In our artist spotlight this month Porcelain Depino had a chat with tattoo artist and body painter, James "Drift" Rosa
Porcelain Depino: How long have you been tattooing for? What was it about the art of tattoo that made you decide this is what you wanted to do in life?
James Rosa: I used to spray paint characters that would eventually get covered up, but the thought of making artwork that travels with people for others to see was appealing… and it represents you…I view it as I am helping you make your “clothes”. Hearing why you want it, helps me help you.
For an apprenticeship, I had brought a portfolio (portraits, murals, etc.) to a couple local businesses. A tattoo shop, Visual Expressions in East Hartford, CT was just starting out and was open to taking an apprentice. From there I started tattooing full time in 2003.
PD: Were you self taught, or did you receive schooling?
JR: I started on my own but didn't want to continue without a mentor. There has been several trials, errors, and hesitations until other artists were open to helping me fix that. My main concern was not ruining the client through neglect or cross-contamination.
PD: What are your favorite inks to use?
JR: I try to stick with brands that seem the most trusted and commonly used.
PD: Was there another tattoo artist who you would say was your biggest mentor when you first started out?
JR: I got the basics at Visual Expressions from Dan Pratt and Aaron Altenhein. Joe Swider came along, really solid with his color-work. Randomly visiting other shops helped as well.
PD: What kind of changes have you seen in your many years with the needle to the mindset behind tattoos?
JR: There's several generations of mindsets. I don't know what else to say about that.
PD: So where on the body do you get the most requests for tattoos?
JR: People are strange. Visible areas are the most requested though, arms or legs usually for starters.
PD: What is the longest session you have done?
JR: Maybe 8 hours. Now I usually tattoo for 3 to 5 hours for multi-session pieces.
PD: Is there a style of tattoo that you would say is your strong suit? How about your weakest?
JR: Color illustrations and portraits in black and gray. I try to keep cultural tattoos simple to what I do know because large involved ones have symbolic patterns I should understand beforehand or recommend another artist that does.
PD: What is your process like when preparing yourself to do a tattoo for someone? Are there things you would say you do differently than a lot of other artists you have seen?
JR: I assume not really different from anyone else. In the consultation, I'm told what you want so I walk you through any problems we might run into. If you don't know what you want, I ask why you want one and start from there. Any concerns or obstacles are brought up and we decide if it's a go.
I do rough sketches on my phone, finalize in Photoshop or by hand. I stencil it or decide to draw right on you. I like it when it feels fulfilling and flows better.
PD: What advice do you give to people when consulting before putting the needle to skin?
JR: Recommendations, check the portfolio, ask questions. I need to know your expectations so we can meet them. I usually make suggestions to your decisions unless I think it's horrible. In that case, I'm sure another artist will say yes. Sometimes you have to sell your idea to an artist for a good collaboration.
PD: Have you ever tattooed anyone well known?
JR: Maybe locally but I don't make a big deal about it.
PD: Seeing as Ink Master and competition tattoo have grown in popularity over the years, have you ever entered a competition, or considered it?
JR: I don't care for the unrealistic reality show script for ratings. I stopped watching.
PD: Working in a tattoo shop must get pretty competitive at times between artists, what are the politics like behind the scenes?
JR: It shouldn't be. My advice, be a good artist and care for your client's well being. Help or leave.
PD: Out of all the shops you have been in, was there one that stands out as your favorite, where the environment pushed your creativity to flourish?
JR: Visual Expressions has several different types, all creative outside of tattooing. Each shop had something interesting to learn from.
PD: Have you ever considered opening your own shop and running things the way you want to?
JR: Maybe, a shop is like family. Looking out, the option between being together or going different ways...It can be a lot to deal with at times, but it has a worth to it as you can learn from others or ones self, so I have thought about it.
PD: You are also a body painter, if you got to create your own color to paint people with what would you call it? What color would it be a shade of?
JR: I love mixing magenta and cyan. Depending on the mix you get this dark, almost purple blue.
PD: What gave you an interest in body painting? How hard was it to learn?
JR: Sketching on people, getting lost in it and realizing now I have to tattoo it… body painting is a fun way to practice drawing for skin. It's like tattooing. An opportunity to study painting and color theory. It's not solitude either. Creatives working together. I loved color, so after learning the mediums, it’s all design.
PD: What types of paint do you use for this?
JR: It's makeup paint or cakes… ones that stays on til the shower, but breathable and non-toxic. Silly Farm and Jestpaints are good sources.
PD: It must take a lot of visualization to create a concept for body painting, what is your process like? What do you draw inspiration from?
JR: It's like designing clothing on a character. Imagining the look, flow and tone to present, then to make it real.
The inspiration can come from exotic animals, movies , mythology,... or thoughts on emotions.
PD: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share with our readers?
JR: I'm working a slew of non-client work that I would like to incorporate into clothing or involve in etching, engraving or 3d. I would love to collaborate with other fields for an awesome product or piece.
I might catch flames for some of the racy content but it’s what is flowing out right now.
You can follow James Rosa on Instagram at @jrosa_tattoo