Sperry Shoe Tattoos: Q&A With Tattooer Dominic Vasquez

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Sperry Shoe Tattoos: Q&A With Tattooer Dominic Vasquez

As we previously announced, Sperry returns to Wingtip June 25th for a trunk show. At the center of the excitement is tattoo artist Dominic Vasquez, who will be tattooing your new Sperrys. That’s right. Tattooing your Sperrys. We couldn’t believe it either, so we got in touch with Vasquez via email to find out more.

Wingtip: How similar is the process of tattooing shoes to tattooing skin?

Dominic Vasquez: It’s similar mostly because leather is essentially skin. Although the shoes won’t move or complain if it hurts, it’s still quite a challenge!

WT: We likened the Sperry shoe tattoos to art by Sailor Jerry. Is that accurate? Could you give some background on the designs you’ll be tattooing on shoes at the event?

DV: As far as what I will be tattooing at the event, I generally like to reference material that is older than Sailor Jerry. Not that Sailor Jerry is bad, but I like the look of earlier American tattooing. I can always rely on influence by Christian warlock, Owen Jensen, Tom Berg, and Milton Zeis. Not to mention, Ed Hardy is still one of the biggest influences on traditional American tattooing. Ed has had his hand in every major apex in modern tattooing, and he can still be found spreading his knowledge in the SF art scene.

Americana tattoo, Dominic Vasquez tattooer, Edo-period japanese woodblock tattoo style
WT: What was tattoo technology like in the Sailor Jerry days?

DV: Tattooing in the old days was highly secretive. People regarded it as a major thing that needed to be protected from outsiders. With the invention of the internet, some of that information is easily available, but, for the most part, nothing has changed in the last 100 years. The idea of the oscillating tattoo machine was invented by Thomas Edison and, for the most part, we still use the technology from the late 1800s. Jerry was actually very knowledgeable about sterilization techniques and he kind of innovated the modern tattoo shop in the way we know it now.

WT: What was your first tattoo?

Dominic Vasquez, Tattoo Artist, QuoteDV: My first tattoo was flames on both my full forearms. I still have them, although they take up prime real estate that I kinda wish I didn’t start getting tattooed until I was in my 30s.

WT: Where do you find inspiration for your art?

DV: Currently, I am a bit obsessed with the craftsmanship of Japanese woodblock paintings from the Edo period. I also enjoy classic Americana imagery, which is popular [in San Diego,] being in a navy town. It’s great when people walk in the shop with tattoos from the 60s and 70s that are still holding up! San Diego never gets enough credit as a tattoo hub, but because of the large population of sailors we stay busy doing classic tattooing, and that is inspiring.

WT: One of your focuses is large-format Japanese tattoos. Is it odd that a country with such a rich tattoo tradition is also so tattoo-phobic? Banning tattooed people from spas and so forth?

DV: When you start down that path [of traditional Japanese-style tattoos], it opens your eyes to the cultural nuances of Japan that you don’t read about. It is odd that there are two faces to Japan, and as conservative as Japan can seem, tattooing still thrives, and is just as popular there as here in the states.

Dominic Vasquez, Tattoo Artist, Quote

WT: It seems like a Japanese person with a tattoo is risking more for the art than an American is. How does their appreciation of tattoo culture differ from ours?

DV: I don’t know if the japanese person is really sacrificing much more than the American. Being on the coast gives us a luxury of being around exposed tattooed people, but when you make a trip to the heartland of America, it changes. You are now a noticeable minority and people make a big deal about tattooed people. I feel like in larger cities of Japan, tattooing is the same as here or Europe. I have numerous Japanese-American clients who come from conservative backgrounds, and they put a lot of thought into their tattoos. This sounds dumb, but the best way to put it is that small, American one-shot tattoos are like a kid’s version of tattoos. There is no commitment–you pay and you get a quick job done. I’m not discrediting American tattooing by any means, because I love the gratification I get from seeing a finished tattoo in one session. But large-scale Japanese tattoos are more like a mature tattoo. The time and thought put into specific stories that compose the tattoo are only half the battle. You have to be financially-stable and committed to getting the tattoo done, and you don’t see the finished product for months or years.

WT: Anything else you would like to highlight?

DV: I would like to highlight the fact that San Francisco has a living legend at its fingertips, and more people need to know about Ed Hardy’s Tattoo City in North Beach. I routinely guest-tattoo there, and it is my favorite place in San Francisco, hands down! Ed has had such a prolific hand in modern tattooing that everyone owes him for his effort in making tattooing so approachable for the average person. Don’t get it twisted–Ed is not the person people think of as the “Ed Hardy clothing douche,” but an amazing historian and artist who licensed his name and got screwed on the back-end. If you make a trip by Tattoo City, it’s of notable interest to talk to any of the amazing tattooers who currently work there, and take in the beauty of the original flash from the 60s on the walls.

Sperry and Dominic Vasquez visit Wingtip June 25th, 10am-8pm.

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David is Wingtip's storyteller. In addition to editing the Modern Gentleman's Blog, he has written for Wax Poetics, The Source, SF Weekly, and the East Bay Express, and others. His inspirations include Rumble Fish, Paul's Boutique, and Balzac. He studied English at the City University of New York at Hunter College and journalism at the University of Southern California. He lives in Berzerkeley with his wife and daughter.

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