Tattoo Machine: Tall Tales, True Stories, And My Life In Ink

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A behind-the-scenes tour of the fabled tattoo industry on the arm of a swashbuckling insider and natural-born storyteller.

Tattoo Machine (soft cover)

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  • Tattoo Machine (soft cover)
  • Tattoo Machine (hard cover)


In the eighteen years he’s been a tattoo artist, Jeff Johnson has worked on everyone from nervous young coeds who turn green at the sight of his needle (chudders) to cocky would-be artists with fancy design degrees and weak constitutions (night hogs). As the proprietor of the legendary Sea Tramp Tattoo Company, he’s inked gangbangers, age-defying moms, and sociopaths; he’s defused brawls, tended delicate egos, learned to spot and avoid bunnies, and made it his mission to perpetrate ingenious and awful practical jokes on his fellow Trojans. He’s a true swamp panther: He knows all the tricks of the trade and, more important, he knows how to keep his legendary shop in Portland, Oregon, from becoming the scene of a nightly bloodbath.

In Tattoo Machine, Johnson lifts the curtain on an art form that has undergone rebirth and illuminates a world where art, drama, and commerce come together in highly entertaining theater. A tattoo shop is no longer a den of social outcasts and degenerates–it’s a workshop where committed and schooled artists who paint on living canvases develop close bonds and bitter rivalries, where tattoo legends and innovators are equally revered, and where the potential for disaster lurks in every corner.

Discussing everything from his days as an apprentice to some of the greatest inkers in the trade to the incredibly vivid nightly spectacular over which he presides, Jeff Johnson has written a sometimes riotous, sometimes harrowing, and always riveting memoir about what it means to be on the front lines of a global art revolution.

'Tattoo Machine is meticulously observed, savagely funny, and deeply compassionate. It’s a tale of up-from-under redemption through the shadowed art of personal symbolism. Jeff Johnson is a sharp-eyed master tattoo artist and an extraordinary writer.' -Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love

'An amazing firsthand account of all things you wondered about tattoo shops. I loved it.' -Gus Van Sant

Additional Information

Author Jeff Johnson
Publisher Spiegel & Grau
Page Count 272pp
Publication Size 5.25 x 8
Publication Notes softcover
Publication Date June 2010
ISBN 978-0385530729

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