When Paul Timman began studying sculpting at the Clevand Institute of Art, becoming a tattoo artist was not what he anticipated. As with many people who get tattoos, one is never enough, and the interest only grows. Timman recalled during a recent interview with Avneet Sangha, reading through magazines in the nineties and seeing “really amazing artwork… and some ground-breaking stuff happening.” Timman also noticed the not-so-great tattooing and thought, “man I can do better than that.”
Becoming a tattoo artist is a difficult feat, and a difficult industry to break into. Unlike most other mediums of art, tattooing requires trust between the customer and the artist before ink touches skin. Without a real tattoo portfolio, it is difficult to find new paying customers who will trust the artist.
“What I did was I actually started and tattooed out of my apartment for a while [on my friends]… eventually within a few months I sat in for a girl that was on her honeymoon… I was filling in for her for a couple weeks and at the end the owner offered me a job. [He] said, ‘hey man, you want a full time job?’ And I was like ‘Of course I do!’”
Now working at Sunset Strip Tattoo, Timman shared how he got into one of the best tattoo parlours on Sunset Boulevard.
“I got into Sunset Strip Tattoo in Hollywood really quick because they needed somebody, not because I was any good… I was willing to learn, they were willing to teach me. I was open minded about it and they liked that so they said ‘let’s get him going’. I basically apprenticed at Sunset Strip Tattoo.”
Being a tattoo artist isn’t a business where the customer always tells the artist which direction to go. Like any other art, inspiration is what drives the artist and helps them craft their own personal style.
Timman said that he gets inspiration “from everything…from pillow cases to tissue boxes, to women’s dresses to napkins, to menus to graffiti, to modern art to other tattoo artists. Anything that catches my eye. That’s where everyone gets it from. Everyone subconsciously takes something from everything and goes with it, everything inspires me.”
Inspiration is necessary for tattooing to work. Timman explained that he can’t always just sit down and craft the perfect tattoo. “There are days where I have sent clients home as I was drawing on their sleeve waves or flames…it wasn’t flowing the way that I wanted it to, or it wasn’t producing what I wanted…[so I told them] ‘we’re not doing this today’ and I send them home. The next day when they come back you can draw it on in twenty seconds and it clicks, it’s perfect. So you never know how it’s going to go. Artists are artists, we are finicky people and that just how it goes.”
Tattoo artists get to know so many types of customers, but each artist grows to have their ideal customer. “I have a client right now and he came in and said ‘I want a new sleeve and this is kind of my idea”. I said okay and he gives me the idea and the next thing you know I tell him ‘these are all horrible ideas’ and he says ‘I know.’ I tell him that ‘I know you like these ideas but that’s not going to turn out to be a great tattoo, so why don’t we do this?’ So we changed it and we started one arm and I basically got to do whatever I wanted…We have a saying in the tattoo shop, that ‘the client doesn’t know what they want until we tell them’… and that’s kind of true.”
Timman has gained widespread popularity and has attracted the attention of many celebrities including Angelina Jolie, Ben Affleck, and Mark Wahlberg. With his reputation, it can be difficult to maintain a down-to-earth ego.
“I tell people all the time, when I first started gaining popularity and I had a lot of celebrities coming to me, sure I got an ego. But what I always say is, sure have an ego as long as you come back down from it… you are only as good as the clients that come to you. If we didn’t have clients, we wouldn’t have anything. All we are doing is drawing little pictures on people. As fun as they are and as memorable as they are, we are just drawing images on [our clients]; we are not these groundbreaking, earthmoving, cancer-solving researchers, it’s a weird thing.”
With his business from celebrities, Timman has gotten to know the personalities of many celebrities. “It depends on who it was and how they were perceived in the tattoo shop. Some of them were great, some of them were assholes. Some were super cool and really not that different than anyone else.”
Presently, Timman is still tattooing at Sunset Strip Tattoo, as well as working on a hand-painted bike for PureCycles to be auctioned off for a good cause. He is also working on tattoo-inspired shorts and underwear with a Canadian company.
To keep up-to-date with Paul and see more of his work, check out his Instagram @paultimman.