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Tattoo Guru: Interview with Gabe Ripley

Heres the text of the Tattoo Guru Interview:

Fifteen years ago Gabe Ripley began designing websites for tattooers.He did this because he is a self proclaimed computer geek, and didn't have the extra cash to pay for tattoos.In 2001 this simple barter lead Gabe to create one of the most recognized websites out there. TattooNow.com. This is a site where you can find the most talented tattooers all in one spot. It is by far one of the most impressive site's I have ever seen.Gabe was really onto something here.He started with only four clients, and now has ninety tattooer websites linked to tattoo now,six-hundred new tattoo's posted a month, and caters to tattooers world wide. Not bad for a computer geek if I don't say so myself.

Gabe is a husband, and a daddy to a beautiful seven year old little girl. When I asked about his family you could hear the love he has for them in his voice. He did ask me to keep it simple when discussing his family. I understood this, and respected it more than I could ever explain.Protecting our private lives in this industry can sometimes be near impossible.

In 2005 Gabe opened Off The Map Tattoo. There are plenty of big name shops out there who boast themselves on the glitz, and glamor of this industry.Off The map is not one of those shops. When you say the name Off The Map tattooers nod, and say I have worked there as a guest artist,or say they hope they are lucky enough to one day be invited to do a spot .When he first opened they would host one guest a month,now it's up to fifty a year.This is mind boggling to me. For those of you who do not know Gabe is a non-tattooer shop owner. He is a diamond in the ruff.I know only one other non-tattooer shop owner that I respect like I do Gabe,but I won't mention any names.

Off The Map hosts The Paradise Tattoo Gathering which if you ask Gabe he likes to call it " The smallest tattoo show on earth." Most tattooers would give their left nut to be invited to this small intimate gathering of mass talent that flocks world wide to attend. Good luck with that. you need to be the best of the best for an invite. Gabe maybe a non-tattooer,but he knows his shit.

So now let's hear from Gabe, and really find out the inner workings of this computer geek.

GFR:So explain to me how you go from website builder to tattoo shop owner?

GR: Naturally I guess, is that weird? I guess at the time we opened Off the Map Tattoo I was running TattooNOW out of my house and it was getting to be a bit too much. I had a few freelancers working with me, and while I dont mind being informal, having business meetings in the kitchen isn’t the best way to conduct business. Not very professional. We figured if we were going to open a TattooNOW office it should be in a studio. TattooNOW was started in the back of a tattoo shop when I went to CT to get tattooed the first few years, so it was natural that it would land back at one. I do love tattooing, and to fully realize TattooNOW I need to have a tattoo studio guinea pig, see the effects of our products first hand, so we can make em better... I tried to partner with a few other artists, but it never worked out. I didnt open up Off the Map until it was stupid not too, certainly not a decision I took lightly. It was inevitable that I would find a way to directly benefit from the tools I make... Part of the TattooNOW pitch is that you make your money back in the first few tattoos... After watching the websites bring in great clients for tattoo artists again and again for years, and having a strong network of national and international tattoo artists, I felt we were adding something to the mix… Not just opening yet another studio, but one with access to dozens and dozens of very talented artists… Its actually very nice to see the studio busy with tattoos coming in from the websites... Makes selling sites for TattooNOW that much easier… when someone complains that our monthly fee is a lot of money, I respond, well, we literally made our monthly fee just from deposits in 2 days…

GFR: I really love that I never hear a negative word about your shop. How do you feel you've managed to pull this off?

GR: Well, thats nice to hear, but I know there are negative words said... I don’t keep my opinions to myself, and don’t expect others too either… Some may even have a bit of merit. But, well, we have a real talented bunch of artists come through and they help keep us in line… When 10 and 15 year vets of the industry come through and tell us what we are doing wrong, well, we do our best to fix it! Easthampton is a real nice quiet location where artists can focus, real nice people around, real nice clients... Its not all paradise here, though, We screw up and have to learn from and make up for our mistakes all the time… I would also blame my politics, of course… Im a wacked out progressive liberal perfectionist who defines success not by how much you can get, but by how much you can give back. That generally makes people like you… I used to try to keep my politics and business and philosophy separate from each other for some reason. Young Baxter made me realize that its all really one thing… and that by embracing my philosophies in my work, I would be truer to myself and then whatever it was I was shooting for would be that much more obtainable. So, I chat about the theory of politics every chance I get, and practice it in reality with my businesses. Its working pretty good so far…

all that said, we arent even close to perfect, and I like to listen to the negative thoughts, and let the kind words roll off my back. I have a massive ego and know better than anyone what we have going on, so kind words are nice reaffirmation we are on the right track, but all I really care about is how to make it all better…

GFR: Being a non-tattooer shop owner how do you feel this effects how people view you?

GR: Well, I know there are the detractors, but I dont really listen or care that much. If a tattooer cant keep up easily with a non tattooer in the tattoo world, then they need to tattoo better... Joe Cap says it best, the only reason there are asshole tattoo studio owners is because artists work for them…. In any event, it does push me to do the very best I can… As soon as I started getting heavily tattooed I realized if I wanted to be good back to tattooing, I couldn’t really be an asshole everytime someone asked stupid questions about my tattoos… I realized that if you will raise your visibility to the public, which getting tattooed does, then there is a responsibility to make sure people see you in a positive light. Correct their perceptions ya know? Same thing with not tattooing and owning a studio… I have to do my very best, cause as soon as I screw up, there are plenty of people waiting to nip at my carcass…

I mean, of course there are ignorant non-tattooing shop owners… most people dont have the patience or resources or desire to deal with all the bs and not tattoo... But I got into this business with a tattooer, and ultimately he ran his very successful tattoo studio into the ground. I know plenty of tattooers who own studios and are assholes who have no idea what building a community/studio means… To me, one needs both a intimate and thorough knowledge of the art AND an intimate and thorough knowledge of business…

I do hate it when people point to me as a non-tattooer owner success story... It happens often on the TattooNOW forum… Its true , I dont tattoo, and own a studio, but I had spent years and years using my talents to help build clienteles for artists... Helping them make more money in a responsible way… We were reaching hundreds of thousands of tattoo fans online each month, sometimes a million, and had a very strong network of artists who trusted us... most non tattooers dont realize what was put in just to get to the starting point, and from there its no trivial task (to say the least)… I didn’t draw a paycheck from off the map for 3 years… I don’t make any real money off it now 4 years in, though I guess Im bouncing personal checks less… I don’t pretend to have anything that others don’t, but it’s a tad insane running a tattoo studio without tattooing. but obviously it’s a lot of fun and I don’t mean to complain… I guess Im saying most non-tattooers wont bother to work for so long for so cheap just to have tattoos done in a space they rent. There are a lot of easier paths in life. But this comes up so little in my life that I dont think about it very often... I would love to be financially stable so I can learn to draw and/or paint, I certainly see visions in my head, but I dont have the time to even consider learning a new skill, sorry to say...

GFR:You were just offered fifty million dollars if you would allow another man to give you a blow job. You have a signed contract, and no one will ever know. Do you do it!

GR: I'd have to say no. I don’t like money or people touching me that much.

GFR: That was my fuck with your day question. Did it?

GR: Are you kidding? This is an interview, you cant fuck with my day. Now, when I explain what the question means to my little girl, well, I might have a different answer then...

GFR:Tell me about this years gathering?

GR: Well, this year we are shifting gears. After two years non-stop on the gathering, I needed a break and was planning on taking a year off, or maybe moving seminar week up to the mountain... A few folks who didn’t make it out the first year, Guy Aitchison and Shawn Barber in particular, really wanted to see the education weekend keep happening are pitching in to keep it going this year. Instead of tattooing, which is stressful for everyone, we will focus on original art. After all, expanding your artistic vision is vital in an artists growth as a tattooer, and the part that really counts. You can talk about tattooing tequinue and blends and needle suppliers and realistic tattooing till you are blue in the face, but if you cant image fantastic visions in your imagination, all that jazz don’t mean squat. We will still have seminars and workshops, discussion panels, and lots of painting. Actually, I a very excited, because as awesome as tattooing is, it is very stressful compared to painting or drawing... While the vibe for the last few years was one of the most relaxed a tattoo convention could be, without tattooing everyone will be even more laid back. It is open enrollment, so until the spaces are filled anyone can get an artist pass. Rumors have it there will be a webcast which would be awesome. Then in 2011 we go back to full on Tattoo Gathering. I can feel my blood preasure rising already…Everything we know is on the website, tattoogathering.com

GFR: Who do you turn to for advice?

GR: My wife and joe capobianco are the two people I would call up... But I do take advice from nearly every guest and client... With so many artist clients on TattooNOW I am lucky to have regular conversations with quite a few real smart talented and experienced tattooers. Ive gotten advice from Guy, man, if we screw up I have no one to blame but myself!

I didnt really have a clue about life in general until I met a video game programmer/producer type Dave Furlow. He made me realize that if corperations wanted to take over the world, they would teach everyone they couldnt make a difference. Teach them that the truth is confusing, who really knows what is right or wrong… Its all merely opinion anyways… Well, he opened my eyes, he didn’t let me get away with shirking my responsibility to become informed and active… Its easy to let go and “not do politics” but its impossible to get the corporations and government off your back if you don’t learn how they got there, what they are doing, and what they want… If Im feeling the need for a little intellectual inspiration Ill look up some Noam Chomsky youtube videos… Everyday I listen to Thom Hartman and Marc Marons podcast (a comedian with a real cynical outlook)… Of course I balance my media, I listen to it all, and am not afraid of any conversation…

Best piece of advice I take to heart is to listen to and understand the brutal truth. You cant manipulate reality unless you are not afraid to tackle it head on without blinders, and the truth aint pretty and we all have blood on our hands…

I mean, to get back to the question, I learn something from everyone every day... I get my advice from life…

GFR:I know you are a huge collector. Tell me about one of your favorite pieces, and why?

GR: Well, my favorite tattoo is the portrait of my daughter by Mike Demasi, of course, but everyone goes on about how brilliant their kid is so Ill pick another…. Probably the exploding computer from Nick Baxter. Got it a few years ago, and it is very satisfying when people tell me about their computer woes and Im like whatever, get a fucking exploding computer tattoo and then talk to me. Im actually not a very techie type of geek, when people start talking about .dll files and shorthanding unix commands or graphics cards or anti-virus scanners and such, I lose patience real quick… and computers break all the time, hence the exploding computer. Baxter is awesome too. New England misses him.

GFR:How do you decide who will be invited to the gathering?

GR: The artists who are asked to tattoo at the event are the ones we would like to see tattooing other tattooers, though, I try not to stress too much about it or take it too seriously. We are still working off the first years list, actually, as there are very few spots to fill, and turnover is low. I made the list from my network of contacts through TattooNOW, because keeping tattooers busy in the middle of nowhere is no trivial task, and from spending over a decade meeting artists at conventions… Knowing an artist has a high traffic website and is wired right into our system/community is an obvious advantage, but of course not a requirement or a “get in token”. I have three times as many active artists on TattooNOW than spaces at the Gathering, as a frame of reference. In any event, I made a list, and then it got combed and added to from some trusted advisors… Joe Capobianco, Durb Morrison, Brett Bryan from Pulse… I purposefully balance the people who scrub the list because it makes the list better, alleviates me of the responsibility of a million tattooers, some good friends, wanting to get in. As you know, I don’t tattoo, so as good as I can think my eye is, it would be irresponsible of me to make the list myself. Im lucky, and very thankful, to have a great set of advisors who care about the Gathering. I may run it the show, but its bigger than me, ha. In any event, just cause I owe someone a favor doesn’t get them in, they need to have impressed a group of industry leaders, and not pissed off any of the others too much in the meantime…

Of course, every tattooer and apprentice and apprentice wannabe is invited to the gathering to learn. Tattoo artists specifically, we design the event to carter to tattooers who come for the weekend to learn from the best tattooers and artists we can muster. Due to the location, its easy for us to invite everyone, and still insure the people who make it out are there for the right reasons… So, everyone who loves tattoos is invited, but we do spend most of our time focused on bringing in tattoo artists who want to learn for the weekend and collectors.

As far as my personal efforts, Im trying to reach the very best artists I can from as far away as possible so that the tattooers attending our gathering can get the best education and influences we can offer. Any new spots that open for the 2011 gathering will be offered to the artists still on the list from the first year, a few artists recommended from the heavies that have worked the show , and then a few artists who have attended the last few years will probably join the lineup… Its awesome to watch an artists work progress because of the gathering… But I don’t stress the list too much, even though it is a political nightmare.

Maybe someday we will do a big TattooNOW convention with more booths and a different focus and then it would be easier to invite everyone on TattooNOW… Im sure people think we are snobby for not inviting them, but then I can think they are snobby for not realizing that the show is set up for them to learn at, not tattoo at…

GFR: Give me your spin on TattooNOW?

GR: Ha! Well, we build technology for tattooers. Im a geek, and I love tattoos, so TattooNOW is my outlet to geek out in the tattoo industry. The foundation of TattooNOW is that we know tattooing very well, and know how to use technology to make tattooers lives easier. We have already quit our day jobs to focus on the tattoo world, so we wont be getting a new fancy job and get too busy to work on your site… sure we charge for our services and every artists can get a site for free or cheap… but you can get cheap and free tattoos too… Our services pay for themselves and then some, every time. This traffic fuels everything I do, we opened Off the Map Tattoo knowing that we would secure the traffic necessary to keep tattooers happy… We were able to pull off a successful tattoo convention in the middle of nowhere, because of the websites… We are just about realized as a company, we have been shoe-stringing it for nearly ten years (I don’t have a tattooers income, yet (I used to!)). We just about have the full staff and revenue to support the business… In one or two years we will be ready to step on the gas… cant wait! Oh, right, tattooing teaches you patience… I can wait as long as it takes…

GFR: Being a dad, and a husband how do you separate your family life from this industry?

Well, it’s the family business, so for better or worse, theres pretty much no separation… I don’t stop talking about work ever so my wife and kid know as much as I do about tattoos and computers… My wife was a fan of tattoos before she met me, so that helps a ton… She designed the Off the Map studio space(she creates envinments for babies in her real job, so building a space for tattooers isn’t much different, ha), I found the convention site on an alpine slide adventure in the middle of nowhere with my girl, and every morning there is a family discussion about who gets tattoo of the day on TattooNOW (note: cute dog tattoos seem to always have a one vote advantage, as do birds). But seriously, Without their support, none of it would be possible. To support it, they kinda need to be a part of it, and Im lucky to find a family that is crazy enough to want to be apart of something like this! Its pretty amazing, though, the upsides outweigh the downsides for sure…. my kid has already had the opportunity to meet dozens of extremely talented artists from all over the world who have carved their own unique path in a very unique industry. She has already made friends with dozens of amazing artists from Moscow, China, the Netherlands, the UK, the States of course, and all over the place… Of course, she has also learned that when business goes sour, sometimes friendships will end. She is learning all about the strive for perfection from a young age! In any event, if your going to get stuck smack dab in the middle of something, the tattoo world isn’t that bad… In any event, my family is very understanding of what I do and generous with their time.

GFR:Cigarettes? (tell me the 1st thing that comes to mind when you think of smokes.the quotes will be removed when this is printed)

GR: Suckers giving their money to multinational corporations so they can die uncomfortably while directly funding the new world order. Feed the machine people, with your money they could take over the supreme court, oh shit they have, and now your next president could be care of Philip-Morris. Puff away suckers… rationalize however you want, but remember everytime you plunk your bucks down, the new world order is that much closer, thanks to you.

Gabe I want to thank you for your time. I can honestly say I have never spoken to anyone who speaks faster than I do. It was a comical event with all the "what's" that went back, and forth between us. I wish you the best, and believe you have a long line of success ahead you.

Geena Fkn Russo - geenafknrusso[at]tattooguru[dot]org

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