Jojo Ackermann: Can you just say your name, age and shop?
Robert Atkinson: I’m Robert Atkinson, 42 years old, born and raised in Southern California and I work at The Dolorosa Tattoo Company in Studio City.
When did you get into tattooing and how did that come about? And where was the first place you started working?
I started tattooing in ‘92 when four friends chipped in and bought me a Spaulding & Rogers starter kit out of Outlaw Biker Tattoo Magazine. They all chipped in and bought it for me. Everybody wanted to get tattooed and the local guy around here wasn’t that friendly. I think I was looking at tattoo magazines for a year before that, so probably ‘91-ish. Y
ou know the magazine I just showed you with Filip and Titine Leu on the cover? That’s the Outlaw Biker Tattoo Review #15. I got this magazine and I was totally blown away by all the work in there and how artistic it was. I couldn’t believe it!
So your friends already knew you as an artist, or they wouldn’t have bought you a starter kit and wanted you to start doing tattoos. What kind of art were you doing before you were a tattooer?
Before that I was airbrushing t-shirts at the local theme park, Magic Mountain. I was always drawing, always doing artwork. I got my first tattoo at 18. I was always just fascinated by it. My dad’s oldest friend Butch, he had all these old tattoos, like the star between the index finger and the thumb, and I thought that was really cool.
I remember he went to the Pike one time when I was a kid… I was probably 10 years old and he came home with this bird of paradise on his back that he’d gotten, and it was so bitchin’ and I just couldn’t believe it. The lines and the shading and the colors were so good... it looked like a sticker. I bet Bob Shaw did it! I was always fascinated with tattoos. I was airbrushing t-shirts for a few years and just happened to stumble on a tattoo magazine and something about it just kind of lit a fire in me and I was really interested in it. And I always liked the fact that it was not mainstream. It was very dangerous and coming from a place you didn’t hear about much.
When you finally get your hands on that starter kit and start to chip away at it, you start realizing that it’s not as easy as it seems. Did you motor around to some tattoo shops and try to pick people’s brains?
I went for it straight away, no stencil. I hung out with a crazy bunch of guys. It was a trip... I had the Tattooing A to Z book... I flipped through that to get the basics... nothing like hands on experience! Ha-ha! But seriously, it was something I just wanted to do. I didn’t know at that point that I would be making a life out of tattooing. Back then you didn’t see a lot of really nice tattoos on people... I wasn’t going to go to the local shop and asking for help. That wouldn’t have turned out well at all, if you know what I mean.
Even as a customer getting tattooed, I’ve always heard stories about people getting their stuff taken from them sometimes by force. And I’d hear these stories that kind of scared me a little bit. You get intimidated in a shop sometimes when you’re young.
Yeah, like I said, the only people that were doing it anywhere near where I lived were dangerous, real-deal mofos. It’s not like it is now where we’re “artistic” and more about taking care of our clients and being polite. That was not even a part of it then. If you wanted a tattoo, you went in the shop picked something off the wall, told the guy where you wanted it, got the tattoo and left... I don’t remember a lot of dialog or discussing colors or what size needle he’s using... Ha-ha!
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