Jesse Smith

Published: 02 July, 2010 - Featured in Skin Deep 181, January, 2010

Bright, Strong and Unique Tattoo Art Directly from the Art Gallery.


If you ever find yourself in Richmond, Virginia USA for whatever reason (as there are not many other reasons to go there, as it is stuck right in the middle of nowhere), be sure you check out a place called Ghostprint Gallery. Because what seems to be - and actually is an art gallery - hides a tattoo space at the back, which is the home of one of the most spectacular tattoo artist working these days: Jesse Smith. 

At 32 years old, Jesse started tattooing in 1999 and developed his very own bright and strong style of colourful comic tattoos far beyond what most people do, even in these enlightened tattoo times. Jesse fell in love with art early and started his artistic career by spraying graffiti when he was a teenager. From there on, Jesse always took that one step further to improve his art. Apart from laying down incredible tattoos, Jesse also does some amazing paintings, t-shirt designs and a tonne of other art projects.


As I missed Jesse last time he was in Germany I had this very nice conversation with him while he was back in the USA.


How did you get involved with tattoos in the first place?

I’ve always surrounded myself with artists and eventually stumbled upon this fella named Carlos who was tattooing out of his house. I used to sit around with him and draw tattoo designs for him to tattoo and eventually he taught me how to make a ‘ghetto gun’, which I used to do my first tattoo. The whole set up was a bit shady, but at that point I really didn’t know any better.


What made you want to become a tattoo artist?

I never really planned on becoming a tattoo artist. I just liked drawing and when people showed interest in getting my artwork tattooed on them for the rest of their lives, I found it flattering. When I finally got the opportunity to do a tattoo myself, it was initially just for the experience, but once I did one; people started lining up at the door. Not because the tattoos that I was doing were good, but because they were cheap.


What is your artistic background?

I always packed my electives (options) in High School with art classes and eventually made my way to Richmond, Virginia, where I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis on Illustration.


What is your favourite thing about being a tattoo artist?

One of the things I love the most about tattooing is the ability to travel.  Tattooing has taken me all over the world. I also enjoy the artistic freedom that you are given in the tattoo world. There aren’t too many artistic industries that you can get away with drawing skulls, zombies and severed geisha heads in!


How did you come up with your own unique style?

I never really know how to answer this question. From my perspective, I really don’t notice my style. I just try to draw stuff the way I find most interesting. I gather techniques and tips from studying and conversing with other artists. I also try and stay informed as to what is going on in the art world. If I see something that is being done over and over, I will try and steer away from it. If someone comes in and asks for something I’ve seen a million times, I usually try and talk them out of it or send them to someone who specialises in that type of thing. Most of the people who come to get tattooed by me now usually come with an open mind and are willing to bend on their idea, which really makes it a little easier for me to create something a little different. Some of the clients I get now come with better ideas then I have myself.


What is your relation to Europe?

The military sent my family and I to Germany back in ‘93. I finished my last two years of High School in Heidelberg and hung around for a year after that before I joined the military myself. My Dad loved Germany so much that he decided to stay and has been there ever since. So I try and get out there to visit him at least once a year.


Judging from your travels, how is the American scene different from the European scene?

Being that I only get out to Germany for about a couple weeks a year, my perspective of the European scene is relatively naive. The few things that


I notice when I do go over is that the Europeans tend to lean more towards black work (Tribal/Celtic/Polynesian) and Black and Grey type stuff. Whereas in the States you tend to see more colour work. I also notice that heavy coverage (full sleeves, neck and hand tattoos) are a lot more prevalent in America. Why do you think bright colour designs are more popular in the states than in Europe? Is it because colourful tattoos have taken a huge step within the last few years in the US and it just hasn’t arrived in Europe yet? 

I used to think it was because Europe was a couple years behind, but now that the Internet is used by pretty much everyone it really wouldn’t make much sense.   You no longer have to wait for artists to travel from one country to the next to introduce new styles to different areas. Artists can just peruse the Internet and see what’s happening on the other side of the planet. So I guess the only logical reason now is cultural taste. ‘Kinda like when a band will do really well in Europe but not in America, and vice versa. 


Which places/conventions where you have not been tattooing do you wish to attend in the future or which ones would you like to go to again?

There are tonnes of places I’d like to go, but I think Australia will be my next big venture.


When will we see you back in Europe so people can look forward to meeting you?

As of right now I have no plans on returning to Europe, however I will definitely be back within the next couple of years, guaranteed. So, if anyone is interested in receiving updates of my travels as well as any site updates and new merchandise that I may have available they can do so by going to my website and joining my mailing list which is located on the front page of my website.


Ghostprint Gallery, 220 W Broad St, Richmond, Virginia, 23220, USA





Text: Mathias Wienand Photography: Jesse Smith


Skin Deep 181 1 January 2010 181