Interviewed By Renae Bryant
I met Billy Barnett in the early 90’s, when he played bass in the band, Paranoid Pam. He was known then as an artist, sculpture and painter…as well as a musician. I suppose you could call him a consummate artist. We first featured Billy and his art in the second issue of On the Rag ‘Zine (print edition). Billy was just starting to apprentice at a tattoo shop. Almost a decade and a half of tattoos later, Billy is creating amazing art both on cloth canvas and the body canvas. What follows is my conversation with Billy as he tattooed Jared (all or nothing hc bass player). For the sake of full disclosure, Billy Barnett has done all of my tattoos. It is my pleasure to share his art with the world.
OTR: This is scary, but the last time I interviewed you was right as you were starting your career as a tattoo artist. When I interviewed you then, it was as an artist only. You started out apprenticing in the Inland Empire in the early 90’s. The move to Encinitas was extremely successful for you. Catch our readers up with your history in the tattoo world.
Billy: I tattooed in Riverside, for a couple of years while still playing in the band Paranoid Pam. Then I moved to Carlsbad (north county San Diego). I’ve been tattooing in Encinitas for the past twelve years. I’m now living in Oceanside. 454 Tattoo is a great shop on the coast.
OTR: Are there any artists who inspire your tattoo work, or any artists that inspire your painting or sculpture?
Billy: There are many things and artists that inspire me. Nature is a constant source of inspiration to me. Mother Nature, she is crazy.
OTR: What are the most satisfying tattoos you’ve done?
Billy: They’re all like children I can’t pick a favorite. I like to do all kinds of stuff, from inanimate objects to realistic stuff: Asian, flowers, color, black and grey. It really depends on the piece.
OTR: You make some incredible wire sculpture. When and how did these sculptures come about?
Billy: I’ve been bending wire for a long time. I used to make wire armetures for clay models. Sometimes the wire figure just looked good on its own. My friend’s aunt had made a wire figure with wire wrapped around and around. It was cool looking, heavy but cool. On a trip home from Venice, with a friend, I acquired some wire. I made a wireman pretty similar to the ones I still make. That was in ‘91 or so and I’ve been expanding on the ideas off and on ever since.
OTR: The late 90’s saw an influx of people wanting to become tattoo artists. What advice do you have for young artists?
Billy: Advice for young artists is simple. Get a good apprenticeship, even if your mom says you’re a great artist. There are a lot of variables that make a tattoo "technically" good. A good apprenticeship will help dodge some bad ideas; the lame blown out tribal you put on your friend and have to look at now forever. I know you can buy a kit, but don’t do it man. Step away, get some artwork together, and take it to someone reputable. If you’re lucky, they’ll need an apprentice and over time will be willing to tell you these guarded trade secrets. You’ll be glad you did.
OTR: How do you feel about the tattoo reality television shows?
Billy: Like anything else, there’s the good and the bad that comes with notoriety. The once untouched world of tattooing is now in your face, on television, in fashion and every where else. Many people are eating it up. It’s nice to see people getting tattooed now, that had maybe always wanted one but just weren’t sure about the process or was turned off to it in the late ‘90s when they got some "tattitude" from some guy at a shop. The shows have answered some of those questions. Now people do there homework and come up with some cool reference for ideas. The bad side is that they see a sleeve completed in a one hour show. Not really knowing the time, commitment and pain that is involved in something like that. Also many more suppliers have sprung up. A lot of gimmicks and misinformation have sprung up too. It will be interesting to see the tattoo industry evolve. All and all, I like watching the shows. If I don’t, I fast forward through that shoot.
OTR: Have any of the skills you learned from being in a band, ever came in handy in the tattoo shop (like dealing with personalities…)?
Billy: It gave me some funny stories to relate to the musicians that I do tattoo.
OTR: Do you have any good tattoo shop stories?
Billy: There have been some funny times in the tattoo shop in the past fourteen years. Too many to sort out… Ask me while you’re in the chair getting tattooed. The names in the stories will be changed to protect the locals.
OTR: What makes 454 Tattoo such an excellent place to get tattooed?
Billy: The location is nice, on the coast, next to a great record store, Lou’s. The artwork that is coming out of the shop on a daily basis is ridiculous. The owners’rule. It’s walking distance to "Juanitas" magical Mexican food experience. You can get barked at by my dog .you can get a coffee, a facial, a new or used cd, good Mexican food, buy art and books from Ducky Waddles, get tattooed and hit by a train; all within a few blocks of each other. Did I mention the beach? Hello, its kind of the place to be.
OTR: Now that the word has gotten out that you are so talented, how far in advance do people need to book with you?
Billy: Depending on the work involved on the tattoo, anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months. The best way is to get artwork together and bring it by the shop. We can set up a consultation or appt.
OTR: What is the best and the worst part of being a tattoo artist?
Billy: The best is my great clientele and being able to be creative with colors and ideas. I also enjoy being surrounded by great artists and being challenged everyday. The worst is the opposite. I’m lucky to be doing what I’m doing, where I’m at. I appreciate it, and I’m still learning.
OTR: You prefer to do original work on people, so how does that come about?
Billy: Usually with the person coming to the shop with some reference for ideas or styles and such,that they might like. After a consultation, we’ll usually set an appointment to tattoo it.
OTR: Where can people see your tattoo art, canvas art and sculpture?
Billy: Some of my wire sculpture can be viewed at www.duckywaddles.com and www.myspace.com/billyb2g. Tattoo photos can be seen at www.454tattoo.com. I hope to have my website up and runner soon: www.billybdesigns.com and of course at the shop.
OTR: You’ve exhibited art at various art shows. What are your goals now as both a tattoo artist and creative artist?
Billy: Keep learning and expanding on ideas. I’d like to get more artwork out there. Some prints, etc. coming in 2009…
OTR: Any last words?
Billy: Let yer freak flag fly…
You can contact Billy Barnett at email@example.com and (760)942-2333.