Chad Koeplinger almost needs no introduction. A champion of bold, traditional tattooing, he travels the world leaving his easily recognisable mark. I couldn’t wait to ask him about his time in the craft…
Interview – James McCauley
Photography – Chad Koeplinger
An Interview with Chad Koeplinger
Hi, Chad. So I guess it’s best to start from the beginning. Can you trace everything back to one memory, one thing that made you realise you wanted to tattoo?
Well, when I was six I saw a guy with what in my memory was a body suit of tattoos at a Mcdonalds, his arms were all veiny and tough, this dude in my mind looked like he could own the world…I asked my dad what the tattoos were and he explained it, I was hooked immediately….my neighbour and I would draw skull and crossbones on each other all the time…
Where did you go from there? Did you do a more traditional apprenticeship?
The guy down the street that was older than me, Duane McInerney, was the only old skateboard and punk guy in my town, I remember he got tattooed by Suzanne Fauser, when I was young, and he got a tattoo kit from Spaulding.I looked up to him so much, at 7 years old when I saw him walking his brother to school, I knew our destinies were intertwined somehow. He guided me through a lot of my life, helped me so much and eventually through a conversation about travelling, he offered to sell me some equipment, and that led to a very informal apprenticeship. I have always made an effort to be observant, so mostly it was just paying attention through the years that got me there…I hung out every day for almost 6 years before I had the nerve to tell him I wanted to do what he did, I had too much respect for him and tattooing, I didn’t feel like I would contribute to tattooing, I felt like I was so lucky to be invited in, I would never have invited myself, I’m not a party crasher.
Who are some of the artists that influenced you early on?
Guy Aitchison, Ed Hardy, Jack Rudy.
I have always tried to tattoo fast, tattoos hurt!
Were you always tattooing traditional, or were you more of an ‘all rounder’ early on?
I was an all-rounder, I don’t think deciding to specialise is all that cool…I let it happen naturally, just because I love tattooing in general, not just one aspect of it. I’m happy with the way that it has taken me, but I also think that if you don’t love the physical act of tattooing, the interaction with the people, the smell of the shop…I just can’t relate to where you’re coming from. Tattooing is ours, not yours or mine.
If you could say one thing to people wanting to tattoo now, what would it be?
There’s too many, but please remember it’s how people make a living. Don’t dilute that, don’t ruin that. But, if you want to do it, live for it…it’s not something to do because it’s cool, or you don’t know what else to do, it’s bigger than all of us. Please stay away if you don’t love tattooing for the big picture.
So, you travel. A LOT. More than any other tattooer I’ve ever seen. What is it about being on the road (or the air) that you like so much?
The sun is always up on someone I love. I miss people no matter where I am, so I have to keep going to see them. Also, the culture, the geography, the shortness of life…
There aren’t many places you haven’t tattooed people in. But is there one place you still really want to go?
Iran and Antarctica. Also Central Africa and the Stans.
Where is your favourite place to tattoo?
It used to be Australia and London…but I can’t visit those places anymore, so I would say New York but really it’s anywhere I’m at, I’m so lucky my customers are incredible.
Travelling so much means you get to work and make friends with some of the coolest artists in the world. Who has had the biggest influence on your tattoos?
Ed Hardy, Thomas Hooper, Ryudaibori, Jondix, Deno, Steve Byrne, Robert Ryan, Rudy Frisch and all of the
Smith street guys.
How do you approach making a tattoo for someone? Does that design process usually follow a set pattern?
Usually I’m running late, but other than that, I just do whatever feels right at the moment. I don’t want to be defined as one way or another, I just draw as naturally as possible.
Do you ever feel like slowing down and settling in one place?
Yes, in November I am opening a private studio in Nashville, Tennessee. I won’t be travelling as much, I hope people come there to get tattooed…
I have to ask, having seen you tattoo a few times before at conventions, I noticed that you’re lightning quick! Has it always been that way, or did it come over the years?
I have always tried to tattoo fast, tattoos hurt! And I do enjoy the way they look when they are applied with speed, but when I got tattooed by Ed his speed and efficiency changed everything for me!
What is your favourite thing to tattoo?
Whatever makes my client happy,but if I was pressed, I’d say this one Tony Polito parrot design is my favourite tattoo flash ever.
How have you seen tattooing change in the time that you’ve been a part of it?
So much, it’s wild. I’m so lucky to be part of the generation that I am a part of, I think these are the greatest times in terms of great designs and great customers.
Lastly, could you tell us your favourite story from your time in tattooing or travelling?
I will if you come get tattooed by me…