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Daily Inspiration: Meet Mark VanNess

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mark VanNess.

Hi Mark, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I got started tattooing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1997. I am currently in Austin, Texas working at Modern Heart Tattoo. I think I got to where I’m at today by drive, facing fears, and dedication to the craft. I got to where I’m at today because of traveling and willing to move to different states or countries to learn more about this industry and craft. I have tattooed in North Carolina, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Costa Rica, Panama, Brisbane, Australia, Auckland, New Zealand, and a couple of others. I looked at getting tattooed by my idols and working beside them as kind of my college education or masters if you may. I personally believe if you surround yourself with great people, you will be a great person. I don’t think that it’s all on who you know as much as who you have learned from. And last, I think you have to constantly challenge yourself in order to grow as an artist. You have to face your fears whether that be of knowledge you don’t have or experience on a level you want to be at.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?

It’s never a smooth road Ha Ha. I started out tattooing in the mid-90s which was very difficult time. It was difficult to get an apprenticeship, to find clients, and not to mention it was not an excepted form of art or much less a lifestyle. I faced a lot of challenges first off just by finding the apprenticeship. The shops that you walked into back then laughed in your face or told you to get out of the shop immediately. Most of the shops back then were run by biker gangs and I’m not the kind of guy that wants to join any type of crew, cult, or club. I was very fortunate to find a shop that was willing to teach me that was not affiliated with any of those people. But shortly after learning how to do the technical part of tattooing the shop shut down. I was then left with about $500, a dog, and all of my equipment.  I decided to take off and look for greener pastures. It’s funny where life takes you sometimes. I was riding with some friends from North Carolina to California and somehow or another ended up in Pensacola, Florida for three years. Which was the best place for me to work at that time. It was close to a Navy base so there was plenty of people to get your reps in. But after many years of never forming a solid clientele or doing large projects and then once again decided to continue on my dream of moving to San Francisco and working with my idols.

Once I did get to California, I was based out of San Jose staying with some friends working part-time at one shop in San Jose and another shop part-time in San Francisco. It took about a year for me to find a shop that wanted me full-time. I ended up working with my number one idol in tattooing Marcus Pacheco. I remember being terrified during the interview and thinking there’s no way I’m going to get a job with this guy with only four years of experience. But it shows how little I knew at that time. It didn’t matter if I was making amazing tattoos at the time as much as it was, I was doing super solid clean tattooing and had a willingness to learn. I think it also helps that I don’t have an ego.  I ended up getting the job and becoming great friends with him and learning so much along the way. But just like all good things they tend to come to an end. I lost my apartment to a flood in San Francisco, I was left with nothing once again living out of the back of my truck with my dog so I decided to head back to North Carolina and regroup. From there, the story of my life has been similar with challenges but I’ve accepted them all with love. I think traveling for me has been one of my best educators. In life, you can base your decisions out of fear or love. If you choose fear, you most likely will not succeed. If you choose love, you tend to rise to the next level.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I don’t really fall into any category of tattooing other than just being a well-rounded tattooist. I tend to pull inspiration from Japanese, Americano, and illustrative images. I’m a believer that there’s a right style for the right tattoo. So I’ve always enjoyed to stay versatile rather than pigeonhole myself. I mainly known for being a free hand tattoo artist as well as a cover-up specialist. To be a freehand artist, it means you draw everything directly on the skin with her marker or pen. Coverups are usually pretty difficult for most people, but for me I’ve always liked a great challenge therefore I just run straight at them. I think I’m most proud of my coverups because that’s a tattoo that someone either made a bad decision on who they got the tattoo from or what they got. It really sucks to walk around with tattoos on you that you’re ashamed or embarrassed of. So for me to have the ability to cover them up with something in the person actually wants to live with forever and be successful without showing blemishes of the old tattoo is very rewarding.  I think what sets me apart from a lot of tattooers at least what I read in reviews of me or I hear colleagues or clients say about me is that I’m very easy to work with and have a very creative mind. There’s no job too small or too big or too difficult.

What’s next?
I grew up building houses and have completely renovated two of my own houses. I really enjoy building and creating and so many different forms. Whether it be ceramics, painting,  or structural. So my plans for the future or life goal is to open a micro hotel in Central America with a dog rescue as well as a studio for tattooing and a space for the retreat. I’m not sure when I’ll get this dream of mine or goal but I’m working towards it. I’ve always lived my life to this quote. “It’s not the destination But the journey. We can’t change the winds, But we can trim our sails.”

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