Getting Ink’d: One Man’s Journey to Becoming a Tattoo Artist

By Angie DeWitt

I’ve drawn since I could hold a pencil.

Jake Gordon, now 21, has been tattooing since he was a junior in high school. He works at Patty’s Art Spot in their new downtown location alongside professional piercer Brandon Bailey and tattoo artist Hippie Marks.

“I’ve always known I [could] draw, but the transition into high school was also my transition into working at the tattoo shop,” Gordon explained. “[With that] I learned a lot of tricks in my artwork that the other kids didn’t really have access to.”

Gordon believes it was then that his artwork really started to stand out from the other students’ work.

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Jake Gordon and Cory Phillips from Patty’s Art Spot standing below their masterpiece at Sally Ann’s Dance Company in Kingwood, W.Va. / photo courtesy of Gordon’s Facebook page.

His junior year of high school, Gordon was recruited by local businesses in Kingwood, W.Va. to paint the outsides of their buildings.

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Jake Gordon worked alongside Patty Colebank and her daughter, Willow, to complete a piece for Kingwood Floral in Kingwood, W.Va. / photo courtesy of Gordon’s Facebook page.

“I really don’t remember when I first started because I have always drawn and been artistic growing up,” Gordon said. “I do remember getting serious about drawing when I was a freshman in high school.”

Gordon reminisced on a guy whom he worked with.

“I worked with a guy who was seriously talented, and being as competitive as I am, I knew I wanted to be that good – if not better than him. So that year in high school, I really started drawing a lot.”

One of my first finished and framed artworks was this alien DJ guy I drew in high school, and that was somewhat of a starting point in me creating actual pieces of art versus just sketching.

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One of Gordon’s first finished and framed pieces of art. / photo courtesy of Gordon’s Facebook page.

He first started his work in the tattoo shop in Star City when he was in the 8th grade.

In a typical tattooing apprenticeship, the artist has to find someone who’s willing to teach them and allow them to become an apprentice. The apprentice then does work around the shop such as cleaning, helping customers, answering phones, scrubbing tools, and all the other ins and outs of the shop.

Eventually the apprentice will start to clean up before and after their mentor tattoos someone; they’ll put stencils on their mentor’s clients and often even draw the designs.

The apprentice then learns machine set ups and will try to get volunteers who are willing to be tattooed by the artist-in-training.

Months later, the apprentice becomes a tattoo artist.

Gordon’s training went a little differently. Patty Colebank of Patty’s Art Spot is Gordon’s aunt, who has been tattooing in Morgantown, W.Va for nearly thirty years.

“She is an artist of many mediums,” Gordon said. “If art can be made with it, she’s probably used it.”

She is very talented and has established a great reputation in the area, so she was able to teach me a lot of stuff over the years.

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Patty and Craig Colebank of Patty’s Art Spot. / photo courtesy of Morgantownmag.com

In addition to working alongside Patty and Craig Colebank, Gordon was in the company of Cory and Donna Phillips, whom Gordon also describes as “artists of many various materials.”

Starting at the shop at such a young age allowed Gordon the opportunity to learn the inner workings of the shop over a long period of time rather than trying to cram them into a few months to start making a living.

Gordon was young, and with that came the luxury of taking his time to really learn how everything worked.

I got to absorb these methods as I grew up.

By the time he was ready to start working, his years of training had paid off.

I was very confident and knew every out and end of the shop.

The first tattoo Gordon ever received, he actually did himself – a blue beetle on his left thigh. He now has ‘traditional tattoos’ on his right shin, a stomach piece, and his left arm is almost entirely tattooed.

After graduating high school, Gordon juggled college and tattooing full time. He was enrolled at West Virginia University for two years before dropping out to focus on tattooing full time.

“These two years I learned so much about art.”

The last course he took in college was Oil Painting from Associate Professor Naijun Zhang.

“His knowledge about painting has been some of the most productive advice I’ve ever received. I still consult with him whenever I finish an oil painting.”

I don’t know if he realizes the impact he’s left on my life and artwork.

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Self portrait from December 2014. / photo courtesy of Gordon’s Facebook page.

Pictured above is Gordon’s final painting for Zhang’s course at WVU – his last class at the University. They were instructed to do a self portrait.

“My mom will be receiving this for Christmas,” Gordon wrote when he posted the photo to his Facebook page. “Sorry for ruining your surprise, Momma.”

Gordon explained that he eventually dropped out because it took him away from tattooing too much and was too expensive.

“I [could just] go home and practice from-life drawings by myself, which I still do regularly.”

Gordon lives a busy life full of art. On a typical day, he tattoos for roughly 8 hours. After leaving work, he heads to the gym and then draws at home until about 2 or 3 in the morning. The next day: repeat.

“It sounds really bad, but it’s really a lot of fun.”

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A piece Gordon did with colored pencils. / photo courtesy of Gordon’s Facebook page.

Additionally, Gordon says he deals with a lot of e-mails, social media direct messages, and internet research for tattoos. He says his life is “very fun, but very busy.”

When I have extra time, I oil paint.

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An amazing oil painting that took Gordon more than 85 hours to complete. / photo courtesy of Gordon’s Facebook page.

Gordon also did an oil painting that reflects the damage that plastic is doing to the ocean and sea creatures. It took over 90 hours to complete.

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Sea turtle skull surrounded by plastic. / photo courtesy of Gordon’s Facebook page. 

A misconception Gordon feels people have about tattooing is that they can get a whole sleeve tattooed in one day.

“You also have the stereotypical judgment [that] having tattoos means you’re a ‘thug’ or a bad person,

but my opinion is you shouldn’t get tattoos if people like that bother you.”

Gordon doesn’t have a particular favorite when it comes to different tattoo styles.

“I like all styles of tattooing. I don’t limit myself to a particular style. I love tattooing as long as it fits the body.”

He says he doesn’t like tattoos that look like stamps, ones that limit the ability to put other tattoos around them, or tattoos that don’t have any black in them.

He also doesn’t favor ‘trendy’ tattoos: “anything that’s been done on Pinterest a thousand times.”

Gordon has created quite a fan base all on his own, and the majority of his friends go to him for their tattoos.

To see more of his work, check out the slideshow below! Or visit him on Facebook and the shop on Instagram!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

@angelinadewitt // @Motown_UGscene

4 thoughts on “Getting Ink’d: One Man’s Journey to Becoming a Tattoo Artist”

  1. Wow hes a really good artist. I always wanted to get a tattoo but haven’t really built up the courage to do it. I have had an idea in my head for a very long time so I wouldn’t mind going to him by seeing his work and knowing that he does really good work. The pictures are awesome of all the different versions of his work from tattoos to the oil paints.

    Like

  2. Between this and your drag queen post, your visuals game is on point, so kudos to you. I find it weird (maybe weird isn’t the right word) that a lot of tattoo artists hate being told what to tattoo, and would rather tattoo what they want on people. I understand artistic expression and everything, but if I’m paying good money for a tattoo, I don’t think it’s unfair of me to dictate how it looks.

    Like

  3. What a tremendous amount of talent he has. His art is really fantastic and I can see why people would want to go to him for their tattoo pieces. This post really says a lot about him and his art but also what his art means to the residents of Morgantown. He has built up quite a reputation and now I can see why thanks to this piece. Great job!

    Like

  4. I agree with John Mark– You have used visuals to the fullest potential in your stories. I have loved looking at all of the awesome pictures. This story was so interesting to me because of the background and the process of becoming a tattoo artist. His passion for his work is evident!

    Like

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