Living in North Carolina you know if you want a Neo-Traditional Japanese tattoo you would visit Mr. James Vaughn in Asheboro. Most will recognize James from season 1 of Spike TV’s Ink Master show which debuted in January 2012. James was unfortunately eliminated in the last challenge on Episode 8. James loves attending different tattoo conventions across the country where he can share his artwork with others that may not be able to travel to his shop in NC. We caught up with James as he was packing getting ready to hit the road to Atlantic City, NJ for a convention.
AnoTat2: We know you have been tattooing for over 20 years now, how did you start?
James: Well I started very unprofessionally in High School with guitar strings an old school setup, which I highly recommend no one do. I think it was the 90’s tattoo magazines that really got me into the art of tattooing. I then joined the military in which I started tattooing again in my last year before being discharged.
AnoTat2: Where did you do your apprenticeship under?
James: I started an apprenticeship in Raleigh, NC for a shop called Skin Graphics. For the first 2 years, all I did was clean, make needles, draw and draw. Back then they did not want to teach anyone the “secret craft” of tattooing for fear you would open your own shop and take money from their pockets.
AnoTat2: Do you think apprenticeship in the industry has changed from when you first started?
James: Yes. Too many new tattooers are actually paying an artist for their apprenticeships or becoming a “Youtube Baby” and not actually paying their dues or learning the trade as we did back in the day.
AnoTat2: At what age did you get your first tattoo?
James: I was about 12 years old and sitting in class, I guess the subject was boring as I started to tattoo my hand with a needle and thread. It was a cross and heart on my hand in which I still have today. I think this is when my love for tattoos started.
AnoTat2: You have two studios, Straight A Tattoo in Asheboro and Emerald City Tattoo in Greensboro. With the popularity of tattoos it seems there is a new shop popping up on every corner; what sets your shops apart from other shops in the surrounding area?
James: We give our clients the best tattoos that we can. A lot has to do with word of mouth, people just know where to go for good, clean and professional looking tattoos. We just finished our Cancer Tattoo special where all the money raised is going to a local family that is not only battling cancer but all the medical bills that go along with it. It’s our way of giving back to our community.
AnoTat2: You have been written up in numerous Tattoo Publications and competed in the 1st season of Ink Master on Spike TV; how has this affected your career?
James: It has enabled me to share my artwork with more people than I would have. I still have my local clients but it’s cool to meet people from all over the world at conventions that track me down to be tattooed by me. It still blows my mind; I am not a “Rock Star”. (Laughing)
AnoTat2: There are so many different styles of tattoos from old school, new school, portraits and we know you are a true master of neo-traditional Japanese from your artwork; is there a style you do not like doing?
James: I love just doing Japanese style work. I am also faster than some other artists which allows me to get more work done in a smaller amount of time. I did 2 full sleeves on a woman from Ohio in 2 sessions at 2 separate conventions. I keep going until the client taps out (laughing). I get into my zone and just go. People come to me for this style of work, we have other artists in the shop that “specialize” in other styles.
AnoTat2: We love the fact that you still free hand all your tattoos on the skin; what makes you do this instead of the stencils?
James: That’s the only way I work. It allows me to draw the tattoo on the person and allows it to flow with the clients body and muscle tones.
AnoTat2: Most tattoo artists we spoke to had turned away work due to either the person’s attitude or what they wanted to have tattooed on them – have you ever turned anybody away?
James: I guess if they had a bad attitude I would send them on their way but it does not happen too much for me, most of my clients come here and know what to expect from me.
AnoTat2: You have been one of the organizers of the Asheville Tattoo Fest in Downtown Asheville; how has it been organizing this event?
James: It takes a lot of hard work putting it all together. Each year we try to add more to the event learning from the previous year. This year we will be having our own brand of beer and of course Carriage House Apple Brandy. (laughing) We have a few other surprises lined up but you will have to wait to see.
AnoTat2: What other tattoo conventions and events do you attend every year?
James: I love attending the Ink Life Tour, they put on a great event. They have a combination of great music and artists. They also put all us “Ink Master” artists in a row at the event – it’s like a family reunion.
AnoTat2: Let’s talk about your time on Ink Master; do you keep in touch with the artists you competed with on the show?
James: Sure, I see them at conventions, they also attend the show in Asheville. Let’s see there is Lea Vendetta, Bili Vegas, Sarah Miller, Clint Cummings and Kyle Dunbar just to name a quick few. You become close with everyone, there is a bond.
AnoTat2: Have you watched the new season of Ink Master?
James: (Laughing) I watch Ink Master all the time, they put on a good show. Seems to be more drama in it but I guess that’s for the producers.
AnoTat2: What else can we expect from you in the future?
James: Well besides the Asheville show I will be doing guest spots in NY (Editor Notes: Check James’s Website for all his schedule). I also attend about 30 tattoo conventions or shows a year, so I will be busy traveling.
James will be doing some guest spots in NY so make sure you check out his site for dates and locations. If you are looking for a great Japanese Tattoo look no further then Mr. James Vaughn.
Asheville Tattoo & Arts Expo will be on March 14-16th at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel. More information will follow as it’s released by the organizers.
Editor’s Note: To our NY friends and family; James will be guest tattooing at Ink Couture, in Staten Island NY. He will be there December 2-7th 2013.
~ ☠ AnoTat2 ∴