Graham Harrington is an LA-based tattoo artist who is carrying on tradition that has stood the test of time. He talks about his love for his art form, for American traditional tattoos, and for all things old.
How did your relationship with tattoos begin? Do you have a first memory of seeing someone with a tattoo?
The first tattoo that I saw was a Sailor Jerry eagle with boxing gloves on my friend’s dad in elementary school.
Did you start out doing a traditional apprenticeship? How did you come to be at your current shop, Chinatown Tattoo?
I did do a traditional apprenticeship for two years before I got to touch a machine. My mentor found me at a job that I was working at the time. During my apprenticeship we worked on Chinatown and hung flash and had a conversation about that being the shop I’d be at when I started tattooing.
Do you have any good stories from that time?
I have many stories but I don’t think my mentor would appreciate me sharing them…
How would you describe your current style, and what is unique about it? How are you setting yourself apart from other tattoo artists?
I don’t think I’m setting myself apart from any other tattoo artist, I just have a love for old looking tattoos that aren’t perfect and have personality. If I can get through one and not fuck it up, I’m psyched.
You tattoo both your original designs and designs clients bring you as well. Do you have a preference?
It’s obviously rewarding when someone wants to get something that I’ve drawn up but I love tattooing in general so no matter the design, I’m happy to do it.
Who and what inspires you?
I’ve been collecting antiques and vintage clothing for a long time and I’m usually drawn to anything that’s old and has a story. That’s what draws me to traditional tattoos – they stand the test of time and look the coolest.
One thing that’s interesting about tattooing as an art form is that once a piece is finished, your art gets up and walks out the door. Is it ever difficult for you to let it go?
Not at all, I just hope it heals and ages well. Plus I can always take a photo of it.
Tattooing in the past could definitely be described as a subversive art form, but things seem to be changing as tattoos are becoming more mainstream and appreciated for their high-art caliber. What are your thoughts on that?
It’s a double-edged sword – take that for what you will.
Do you practice any other forms of art – painting, playing an instrument, etc.?
I paint tattoo imagery and have played music since I was a kid. My pops raised our family on being a musician so I was constantly around it. I feel like both go hand in hand.
Do you have a design you’re most proud of or that means the most to you?
Any tattoo that I’m willing to post on Instagram.
What’s the last thing you saw that surprised you?
I gave my dog a bone and he swallowed it whole.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
When I was sixteen I worked at Arby’s for four days and quit in the middle of taking someone’s order.
If you weren’t a tattoo artist, what would you be?
I’d probably be doing something with music or maybe try to open an antique shop.
When you’re not tattooing, what at are some of your favorite things to do in Los Angeles?
Take my dog to the park, go antiquing, and go to bed early.
What has been your favorite moment of your career, so far?
Tattooing my parents.