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