We’ve been a fan of Chief Poppa‘s work for some time now, especially after being able to view his work up close. So it was a no brainer to request an interview with the New Jersey based tattooist to pick his brain about with “art.”
How long have you been tattooing for?
Chief Poppa: Going on 7-8 years now. I like to think I’ve accomplished a lot within that amount of time. It would usually take an artist a longer period to achieve what I have artistically and applying wise. I’ve been tattooing nearly everyday since I picked a machine up and decided to tattoo myself first.
What got you interested in the business?
Chief Poppa: I’ve always been an artist. One of my friends had gotten into the craft. I happen to live with him for a short period on the same block in the Bronx for some years. I was always interested and drawn to it. However, I was working for a celebrity jewelry company in manhattan at the time called Avianne which literally left no room/ spare time to pursue a direct interest in tattooing. Being an artist of course I would wanna pursue a career in a more creative atmosphere. So one day I woke up wanting to work for myself and said “you know what, I wanna be able to wake up and smile about what I’m gonna do everyday from now on after this!” Who doesn’t wanna be happy doing what they do. So I left Avianne, bought a tattoo kit and started grinding everyday from there on until now, just learning and applying everyday. I love ability to create and make somebody else happy doing so.
What did your friends and family think about you getting into the business?
Chief Poppa: My friends were excited for me. My father actually hates tattoos and thinks I made a horrible life decision. LOL. My mother and sister are usually happy for whatever I choose to do in life and support me, so that’s cool.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Chief Poppa: My favorite part would have to be the application of ink to skin. Watching it come alive from a blank skanvas like a regular Picasso painting. But to be honest, nothing beats the customer’s smile when they love the end result.
Are there any famous artists, tattooists or not, that have influenced you?
Chief Poppa: As far as a “tattoo style” theres a guy from Sweden that I follow on Instagram. When I first got interested, I started looking up a lot of artists from all over the world and studying different styles and trying to compute in my head how I would make the same image if I were to tattoo it. The guys name is Niki, (Instagram name – @Niki23Gtr), I think his work is amazing and visually jaw dropping to be honest. I hope to reach his level but create my own style in the process of course. Outside of famous people though, my friend Keith, I spoke about earlier that started tattooing before me was always a big influence and motivating force for me. I ended up working at a shop with him in the Bronx also. We always use to push each other; more of brotherly competition so to speak but that was usually with anything we did.
Have you personally met any famous tattoo artists?
Chief Poppa: I brushed a few at a convention, but other than that, no. I would definitely like to pick a brain or two though.
What would you recommend to someone wishing to get into the business?
Chief Poppa: Focus. Tunnel “fucking” vision man. DO NOT be too hard on yourself, nor let anyone or anything bring you down when you are starting out. NOBODY starts off great in a craft like this. the only way to get great involves how much you put in and practice and get your own experience through failure. I had some sketchy times starting out too but that failure is only a learning tool and WILL catapult you to where you wanna go. Just stick with it. The more experience the better you will get, trust me. And don’t ever be too cocky, just enough so you don’t get pushed over. But always be willing to learn from someone with more experience than you. So don’t let the climb hold you back; it’s a long climb. But the view at the top is so well worth it.
What is your most favorite piece that you’ve done? And why?
Chief Poppa: I have two that really boosted my confidence and that’s the exact reason I’m choosing these two. The first one is chest piece I did on a friend around the time I was starting out. Completely freehand, took ten hours straight but I was so into it and loving every minute of it. Knowing I just sat for ten hours straight and didn’t mind was revealing. The end result is what motivated me to keep going. Later down the road someone I was living with I did a really dope skin rip with a beautiful sky in the background. Seeing how I went about the clouds and the 3D effect also gave me more motivation. I was working in shops at that point but whenever you try something new it excites you and doing it well obviously makes you feel like you can do more.
If you had the opportunity to tat Hillary Clinton, what kind of piece would it be?
Chief Poppa: Probably a portrait of Bill Clinton smoking a blunt while playing the saxophone.
Which celebrity has the best ink?
Chief Poppa: Obviously Mike Tyson, duh…LoL. No, I don’t really know what everybody has because there’s way too many but the ones that have caught my attention would probably be Chris “Birdman” Anderson of the Miami Heat because he has a lot and it looks dope. I would also say Johnny Depp just cuz of how he carries himself and his tattoos actually match his style I feel. But I also want to mention MGK for music artist because his tattoos look really dope on him. As far as the whole black ad grey scale with hints and over tones of red ink to contrast.
Would you ever participate in one of those tattoo competition TV shows?
Chief Poppa: It’s funny, the one time I actually tried to apply for Ink Master, I found out I applied too late. Fuck me, right?!
Take us through your process before you provide ink to someone?
Chief Poppa: Well there’s really two ways to go about it. One being if the said customer wants something specific as opposed to somebody wanting me to be completely creative and just cover a said area of the body. The specific one would be the client giving me an image and telling me where they want it. I then stencil the image and bring it to scale and put the stencil on that area and go to work. The other would be somebody giving me free range in which I would need to sketch out the idea before hand and we both agree on it. I would take a deposit first to ensure no time is wasted on the drawing. Then I draw it on the person because I like to use markers and really get the image to really flow well on the body. Because when a tattoo flows with the body, right off the bat it’s already 100 times more visually appealing.
What was your worst tattoo experience?
Chief Poppa: Oh man, I don’t even know. There’s not a lot though. Let’s just say working with people is definitely not always easy, especially if your in the pain business. LoL.