Rain Partlow

Published: 30 March, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 133, May, 2006

Tattoo artist Rain Partlow takes time out to talk to Skin Deep.

When did your journey down the tattooing road start?

"I started tattooing nearly 12 years ago in Indiana my home state. I began tattooing out of my house since tattooing was illegal in Indiana at that time. Back then there was maybe 3 or 4 shops in the whole state that managed to operate somewhat underground. I finally managed to get hired at the most above ground of these shops called Skinquake. That shop was located near the Indiana University campus and the owners were brave enough to advertise openly so it was the best place in the state to work. After 7 months or so, I decided I wanted to expand my clientele options so I moved to Seattle. My start in Seattle was at Slave to the needle.

Back then that shop was still in it’s formative stages and I put 2 and a half years in there. After leaving Slave I opened my own shop called Integritas Productions. It was an all custom shop and I worked there for almost 5 years with various other tattooists. I finally closed that shop in order to facilitate my strong urge to travel. My first trip was Amsterdam and Berlin mostly to meet other tattooists and to check out part of the European tattoo scene. I was fortunate enough to be able to do a few tattoos in Amsterdam at Eyegasm. Roxanne, the owner, was kind enough to let me sit in spur of the moment for a couple of days. Coming back to Seattle, I began laying plans to move to Berlin in April of ‘05. 

After returning from Europe, I have worked in a temporary capacity with Damon Conklin at Supergenius and most recently with Laughing Buddha, both in Seattle."

Did you have an apprenticeship or are you self-taught?

"I am self-taught since as I said tattooing was illegal where I started, I had no access to apprenticeship opportunities. I tried very hard to score an apprenticeship five hours away in Chicago with no luck. My only instruction came eventually from being extensively tattooed."

After taking the self-taught route do you think that getting an apprenticeship is he best way to start tattooing?

"I am quite certain that a good apprenticeship is the best way to learn tattooing. There is so much to learn in this trade just to get started that having a competent teacher trims literally years off the process. I will say though that being self-taught really tests how bad you want it and sometimes brings forth a unique approach to various aspects of tattooing. There are plenty of people out there looking for an apprenticeship. I am very honest when I speak to them about how much dedication, time and hard work it takes before they ever get to do that first tattoo. I explain how much of the trade behind the scenes is dirty, unglamorous prep work. When I add that in order to stay busy and be anything other than wallpaper in today’s overstuffed tattoo industry, one must continue to work very hard and do plenty of homework even once established, most who inquire are turned off.

My advice to someone set on becoming a tattooist would be to cultivate an intimate relationship with their sketchbook. They must draw every day. Once they have a respectable body of drawings, I would suggest they use this as leverage to secure an apprenticeship with someone who has at least 10 years experience and a portfolio full of nicely done clean tattoos. Also they should be prepared to do lots of work (mostly dirty) with being taught the trade as their only pay. Having some bloodborne pathogen and cross contamination training already under their belt would also go a long way in securing an apprenticeship. Trying to start out without an apprenticeship creates so much frustration and torn up skin not to mention the possibility of disease transmission that almost no one sticks with it in the end."

Tell us when you got your first tattoo?

"I got my first tattoo when I was 17 on the right side of my head. It was done by a local biker in his house. He had crude skills but professional equipment, which was a step above anyone else available to me then."

You mentioned earlier that you have done a fair bit of travelling. Did you work any conventions on your travels?

"I have worked several American conventions including: Atlanta, Indianapolis, Seattle, Boise and the Inkslingers Ball in Hollywood. I have not worked any European conventions yet but I have plans to work several this year such as: Berlin, Amsterdam and possibly Dublin and Hammersmith."

What sort of reaction do you get from the public about your work?

"My tattooing has gone over well at the conventions I’ve worked, particularly with other artists. At American conventions the public comes to be tattooed by someone “famous” and they rarely seek out tattoos based on artistic merit alone. I was awarded first place for both large colour and best sleeve at the Seattle show in August ‘04, which is the first convention where I have entered some of my premier pieces."

How did you find the process of actually tattooing someone?

"For the first 4 or 5 years tattooing for me was definitely a struggle as I had very limited information available. I have come along in tattooing more from perserverance, stubborness and a love for the art than from any natural ability or talent."

Are you from an artistic background and did you have any formal art training?

"Having never attended art school or private tutoring, I mostly learned drawing from studying the art of those whose art I have been drawn to and practicing what they seemed to be doing. That’s speaking for the practical/technical side and includes artists from every genre and time period. As for ideas, I am inspired by literature, music, psychedelic substances, nature and human interaction as well as all manner of visual arts."

So when do you think you first became aware of tattoos?

"My introduction to tattoos came when I was a kid as I had an uncle and some family friends who were tattooed. Tattoos were not common where I grew up so I was intrigued by the exoticism, permanence and alleged pain involved. As I got older and began travelling a little, I started seeing a lot more tattoos and learning something of the history. Once I realized that it was really a unique form of personal expression, how far back the history goes and what was possible artistically I was hooked. I remain so today with my interest and enthusiasm is still growing the older I get."

What about your influences?

"My influences are too numerous to account for but the major ones are Rob Koss who did my first extensive custom tattoos covering my whole torso - a huge learning process. Guy Aitchison who has tattooed me heavily and has always been very generous with information. More remotely Filip Leu and Marcus Pacheco have been quite inspirational as well."

Do you have a favourite type of tattoo style?

"My favourite kind of tattooing to do is custom work that expresses some sort of dynamic energy. Something in the process of becoming or transformation which fits the contours of the body and enhances or empowers that person’s idea of his/herself. My style uses any genre or imagery, black and grey or colour to represent those principles."

Are there any subjects that you won’t tattoo?

"Well, to begin with, I will not tattoo symbols or slogans of hate on anyone period. Also, when it comes to tattooing the face, neck, or hands the person must have substantial tattooing already. With the face in particular, I prefer a person who is a bit older and even then, unless they are covered in tattoos, I will make them wait a month or two after the consultation just to be sure it’s not an impulsive decision."

What do you get up to outside tattooing?

"My extra curricular activities include: hiking, camping, reading, attending artistic performances or exhibitions, musical performances and qigong. I love spending time with my son Gyan, my girlfriend Petra and my dog Fleischwolf."

Who would be your ideal customer?

"My ideal customer is anyone who is really excited about an idea for a tattoo and the process of tattooing. One who has an ability or method to deal with extended periods of tattooing despite the pain. Someone who doesn’t mince about the price and doesn’t flake on their appointments."

Is there anyone you’d like to thank that’s helped you over the years?

"Guy Aitchison and Rob Koss deserve many thanks as they were my springboard. Thanks to my family who have been very supportive since the beginning. And of course thanks to all the great people who have been tattooed by me over the years."