Space Oddity - Travis Franklin

Published: 03 January, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 220, January, 2013

Over the years meeting and chatting to various artists, I have realised that when someone wants something enough, there is little that will stand in their way of getting it. Having the passion and desire to achieve our dreams is one of humanity’s greatest, and sometimes worst, strengths. For some of us this means conquering a mental or spiritual demon, for others this could be a physical obstacle.


Travis Franklin is one such artist. Born in Kentucky in 1973 and having a solid 23 years of tattooing, painting, and sculpting under his belt, Travis has pulled off a pretty cool feat considering he has no depth perception in his right eye.

The dictionary definition of depth perception is, ‘the visual ability to perceive the world in 3D and the ability to sense the distance of an object’. A quick think on this and it is obvious that depth perception seems a pretty important ability to have for an artist and tattooist, but one that wasn’t going to get in Travis’ way.

“I wanted nothing but to be an artist as a child and as an adult, assuming I get to call myself an adult, I still want to be an artist. I had no chance to learn from anyone physically, so I spent a lot of time studying art of all kinds, reproducing anything I could and drawing constantly. It seemed limitless what you could do with art. In the beginning, of course, I knew I was terrible, and maybe I still believe I am. But what I didn't know was that my chances of being an artist were slim to none, and being a tattoo artist… well, it’s always a struggle.

“At a young age, one of my brothers and I, were playing in our bedroom. He had a coat hanger that was straightened out, except for the hook on the end, which had a sock dangling from it. He was trying to put the sock in my face. The sock fell off the hook and the hook went in my right eye and behind it, damaging the nerve. Mom, who was our family doctor (Travis’ mother is a nurse) just pulled it out. What I didn't know at that time was that I had lost my depth perception and much of the vision in my right eye.”

And so began the challenge of not only improving and learning about artistic techniques, etc., but also learning how to cope with no depth perception and a partially blind eye.

“To this day I’m still not sure how this affects my artwork or how it is for others because I haven’t known it any other way. In tattooing it can be very difficult for many things, like symmetry and depth. With symmetry you can use math and tricks to pull it off.

“The body is unsymmetrical, so for me it’s very difficult to line up little tattoos on a big spot evenly. All of us know to find the centre spot of let’s say an upper back and make a mark with a marker to get a vertical centre, but then for me the horizontal line is very difficult to measure because I cannot tell if it’s level. Having the client stand in the mirror helps to see what’s off. Another trick is to have them stand, as far as I can get them, away from me and look at it. Many times I’ll cut the stencil out and tape the top on, then repeat these tricks after I’ve laid the stencil, just to be sure I’ve done all I could to be sure it’s straight. Luckily, I do mostly organic or figurative works that don’t require these laws.

“With depth it’s a whole different thing. I have to mostly work from the feel of the needle running in my hand and the connection to the skin with the side of that hand. With my stretching hand (the hand that keeps the skin taunt while the artist tattoos) I feel for the vibration and tug… and, of course, that beautiful sound you hear when it’s going in right.

“We all know by now that the more square your needle is with the skin, the better. Unless you’re playing off the buoyancy of the skin with a long stroke and a bit of an angle, you are mostly at a 90º angle. This the toughest part for me since it’s something I cannot see and cannot feel. Of course I can see the result after I’ve pulled a line, or a shade/ colour heals up. If my springs are floppy at all, I feel it way before I see it. I’ve tried to use rotaries, but I’ve yet to get comfortable with them and I believe it is because of the sound and the weight that I need to feel when it’s going in right. Parallel lines are very difficult for me, as when I am tattooing or drawing, I can’t always see the tip of the needle or pencil.

“With art, my perception is based on light. So the further things are from me the more difficult it is to judge the distance. This is where I believe an understanding of light helps me out. Looking back I always loved shooting bows or throwing knives, playing pool, hip shooting guns…and all these have their own tricks to compensate. I’m right-handed and my left eye is the good one, so every mark is an educated guess. When I read the shadow of my brush hovering over a canvas, I know how far away I am based on that shadow and it reaching to the brush as I lower it to the canvas. In tattooing, my hands connect to the skin way before the needle hits it.”

And though many artists use these techniques every day, along with their vision, Travis has to rely heavily on these little tricks and more.

“In drawing, everything can easily get weird on the right side if I’m not careful. Oftentimes I use a mirror to check for any imbalance. If you tattoo you should do this anyway as this is how your client will mostly see it, in the mirror.

“I suppose the best way to explain what I see, compared to what most do, is look at a picture taken of a sleeve and then look at that sleeve in person… or you could just cover one eye. As I mentioned before, I have no idea of the many ways it affects my artwork, or even other aspects of my life. For example, I’m a better shot than most, but I can’t play darts unless I get to throw it like a baseball.

“I will say, in the last few years since I’ve been wearing glasses, my vision in my right eye has improved in clarity within a few feet. Since I cannot contract the iris, everything looks electric because of how much light that eye takes in. I’ve never had a client be nervous about my vision; I think it’s because they know their tattoo is a big deal to me too. Tattooing for me is really difficult due to all the factors, none of which have to do with perfect vision. The artist in me is always at war with the tattooist in me, and then to top it off, you add a whole other human being to it…their idea their life and ultimately their levity.”

Whatever methods Travis uses, there is no denying that not only has he overcome this set back, but he has also turned it around to become an amazing artist, both on skin and off. Just have a quick look at Travis’ portfolio (or better still, buy his book, Deviled Art) and what he has achieved will blow your mind. But in true humble Travis style, he straight away plays down that ‘depth perception/ partial blindness thing’ he has going on, and in turn, his art.
“Life has taught me we have bigger fish to fry than whatever ails us. I’ve seen guys with no legs, missing an arm, one-eyed, paralyzed from the waist down, tattooing and running a shop. So this is but a tiny chink in my crappy armour… actually, I feel lucky.”

Travis’ right eye now resides in Sarasota, Florida, where it continues to work, a bit, seeing over artwork of all kinds and also continues “being a real pain in the ass on sunny days!”

Artists Bio

Ever since I can remember, my whole life has been about art. There’s not really a day that goes by where I don’t either draw, tattoo, paint or sculpt. I started painting in my early teens and I’ve been tattooing now for 22 years. I got my start in Louisville, Kentucky, and came to Florida in my early 20s, where I later met my wife. Together, we started Oddity Tattoo Studio & Art Gallery, now almost ten years ago. I work out of Oddity with eight other inspiring and talented artists. In the last year, I started making toys. I know, weird, but I wanted to create something that could be enjoyed by a larger range of people; young, old, tattooed or not. I’ve had a lot of fun making the toy,s but also get a kick out of seeing other people make them their own.

Art and tattooing have given me everything and I’m lucky to still feel like a child doing it.

Zombies

Zombies have no hidden agenda. It’s straight up eat your face and move on. I admire the simplicity. The reality would be great reference and good target practice. I think I would bring my dead zombies back to the studio to study them. Would that be considered still life? Could my wife handle the smell? So many questions…

Nature

There is something about creepy nature that intrigues me, although nature is not vain or dark, it is very pragmatic. To this day I still love to paint from nature. You know that comforting feeling most people get sitting in front of a fire? That’s the feeling I get when I paint from nature. I am fascinated with alligators and sea birds. In Florida, there are waterways everywhere to learn from; usually where there are lots of wild gators, there are no people, so it’s easy to immerse yourself in nature unbothered.

Asian Art

I don’t believe you can tattoo without appreciating Asian art. Thousands of years continuing one tradition, one style. I will admit, when I was a teenager doing realism, I believed that work was inferior to figurative art. I did not understand the beauty of consistency or the lack of pretension in these works, at the time. It’s about the refinement of a shared vision that has transgressed over a broad range of time… and I believe that in itself is an art form. When I think iconic… I think Asian art.

The Female Form

As a ‘man’, I know I am programmed to lust after the female form. As an artist, there is nothing more beautiful, powerful, or available. I do not objectify the female form. Most people who accuse artists of this do not own art beyond bumper stickers or vases. A woman’s body has the essence of flow and insinuation. You can see civilisation’s reaction to a woman’s power over people in everything; religion, politics, media, commerce. I think a woman’s sexuality has only succeeded in art. Otherwise it is abused.

Oddity Tattoo Studio & Art Gallery

1778 Main Street
Sarasosota
FL 34236
941-955-6246
instagram:  travisfranklin_
www.travisfranklin.com
www.odditytattoo.com
www.feebletoys.com

Credits

Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Travis

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