Tattoo Interview with Pat Fish
TattooFlash.Info: "Pat Fish and technology" seems to be a match made in "celtic heaven". You have your customers watch videos on your laptop before and after tattooing them, you have several web pages and you even said that the "internet has been a huge boost" for your career.
When and how was that match made for you? When or what inspired you to use the Net/computers within your career?
Pat Fish: I shattered my right arm into 48 pieces a decade ago, and was faced with the prospect of sitting around my studio with it locked in a fixator device unable to tattoo, waiting 3 months to see IF I would ever work with that hand again. So I determined I'd best become ambidextrous, just in case, and while sideways on Vicodin I used my left hand to slowly type and mouse my way into a rudimentary understanding of html code and built my first web site.
In retrospect it was perfect timing, coming as it did at a time in my life when I was contemplating giving up on tattooing in the USA and moving to rural Ireland. It put everything I loved on hold, and made me take a big look at my life. I was amazed to see that I didn't want to leave tattooing, that I loved my career and the developing skill I was working so hard to attain.
So I focused on the computer for 3 months, and by the end of it I had a lot of pages built, lots of email inquiries coming in, and I was starting to see that people were attracted to come to me from far distances after seeing the work I posted online. It became obvious that it would allow me to further "position myself in the marketplace" as a Celtic specialist, and thus bring more and more opportunities to create the kind of work I am drawn to doing.
TFI: ...What are your (online) plans/ideas for the future?
Pat Fish: I have a thousand images for sale now in my Yahoo site, adding a few every week as I do new custom work. But the horror is that now that I am more proficient at Photoshop I have set myself the task of going back in and re-working the older files I created when I began the online Yahoo store in 2001. The images I am adding now are a much better value, with more color suggestions and better photographs, and I am slowly but surely going back and one by one redoing the older images to bring them up to the best possible product I can offer. My goal is to make it as easy as I can for the tattoo artist to whom the designs are taken to produce the best possible tattoo.
TFI: Celtic art is considered very spiritual. You called it once 'a meditation and a prayer'. What does your "spirit" get out of it? What did you learn from the art? Personally? Spiritualy?
Pat Fish: I was an orphaned child, and I yearned for identity. Now that I have met my genetic family, Celt and Pict by the Grace, I realise that I always drew convoluted line art that looked like Celtic designs, and embroidered and learned nautical knots that now seem precursors to my fascination with this ancient artform.
I have a tie to this art, just as I resonate with the Irish and Celtic peoples. It affirms something that is inherent in my blood, a humming that is homecoming. When I set about to create a new design I am completely relaxed and feeling at one with right action. Installing the designs on my clients is challenging, requires all I can give it, and gives a satisfaction with completion that transcends what I feel when doing other art forms.
TFI: You have a "religious tattoo designs"-section on your page, yet I could not find any Christian designs...
Pat Fish: Oh, there are over a hundred Celtic crosses in the first section, I figured there was no need to reproduce them. Other religions have more variety in their imagery!
TFI: What is your view on the Christian/Celtic relationship?
Pat Fish: I am not a Christian, yet a high percentage of the designs I do are Celtic crosses. I savor that irony. I try not to talk about religion with my clients, I steer the chat to their occupations or their dogs, much safer subjects. I have a very simple relation to religion, rather in the way the Japanese are both Shinto and Buddhist without seeing conflict between the two. I am a child of California culture, which is a melding of all the bits called "New Age" into a world view that hinges on the Golden Rule and karma.
TFI: You quote Cliff Raven a lot saying that he taught you that there are three equal parts to tattooing: art, craft, and morals. - What are the morals of tattooing?
Pat Fish: Tattooing is a mirror, and you will get back what you put forth. So it calls upon everyone to give it their all. Because it is an art, that means that everything produced shows the hand of the maker. It requires rigorous honesty and total undivided attention to do it well, and rewards that effort with increasing skill.
TFI: Do you have a favourite tattoo on yourself?
Pat Fish: Probably my first, a green koi done by Cliff Raven. Because it changed my status forever into being a tattooed person, and was the impetus for this path. The whole experience of meeting him and having him design my tattoo was life-changing, I knew this was the way I wanted to focus my artistic life. "A mile to the first, an inch to the second," that first tattoo unlocked the future.
TFI: Who were the artists that influenced you most?
Pat Fish: The unnamed artisans who crafted the great ancient artifacts I never tire of seeing in museums. I don't sign my work, and neither did they.
TFI: Why an Irish Wolfhound in Santa Barbara, CA? Does Orla get to go to work with you?
Pat Fish: I always have a dog with me. I consider the relationship of humans and Irish Wolfhounds to be a great mutual admiration, a race memory for me of their support and brave defense. Once I got my first Irish Wolfhound I knew there would never be any other breed in my life. They are the symbol of Celtic splendor, noble companions of royalty, and in my studio they serve notice on interlopers that this woman is no potential victim.
TFI: Ireland - Is it still (just) a dream, or did you buy that cottage already?
Pat Fish: I have lived in Ireland well over a cumulative year, weeks at a time here and there, and go back over at least once a year. I have made several attempts to buy property there, so far not accomplished, but I think it will happen in its own good time. The dollar crashing has caused me to step back for now, and focus on the joys of my life in beautiful Santa Barbara. Part of leaving for Ireland will be largely giving up tattooing, and I am unwilling at present to take that step.
TFI: If there was one thing you could change about the tattoo business, what would it be?
Pat Fish: Education. I feel very strongly that the public needs to become informed consumers, and the artists need to be updated on the hazards of the workplace. Conventions and expos could be forums for education and the free exchange of inspiring techniques. Sometimes they are, but I'd like to see much more. I do what I can at most of the shows I work at, giving lectures and presentations.
TFI: The shop is closed, all flash is drawn all workplaces are clean. What do you like doing in your spare time?
Pat Fish: I find spending time with animals is the antidote to whatever aggravations I have with society, so I am up in the mountains several days a week riding my Belgian cross draft horse OttO (sic!) in the forest, experiencing a kind of Zen trip back in time to the way California was before white people got here. Training dogs and horses gives me an insight into the order of life.
I actually only go to the studio 4 days a week now, a big difference from the beginning when I went in every day except when I was traveling. After 20 years I now want to balance the time spent in intense indoor work with time outdoors, in nature, as a renewal of spirit.
TFI: You started tattooing in 1984 and "the industry" has come a long way since then. Where will tattooing go? Is this just a lot of hype right now?
Pat Fish: There is no reason that the government should allow individuals with only the most rudimentary understanding of sanitation and medical protocols to perform minor medical procedures on the public. With all the blood-borne diseases and liability litigation lurking, no sane person would do such a risky job! I think the government will step in, and require licensing similar to passing a cosmetology board exam. I also think it likely that the ink will be outlawed or determined unsafe, making the very act of tattooing a crime. If this seems far-fetched, you are not reading the newspapers in Bush America.
That is why I am still in the game, because I forsee it will be radically different in the near future and I want to ride the tilt-a-whirl while I still can. Time enough later to retire to that cottage, where only the most hardy of pilgrims will come to my door and leave with a mark.