Life Inside the Dollhouse - Jason Doll

Published: 21 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 192, November, 2010

Jason Doll has to be the easiest man in the world to talk to. For his part, his fantastic American drawl is immediately appealing and there’s simply something about the man that draws you in but to be honest, his art does more talking for him than he ever could.

To be honest I was very intimidated by the thought of getting into the art industry.  As I was growing up everyone was telling me how good I was at drawing. A lot of those people were family members, and I figured they were telling me what I wanted to hear - I assumed everybody could do what I could do. So even though I was always into drawing and art, when it came to college, I actually spent a year dodging my natural instinct by training in nurse anaesthesia.”

This is exactly the sort of introduction a lot of people have to deal with when making their way in the world. Family can be a cruel thing when it comes to being supportive but sometimes, family gets it right and it’s you that doesn’t believe in yourself.

“True - after a year I just wasn’t happy and decided I was going to go for it and enrolled into the graphic arts program at a local college.  It was there where I was introduced to the airbrush. I loved it so much that I decided to specialize in that portion of my education.  I feel very fortunate that I excelled to the level that I did.  As I was finishing college the instructor took me to one side and told me that another college was looking for an instructor to design, set up and instruct a graphic arts program and I was one of only two in the state recommended to do it.  To cut a long story short, I set up and taught the program for a couple of years and enjoyed it immensely but I also had an entrepreneur spirit burning to own and run my own business, so I left the teaching game to move back to my home town to start a business.”

As we stand around surveying the tanks and various other body parts waiting to be reunited with their rightful owners, it’s hard to believe that there could have ever been any doubt as to his own talent:

“I started slow by doing smaller projects as a hobby. I frequented the local strip clubs and biker hangouts to solicit bike paint jobs.  This helped me get into local bike shows and that was huge for exposure.  It helped to transition from helmets and snowmobile hoods to motorcycles and cars.  Next thing you know I was able to start doing it full time and I was painting just about anything people would let me get my hands on.”

Did it happen fast for you or was it morel like a genetic growth?

“I think it was a bit of both. I started doing small projects then it became word of mouth as people saw that their friends were getting cool things painted, then it really started to snowball into me getting a bit more crazy as small was never enough.  I bought a shop vehicle and custom painted it very obnoxiously and between running it in parades and bike shows and zipping around town, it doesn’t take long to start getting noticed. Probably one of the single most important things I could have done is paint a local bike club members’ motorcycle and win a few 'best paint' trophies at various shows.  I gave really good deals to the first clients in each market I wasn’t in.  If you were my first motorcycle, race-car, tailgate, race snowmobile, mural project, then you got a great deal.  This helped me turn heads in each different market.”

Now that’s how you start a business and damn well ensure that it’s going to succeed! I bet they wouldn’t teach you that in college and it’s this spirit that’s taken Jason to where he is today. He wears his influences proudly on his sleeve:

“I really like bio-mechanical, I love doing it because it seems like there’s no rules and anything goes.  You can lean more to the mechanical or more to the bio/organic side. Giger is a big influence on any of that kind of work - he’s definitely the industry pioneer and deserves the credit. I’ve had clients that have wanted reproductions of his work on motorcycles and if not replicas, then Giger-esque versions incorporated into different schemes. I’ve had clients bring in exactly what they want, and I’ve had them give me an idea and turn me loose and go entirely off the rails.

I love anything sexy, erotic, or morbid and evil.  However I have huge fascination with angels also… is that weird?  A lot of times my favourite thing to paint is a hybrid of all the above.  I’m a realism and detail freak! I love doing people and animals that require a bit more detail.  I think it’s that extra 10% that separates the best from the sea of averages in any field.  I’ll pull concepts from anywhere and everywhere.  I think you need to be open to inspiration and have an awareness all around you.  You may be inspired by something as simple as man-made piece of architecture, or a pattern or design found in nature.  If you aren’t open to it, you’ll miss it."

You would think that would be enough right? That airbrushing the entire east coast of America would be more than any man could ask for – or maybe not:

"When I first started my airbrushing and custom painting business, tattooing was the farthest thing from my mind.  After a few years, people started telling me I should try tattooing.  I would immediately dismiss it and go on with what I was doing.  Then I started hearing it constantly and I started to be open to the idea, besides everybody was saying, 'Damn, if you can paint like that you can practice tattooing on me.' 

The timing was right. I was starting to see in the tattoo magazines all these black and grey realistic images from artists like Bob Tyrell and Tom Renshaw.  Even though a lot of artists were inspiring to me at the time, I think it was an artist profile in a magazine that I saw Tyrell’s work that truly made me think ‘that’s the kind of realism I want to do’.  If I can paint it, why can’t I tattoo it. 

My now fiancée got me a tattoo kit from Huck Spaulding - I studied, practiced on fruit and then it was onto donation skin.  It was a bit of a transition from airbrushing, however it’s a lot harder to get the airbrush to do what you want it to do when first starting out.  Getting used to a new tool was a bit different, but I was fortunate to have an understanding of all other aspects of illustration.  I just needed to figure out how to get the tattoo machine to get all the shades, fades and illusions that I was used to getting with the airbrush. 

Does it fit into my lifestyle? Hell yes, I love it!  I got into tattooing because of the art of it. I love giving clients a piece of art they can have with them forever.  I’m actually doing more tattooing on a day to day basis now. I have such a demand for tattooing, I tattoo all day long then airbrush in the evenings.  They compliment each other very well.  If I’m feeling a bit burnt out on one or the other I’ll just schedule a little heavier with the other.  I truly love each one and feel fortunate to be proficient at both."

I really love those guitars you’ve done - what’s the sort of time scale to do something like that - and cost? Do you work freehand or from stencils? Can you take us through the basic process? 

"People don’t realize how long it takes to do an airbrush piece. I think the Johnny Cash guitar probably took about 16 hours front and back to do.  My custom bike has 200 hours of just airbrushing on it.  I personally don’t use stencils. I like to do a light sketch down with various methods and freehand. I will occasionally use a freehand shield or custom cut stencil if I need to eliminate overspray to an area, or airbrushing a mechanical object that requires a hard edge line, but I try to freehand as much as possible. I will usually start by laying down a pattern or layout. If it’s a dark background I’ll build-up with white and go from there.  If it’s a lighter background you can generally start laying colours down, I usually like to work from light to dark when I’m airbrushing (the opposite from most tattooing)."

When you’re this good at something is it hard to improve? Are you your own worst critic and very hard on yourself or can you take a good piece of work and find satisfaction in it? Do you feel you still have anything to learn, that you’re getting better?  

"I think you always need to strive for improvement and be the best you can.  I learn everyday and try different things to improve.  I’m considerably better today than I was just a few short years ago and hopefully be that much better in another few.  I am my own worst critic, but I think someone who is passionate should monitor their work and turn out the best they can.

I currently have two major goals for the very near future:  The launch of a clothing line that I’ve been working on, and getting out more to the tattoo world through conventions and such. I know it sounds like a lot, but my only fear is being ordinary…and a core thought that I live by is this: If you don’t stumble and fall down from time to time, you’re probably not running hard enough."


Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Jason Doll