Justin Kopec is a righteous human being, although he’d probably rather be compared to a Chimp. He’s been the go to tattoo guy in Boston for as long as I’ve been here and If you don’t have work from him yet, get in line now, it could be a while before your window pops up. While your waiting, here’s some reading material.
AS: Who the fuck are you and what do you do?
JK: Mister Justin Kopec . . . My first name and last initial happen to spell out just ink . . . I had been tattooing for about seven years before I figured that out. Its the stupidest yet simply cleverest thing that could have happened to me and the path that chose me. I am a tattooer in Boston MA. I have been for 16 years.
AS: What was your art history before tattooing?
JK: There’s not a time I couldn’t remember where I wasn’t drawing or painting. I remember my parents bringing me to a lot of museums around the country when I was little. I have fond memories about this. I can clearly remember meeting some of my favorite paintings for the first time. I always excelled at art in grade school and high school. I happened to have the chance to go to Boston University for free because my father worked there since the dawn of time. It was recommended to me by John Moniz (tattoo mentor) that art school “Couldn’t hurt” if I could attend. So I enrolled in the school of fine arts. They promptly stripped me of all my naive innocent motivation that most young artists possess. They built up a strong core of color theory, measuring, proportion, perspective, drawing and anatomy.
AS: How did you get started in tattooing?
JK: I got my start in tattooing because I was attracted to it, was motivated and was fortunate enough to meet a kind fellow who encouraged to tattoo during a time in Mass where tattooing was illegal. Most of the tattooing that I saw before I got my first one was old biker outlaw shit done at kitchen tables and at pig roasts. None of those guys were willing to share any information. I was usually forced, not asked, out of the room so I couldn’t observe the process. I got my first tattoo on super bowl Sunday 1995. a friend and I stole a license plate to drive up to New Hampshire because his car wasn’t registered and New Hampshire was the closest place to cop a quick tattoo. After my first, I began to get tattooed about once a month into the summer. I got tattooed by this one Providence RI tattooer, John Moniz. he was very kind and open with information about this craft that I was becoming ever so attracted to. He told me to buy the Huck Spaulding tattoo from A-Z book, machines, and power supply. He didn’t formally apprentice me, but he suggested I go to art school and was available for questions any time I tattooed. I quickly started to draw tattoos and mark up myself and my willing friends. I think I took to it rather quick, but learning alone made it difficult to know how to repeat something that I had done right and rectify something I had done wrong. I worked sporadically for the next six years while running restaurants in Boston until the day the ban on tattooing was ruled unconstitutional. I gave my notice at the restaurant the moment I learned this. I was finally able to work and learn from other tattooers that helped me greatly shed some bad habits. I have been working professionally in Boston ever since and grateful for every minute of it for better or for worse.
What is your favorite equipment to use (No dick jokes)?
JK: Equipment? I use scuba equipment when i dive . . . . But seriously, here are a few tattoo machines that I have that I never let out of my sight. I have a set of machines made by Eddy Deutsche, this liner of his he was using and sold me can push any needle configuration immaculately in the blink of an eye. I also am quite fond of this bulldog shader I bought from Richie Montgomery in Long Island. There is also this cranky old rotary machine that looks like a pipe bomb that my friend Nate Leinfelder from Tacoma WA built. I would be devastated to go without any of these machines.
AS: Do you still work in other mediums?
JK: Well hopefully if you tattoo you draw daily. So I do that . . . I have painted with oils for most my life and am about to as soon as I’m done with your laundry list of questions here. tattooing has also forced to learn how to make hand painted, spit shaded flash. I fought doing this for 15 years. I really believe learning this technique of painting has improved the way I approach the execution of a tattoo (And that’s only been about a year . . . Hahhahah gotta remain teachable and leave room to grow!).
AS: Before the legalization of tattooing in Massachusetts how did you keep pushing to do it?
JK: I was never aggressive in pursuing people to tattoo. anyone I would tattoo before legalization usually saw my tattoos and asked me about them or how I got them.
AS: Are you nostalgic about tattoo culture pre reality TV?
JK: Well, YES. And I’d love to say that i lived it, but the truth is I had my head up my ass about tattooing before the television shows. I thought I could do things so differently and was trying to force a lot of the things I learned in art school upon tattoo technique. It took me a long time to really understand what makes a good tattoo, who were the forerunners in this craft and why what they did and made was important. But as for where tattooing is today its kinda sickening. There are too many people who are taking advantage of the growing culture. It was bound to happen in this country. I really almost wish to see a decline in tattooing. Maybe even a time where everyone retreats back to the underground and works under the radar where tattooers were hard to find and scary.
AS: Which artists are you digging the work of right now?
JK: I was just thinking about that the other night. When I troll my regular websites for a breath of fresh air I’ll look at most of my friends work first. Chad Chesko, Marco Sullivan, Alex Dawes, Darlene Dibona, Lucky Matthews and Johannes. ill look at Chris D’Donnell and Thomas Hooper. I love to see what the guys at Smith Street are doing, especially Steve Boltz. I like to see Jeff Rassiers work. I love looking at tattoos by Cory Kruger and Eddy Deutsche. I also am grateful for the ability to reach out to any of these guys for advice or a quick thought on an idea I’m having trouble with.
AS: You seem to keep under the radar in the tattoo world but keep a really steady clientele. With so many tattooists having their work hyped up, how have you manage to keep doing what you do with out whoring yourself out?
JK: Well, for me self promotion, conventions, stickers, tshirts and websites was pretty important at a certain time in my life, but they are not important to me at this point. I have spent many years forming a strong foundation of all types of relationships with people I have tattooed in the Boston area. These people enjoy the process and experience of what I provide to them. Their positive word of mouth is tops compared to cheap, glossy, mass produced, tattoo magazine seeking, spotlight, ego fed shameless self promotion. Yikes. That was a bit harsh. I like my people who collect tattoos. I want to help them and their friends make good tattoo collection choices. Staying under the radar also helps me with a bit of ego smashing. It keeps me grounded in what’s important.
AS: I am loving the Primate enlightenment series you have produced. Anything you can tell us about these?
JK: Thank you, that’s very kind. I was just trying to make something that was simple. It just has to do with us a simple, yet marvelous beings. Light, thought, vision, power and a primate skull. Pretty simple. I try to keep the drawings direct, as well as the color and contrast. I have to always remind myself to not complicate things. In life and in art. Simple. like an ape. That’s the way I want to be.
AS: Looking through your work I don’t think there is a style you haven’t tackled. Do you have a favorite genre to work in?
JK: I feel very comfortable when its time to attack a small portrait of some type. Other than that, I always wonder “How Am I gonna pull this one off?”. Every time.
AS: Is there a specific piece or style you really want to tackle?
JK: I am finally starting to poorly wrap my ape brain around American Japanese. Its exciting to compose that stuff. That stuff needs to be simple yet dynamic at the same time. Oh my.
AS: In your opinion what are the most important aspects of a solid tattoo?
JK: A solid tattoo has to be a readable design. It ought to be bold and have power, but its exciting to see them when they are subtle and quiet at the same time as bold. I think that’s all I can say about that.
AS: What is the worse situation you have been in because of tattooing
JK: I have had crazy obsessed stalkers. That’s pretty bad. Ive made a few spelling mistakes. That’s pretty bad, too. I average about one every five years. I’m a bad speller. Especially with double letters. I also hate words as tattoos and in tattoos. I like them the way you do them . . . not as tattoos, lets say.
AS: What’s the funniest?
JK: Funniest . . . Come get tattooed and you can hear them all, I cant give that shit away here for free. Its like a comedy show in there sometimes.
AS: Any long term goals in the tattoo world?
JK: My long term goal in the tattoo world is progress, not perfection.
AS: Every time I see you you’re into something new. What keeps you going other than tattooing?
JK: Man . . . That’s tough. I have no idea. There is something inside me that doesn’t like to be idle. If I knew I’d stop it for a few minutes, have a sandwich and take a nap.
AS: You have mentioned before in conversation you’re disbelief in the idea of “inspiration”. Can you elaborate on this?
JK: I think that inspiration really strikes good and hard once or twice in an artists life and most of the artists career can be trying to chase it and regain it. My thought is that nothing works as well as daily hard work. That’s how to build a strong foundation. Not a loosey goosie, anything goes, whatever man type of attitude.
AS: After working this long in Boston, what’s next?
JK: I love Maui. It calls to me all the time. and one day I hope to live there for a bit, but for now I’m going to put it on hold and have a serious conversation with my long term girlfriend, Boston, about whats next for us. Stay tuned.
AS: Any shout outs?
JK: I wanna give a shout out to Oscar. My daily sidekick who sits through every tattoo as patient as he can be and waits in the Jeep for me no matter where I go. I also want to shout out to tattooing because it has taken great care of me and provided me with a life second to none. I am thankful for it every day and I hope I come close to doing right by it and making it proud.
AS: Shit, that was like 20 questions, my bad! You could check out the JustINK blog here, but I already stole all of the images so just email him instead and set up that appointment.