Tat2x: How long have you been involved in the tattoo business?
Jay Wheeler: I started tattooing in February, 1992.
Tat2X: What made you decide to become a tattoo artist?
Jay Wheeler: I never planned on getting into the tattoo business. I’ve always loved tattoos—my Dad is tattooed. I was getting my second tattoo at my local tattoo shop when the owner said to my artist, “we need to find another tattoo artist”. I spoke up and said, “I could draw”. I was going to art school at the time with the aspiration of being a starving artist (believe it) and I happen to have my portfolio in the car. After the owner looked at my stuff he gave me a series of, on the spot drawing tests, which I apparently passed. He agreed to teach me how to tattoo if I would tattoo for him. It just felt right, and I quit school the next day.
Tat2x: How did you learn the art of tattooing? Did you apprentice?
Jay Wheeler: Terry “Tramp” Welker (creator of Eternal Ink) took me on as his apprentice in 1992 and I hit the ground running.
Tat2x: Are there any artists tattoos or otherwise that you admire?
Jay Wheeler: Oh jees! This would take too long to answer. Yes, I cannot believe the amount of talented artists that are out there! Every day, I seem to discover someone new that blows my mind. There are way too many tattoos out there that I admire to list.
Tat2x: Has any individual in particular influenced your career?
Jay Wheeler: Of course. I believe the core group of artists that were around me in my early years had the most impact on me: Terry Welker, Chris Page, Donny Cox, and Tom Renshaw. These guys are who I learned from directly. In addition to them, I had a chance to work directly with Mario Barth and he became influential as well. Finally, my friend and business partner Aaron Ruby continues to influence me daily as we try to continuously push each other in our craft.
Tat2x: What would you say is your favorite part of the job?
Jay Wheeler: Freedom and the ability to make a living with something that you love. I get to draw pictures, paint, tattoo, and meet the best people every day. It really does not get any better than that. Also, at our new studio, I am surrounded by not only the best artists around but a group of truly wonderful friends that I get to work next to every day. In addition, our new studio is exhibiting other artist’s non tattoo artwork. This experience of gallery life and revolving fine art from artists all over the world is very exciting for me!
Tat2x: How would you describe your style?
Jay Wheeler: I would describe it as technical. I have never funneled my work into a specific genre, rather I try to do whatever is called for, for the particular tattoo and according to the client. The goal is: sharp lines, smooth grays and rich colors, in addition to a well thought out design.
Tat2x: What’s the most unusual request for a tattoo design you have ever had?
Jay Wheeler: That’s a tough one, I have had a lot of strange requests from an arm-pit vagina to a portrait of Hitler. I don’t tattoo anything that is offensive or ridiculous.
Tat2x: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists tattoo or otherwise?
Jay Wheeler: My advice would be do the work. Wake up early and stay up late breathing tattooing. Devote your life to it…and do it with integrity.
Tat2x: What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Jay Wheeler: I listen to a lot of different music. Depending on my mood, I can go from John Denver to Clutch, Massive Attack to Black Sabbath, and probably some 70’s easy listening in there too.
Tat2x: What are your favorite foods?
Jay Wheeler: I think all food is good—I eat a lot. If I had to narrow it down, it would be Middle Eastern or Mediterranean style foods.
Tat2x: What do you do to relax when you’re not at the studio?
Jay Wheeler: Read, drink wine and relax with my wife and cats.
Tat2x: Is there anything else we should know about you or your studio?
Jay Wheeler: Yes, after working over 23 years in the business, I have finally opened up my own studio with longtime friend and business partner Aaron Ruby. Together we formed North Main Tattoo Studio & Art Gallery just outside of Detroit, Michigan in the city of Plymouth. We have brought together 3 additional, wonderful artists: Dave Haze, Aura Dalian, and Tiffany Pitsos. In addition to this fantastic team of diverse tattoo artists, we have an in house art gallery that houses a revolving exhibit of international and local fine artists. Go to www.northmaintattoos.com to see the studio we are proud of.
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