging aspects of creating an art piece?
A: Everything is challenging about making art. Every little thing. Unless you’re Greggletron, then making art is as easy as taking a morning dump.
Q: In your opinion, what are some of the key aspects of a solid design/tattoo?
A: I think silhouette and movement are pretty important. Value is something else that I have a hard time with that I think makes or breaks a piece. The fit on the body is also pretty key and something that I constantly struggle with.
Q: What is your "go to" favorite design to draw?
Q: With a wide variety of options on how to go about it, did you ever formally study art through classes or did you learn what you know thru practice?
A: I have a degree in Fine art, but I wouldn’t consider myself very good at Fine art. Most of what I know how to do is just from practice and frustration.
Q: Where can people go to check out your art and keep up with your schedule? (Instagram/website)
A: I’m on Instagram mostly and people can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I know, nobody uses yahoo anymore.