Cecil Porter - MD Tattoo Studio

Published: 28 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 167, December, 2008

A while back I started to receive some photos of tattoos from a chap I’d not heard of before. The tattoos were; how can I put it? Eye wateringly beautiful with a softness that I hadn’t seen in a tattoo in a long time.

The talented chap behind these incredible images is a guy who is extremely passionate about his art and tattoos; and having met the big man and sat on some discussion panels with him at the Paradise Gathering; he is as vocal about his chosen profession as he is prolific in the production of his skin art. Looking at his tattoos it will not surprise you to know that he works alongside Mike Devries in his California studio. 

Working with a relatively new type of tattoo machine from Germany called the Hawk, this guy has put his own, personal stamp on colour portraitures with a blinding effect.

This talented tattooist hadn’t been published in the UK prior to appearing in Skin Deep so I
am extremely honoured to introduce you all to Cecil Porter...

Let’s start with a bit of history…

"Well, I graduated from high school at 16 and was trying to break into the comic industry actually. I was working for an independent company and not making much money so to make ends meet I had to get a part time job. While working there I was constantly approached by a co-worker whose brother was a tattooist and told I should go talk to him about getting into tattoos. Bills kept piling up and eventually I decided that I would go see what all this tattoo stuff was about. He told me to get a tattoo from him then he would talk to me, so on my 18th birthday I did just that. He told me that he did not want an apprentice but that he would help me get started, so he gave me an autoclave and the number to a supply company with the figures to know what to expect to get started. I took a loan out of the bank, ordered my equipment and started tattooing myself and friends out of the house, the rest is a bumpy history.

This was in 1996 by the way, and a different time for tattooing than now."

Where do you think your interest in tattoos and tattooing comes from?

"Originally just necessity, but soon after it became the outlet for my art, ‘til I got burned out from working outta my house and stopped tattooing almost altogether for 5 years. Then once I came back it became an obsession that has only grown stronger since."

At what age did you get your first tattoo and by whom? 

"18 and by the guy that got me into tattooing."

Did tattooing come easily to you from the off? 

"Um, yes and no. The fundamentals did as far as pulling a straight line without blowouts and packing in colour solid, but I had no idea what was possible with tattooing as far as the artistic side goes."

Did you get an apprenticeship or where you self-taught?

"Self-taught all the way, which is why it took so long to become good. I wanted an apprenticeship but could not find one."

Do you think an apprenticeship is the best way to learn the business?

"I used to, but now I’m torn. See, it used to be back in the day, if you were lucky enough to get apprenticed you learned the trade. Now any punk with a machine has an apprentice and all they do is pay some money and hey, they are now a tattooist with their own apprentice, it sucks and destroys everything that good artists try to do for the industry, you know?"

What’s the atmosphere and ambience like in the studio?

"Awesome! It’s a new shop: very clean; very laidback, and we all get along well and I believe that will only get better because we all have the love for tattooing, not the money lust you find in most shops. We all push each other, which makes it fun too."

Have you worked at many conventions? 

"Two so far and I love it, but I may be biased since I’ve been lucky enough to win best of show both times."

How did people at the conventions perceive your work? 

"Well as good as one could expect since no ones ever heard of me and I’m working next to Mike (De Vries) who always owns the crowd.

It’s cool though and I like that people don’t really look at my stuff, ‘cause once I’m on stage everyone freaks out and wants to know where the hell I came from, it’s cool!"

Did you pick up any additional tips and tricks from the artists working at the conventions? 

"I try to stay busy, so I really don’t get to see what others are doing too much and if I’m not busy I’m trying to find a person to get a tattoo. I’m not at a place where I can afford to sit there all day. I have to work, as I get depressed when I sit all day and see everyone else working; if it were possible I’d work 24 hours a day."

Have you worked overseas at all? Do you find that certain styles are prevalent depending on whereabouts you are?

"No, but I really want to. I just moved to California in July from Ohio so financially, I’m not able."

Have you had any kind of formal art training?

"No, but once I get settled and have a clientele, I plan on it."

Do you think that formal art training is beneficial to a tattooist?

"Absolutely, any knowledge you gain, even if it’s not what you think is important, will help. In my case, I’m constantly learning and honestly that’s part of what drives me to tattoo so much."

Who are your main influences, including both tattooists and the more traditional artists?

"For tattooing it’s a pretty obvious list of early influences. Of course Guy Aitchison, Tom Renshaw, Shane O’Neill, Robert Hernandez.

See that’s what I’m talking about one name and bam - you know who they are – it’s great. In the last few years Bob Tyrrell, Joshua Carlton, Nikko, Mike De Vries, and Nick Baxter. Outside tattooing there is a tonne of them but I can’t say any of them are main influences. I hope to learn more and maybe in a few years that answer will change."

Do you have a favourite style of tattooing?

"Realism, Realism, Realism. I love it. I know that’s the hot answer right now but that’s my answer, like it or not. That’s why I dropped everything I had in Ohio and drove out to California to start over; I mean, what I will learn from Mike is totally worth it. I want to take what he knows and incorporate it to what I do and hopefully leave my mark on this industry."

What is it about realism that you enjoy so much? Why were you drawn to it?

"I can’t really explain it, man. When I do a kick-ass portrait I feel great, a total high; I don’t get that from anything else."

How do you go about designing a tattoo?

"Photoshop. That’s really it as soon as I see a pic. I get 20 different colour ideas in my head and I throw the design on the computer, work in my light sources and decide what colours I like. I suck at Photoshop but it allows me to see a rough idea of what is in my head and decide which direction I want to go in."

Do your clients tend to have set ideas of how the tattoo should look, or do they give you a concept to work from and let you control the outcome?

"Well they of course give me the picture of what they want, but I stress to them I’m crazy with my colours so don’t even tell me what to do with them; I just don’t want to be a human copy machine, I like to be as creative as possible."

What would be the ultimate tattoo for you to create?

"Really, I would love to do a full horror suit. I love horror movies and think it would just be fun, technique-wise. I don’t know honestly - I make 90 percent up as I go along. I know most guys have a plan and such but every time I plan stuff out, it never feels quite right on the skin."

Where do you draw the line on what you will and won’t tattoo?

"Man, I will not do a lot of things. First and foremost I won’t do anything sacrilegious or hateful, nothing racist or drug-related. I also won’t do anything that I don’t feel I can make look great, you know? Like bio or traditional; there are guys that are superb at that, let them do it. And anything that just doesn’t feel right."

How do you relax and spend time away from tattooing?

"I don’t… tattooing is my life, man, that’s my fun, my relaxation; it’s everything to me."

Do you work in any other mediums?

"No, I want to get involved in painting but right now I’m 100% into tattooing."

What’s your favourite part of being an artist?

"Everyday I love what I do. Not many people can say that and the feeling I get when the piece comes together, and it’s there for me to look at."

Have you seen any changes in the tattoo industry that worry or concern you? 

"Yeah of course, everyone does…scratchers. It’s too easy to tattoo and not know what you’re doing and ruin it for those that truly love the industry; it sickens me and really pisses me off."

Is there anybody you would like to thank for helping you over the years?

"Oh man of course, firstly God; if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have the talent and drive to do what I do. My old boss Rodney Rose for giving me a shot after 10 years of trying to get into a shop. Mike for giving me my dream by letting me work here at MD Tattoo Studio, Roman for being cool with me and introducing me to the guys I looked up to."

Is there any other information that you would like to add?

"I would like to address the machine that I use actually; it’s the Hawk machine. I’m constantly getting asked questions about it and I’d like to take this chance to answer the common questions that I get. The first one I get is ‘Just what is it?’ Well, it’s a rotary machine, it runs off any power supply you have, it’s very light and makes no noise. The second is ‘How does it compare to other machines?’ I’ll start with coils; compared to them it hurts far less for the customer and weighs much less for the artist. It saturates the skin much better than the coils with far less trauma to the skin, so it works great for layering in the colour. As far as the air machines go, I tried them for about a month and liked them.

I feel that the Hawk puts the colour in faster but just as smooth as them, and there is still less noise and not much more weight. The big thing that differs is you don’t need a compressor or multiple machines. No compressor means less money upfront, no noise and way less travel cost and obviously only requiring one machine is very cost efficient. You only need one machine because the tips are interchangeable; they literally swap out in two or three seconds. The cartridges that you use are completely disposable and retract when taken out so there is no chance of sticking yourself when you dispose of them. All in all I’d tell every tattooist to try them out, especially if you’re looking for an alternative to coils. I love them and feel that they help immensely with the quality of my work.

Thank you so much for this interview I love this magazine and am glad to have a feature in it.

If anyone wants to reach me you can do so by MySpace or calling the shop."



MD Tattoo Studio

9545 Reseda Blvd 
Unit 2
CA 91324,


Text: Neil Dalleywater; Photography: Cecil Porter