Feeling Inspired? Share this Artist
“Kind of like “bald barbers” and “skinny chefs” no one wants to get tattooed by someone who doesn’t have any.”Jamee Melvin
Lady Tattooers: What sparked your interest in tattooing?
Jamee Melvin: I got my first tattoo when I was 18 at Alternative Arts in Charlotte, NC. My goal for my 18th birthday was to move out of my house into my own place and get a tattoo. I always knew I would be going to see John Rainey (he had done all of my Dad’s tattoos). My Dad planned on taking me to see John to get my first tattoo but unfortunately passed away a couple months before I turned 18. My dad had gotten a tattoo for me on my 16th birthday and I will never forget how much that meant to both of us.
Alternative Arts was one of the first tattoo shops in Charlotte and was small and intimidating. I went in one day and explained to tattooer, John Rainey, what I wanted — of course it was my first time ever being in a shop I didn’t know what to expect. I told John I wanted a Koi going across my back with waves and flowers and dates of my Dad’s birth and death (No judgement here please haha). The line work took about 10 hours and he used a 12 round liner that he made himself (he made all of his needles). Over the course of 5 sessions and a 6 flat shader later, my tattoo was finished.
LT: Way to go big on your first one!
Jamee: I knew this wouldn’t be my last tattoo. I felt accomplished and happy I had something that would always remind me of my Dad. I still have my tattoo but have recently started adding to it to make it more of a full back piece.
LT: Sounds like you spent a lot of time in the chair with John.
Jamee: I ended up apprenticing under John Rainey, “Tattooer of the Rock Stars” during the 80’s, at Alternative Arts when I was just 20 years old. I did a solid year apprenticeship. Having tattooed for about 30 years, John was an old school guy in every way. In fact, after my apprenticeship he took me to Sturgis (home of the largest bike rally in the U.S.) and told me if I complained once I had no business being in this industry. Thankfully I survived.
LT: Ah, the ideal “old school” apprenticeship…
Jamee: John taught me how to build my first machines from old Puma frames and I used them for the very first tattoo I did was on a friend of the shop named Joey.
I think every shop has one or two of those guys that just come around all the time and befriend the shop. Apparently, Joey had been in a fight and bit a guys ear off, earning him the nick name “Hannibal”. And so in true John Rainey fashion, there was a tattoo to do and I had to do it. No questions asked. It was a simple hand-drawn cursive “Hannibal” which took me a solid hour to do and I probably lost 3 pounds in sweat while I did it.
LT: Nerve racking, I bet…
Jamee: With John right over my shoulder, I was so nervous. But then, I was finished! No masterpiece, but it was legible! I felt proud and defeated at the same time. I had a new found respect for tattooers I had never had before. I had a brief moment of “Holy shit, I just wasted a year of my life apprenticing”. That moment passed and a my new passion took hold.
LT: So what was life like before tattooing?
Jamee: I’m originally from Charlotte, NC. I went to Central Piedmont Community College and graduated with a degree in Culinary Arts. While in school I was pursuing a career in the restaurant industry. I have worked in just about every position the industry had to offer and still couldn’t decide on which part I liked more. I worked a lot with coffee and the Counter Culture Coffee Training facility. I attended coffee cuppings, espresso and latte art classes. I do love coffee.
I was also a member of The Charlotte Art League which was a gallery/ work space for artists. We had gallery crawls every 1st and 3rd Fridays of every month. I was much more of a mixed media artist back then.
LT: Interesting… So in an alternate universe it could’ve been Jamee Melvin, the badass barista?!
THE SOCIAL MEDIA EFFECT…
LT: How has the internet, with it’s accessibility to reference, effected your career?
Jamee: We didn’t have a computer in the shop where I began and any reference I needed came from books. If we didn’t have the right book, I went to the library across the street. All lettering was handwritten too. I have an appreciation for having come from that and I still use books everyday. I am thankful for how much easier it is to look up an image of something like a butterfly and be able to find every position/species/color any photographer has every captured. As an artist I feel that with all of the reference in the world at your fingertips, it can only make you a better more efficient tattooer. My life definitely got easier with the accessibility of reference online.
Just like with anything else, It’s how you choose to use it. When clients bring in references printed from google images, other tattooers work, and Pinterest, I use what they bring in to get a better understanding of what they want. Every client isn’t a seasoned tattoo collector and some just need to be guided. You can’t be offended by ignorance and I try not to hold them against it. And if they do still want the silly little infinity symbol with the word “love” in it, I let the apprentice do it.
LT: Great attitude! It seems like your clients are in good hands.
LT: So, do you think it’s important to have popularity online in order to have a successful career?
Jamee: This social media stuff is a wonderful thing but sometimes taxing to keep up with. I think it is important to have exposure online in order to have a successful career and my regular clients are the core of my “followers”. Jacksonville, NC is a small Marine Corps town with a high percentage of people getting tattooed. The local clientele are from all over the country and we get a new circulation of Marines and their families every 6-9 months. There are about 50 other tattoo shops in Jacksonville, so it’s extremely important to me to place value in my work, my clients, and the other artists that work in our shop. My clients love seeing their tattoos posted online. They comment on them and more importantly share it with their friends. I also find it helpful in aiding to a more successful career when my peers see my tattoos and can give me constructive criticism which just makes me a better tattooer. I’m always growing. I’m always learning.
LT: Thanks for the insight Jamee!
MORE FUN STUFF AHEAD…
LT: How tattooed are you?
Jamee: I enjoy large pieces and am always getting them worked on. My torso/back and ribs are almost finished. I have both sleeves and both legs from the knees down. My thighs and backs of my legs are still open. I say that I want to be completely covered and done by the time I’m 40 because every year I get older, getting tattooed doesn’t feel any better haha! I will definitely keep getting tattooed. Currently, I only have the side of my neck done but I do want my whole throat tattooed. I think it’s important for my clients that I am heavily tattooed. Kind of like “bald barbers” and “skinny chefs” no one wants to get tattooed by someone who doesn’t have any.
LT: What’s your favorite tattoo?
Jamee: I have a blue button that is part of my Jimi Hendrix sleeve done by Russ Abbott. It’s my favorite tattoo that I have. When thinking of a tattoo to get for my son, my husband recommended a button since thats been my nickname for him since he was born. He is cute as a button! Cheesy right?
LT: We love cheesy!
LT: What’s your opinion of hand and neck tattoos?
Jamee: Jobstoppers! That’s what hand and neck tattoos are. In my opinion it’s like a varsity jacket thing. Unless you have lots of visible tattoos, sleeves etc., you shouldn’t be taking the hand and neck tattoo plunge. It’s also getting harder to visibly set yourself apart as an artist. Used to be, you see someone heavily tattooed and think, they must be a tattooer. Now anyone in any profession is getting tattooed (which is still great) but I feel like hand and neck tattoos are that edge to be able to set ourselves apart from the new “norm”.
LT: What do you do for fun besides tattooing?
Jamee: I enjoy yoga quite a bit. I have been practicing on and off for years and it has always been on my bucket list to be certified and be able to teach a class or two sometime. The rest of my free time is spent with my family. Either on the boat or at the beach, quality time with them is where its at for me.
LT: Where do you draw inspiration for making art?
Jamee: Everywhere right? I live in a beautiful place so it could be as simple as seeing a beautiful flower when I go for a walk. I feel like my tattooing is pretty organic so inspiration from nature is definitely there. I love vintage postcards, antiques, art magazines such as Juxtapose, jewelry etc!
LT: Do you have a style of tattooing and/or painting you prefer?
Jamee: I prefer doing color, traditional and illustrative tattoos. I accept the challenge of black and grey from time to time but I love color. I have also been interested in dot work tattooing, geometric and mandala designs. For paintings, I would say the same, color! I use water color and liquid acrylics mostly.
LT: What current tattooers or artists inspire you and why?
Jamee: Oh my! This will be a hard list to narrow down. I have always enjoyed doing color, traditional and illustrative tattoos and much of my inspiration for that has come from Darcy Nutt, Dave Kruseman, Russ Abbott, Les Collier, Dave Scearce, and Teresa Sharpe. Composition and placement are very important aspects of my tattooing and all of these artists nail that shit. I love and respect greatly everything each one of these artists do. I think Russ Abbott is todays premier educator in this industry. He explains color theory that exclusively relates to tattooing and his Abbott Color wheel is a tool I use everyday.
LT: If you could tattoo anyone past or present, who would it be?
Jamee: Any one who knows me should know the answer to this question. Jimi Hendrix of course! I have been obsessed with this man and his music since I was 6 years old. The tattoo he would want to get alone would be wondrous, but oh the stories he could tell!
WE HERE AT LT LOVE ANIMALS!
LT: Are you an animal person?
Jamee: I am definitely an animal person. We have a yellow lab, Dock and an orange cat we found in a 100 degree parking lot by our son, fireball. He’s part panther part dog and I love him. They love each other which is even better. They are our family members so they are a big stress relief for me. They always have a happy greeting when you come home and hold no judgement. In my life, on a good night, in our king size bed there is me, my husband, our son (horizontally) and our dog and cat.
WE’LL WRAP IT UP WITH…
LT: What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had as a tattooer?
Jamee: There’s no singular experience that stands out but, the experience of helping other women feel better about their appearance and themselves is the best. I have covered stretch marks, tummy tuck scars, birth marks and even nipples once. All of these things have deeply affected these women in a way to feel better about how they look. I had a lady once see me at a store a year after I did her tattoo, give me a hug and say,”this has been the first summer in seven years I was confident enough to wear a bikini. Thank you”. If that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy inside I don’t know what would. Seeing their smiles, clients photos of themselves on their social media pages, tears in their eyes when they look at their tattoo in the mirror, Thats the experience that I live for.
LT: Thanks again Jamee Melvin for sharing your story!