Young Street located in Honolulu between King and Beretania is home to many little shops. It’s not a surprise to see people riding their bicycles up and down this busy neighborhood. As I’m standing outside and waiting for my 11:30 a.m. interview with Jen Matsuda, I notice various elements around me that brings some character to this street.
There’s an all-girls charm school and to the left of it is a preschool, which I find highly ironic because right across the street is Matsudaʻs tattoo shop, CrayonInked.
Eleven-thirty hits and I anxiously look around to see if she is here or not. A small, 25-year-old Asian woman pulls up in a Yaris hatchback and parks. She gets out of her car wearing blue jeans, a regular T-shirt, her hair tied back, and not a hint of ink on her skin. She cracks a smile and replies, “Ok, I’m ready.”
Interview and photos by Brittney Nitta-Lee, Ka Mana‘o
Ka Mana‘o: Were you always into art?
Matsuda: Yes, I remember always packing some paper and crayons or pens when my mom would take me somewhere I knew I would have to sit for along time.
Ka Mana‘o: What kind of art degree do you have?
Matsuda: I have a graphic design degree from Orange Coast College. I actually started school at the Art Institute, but realized that the tuition was way to high. Art is personal and someone can teach you the basics but in the end it’s your creation, so I switched schools.
Ka Mana‘o: How do you describe your art of tattooing in one word? Or your art in general?
Matsuda: I think I’ll go with inspiration. My art seems to change by things around me as well as other artist or books I am inspired by. Many times a client will give me a general idea of what they want their tattoo to be and give me a sense of creative freedom to draw something that fits. In the end it was their idea that inspired the completed design.
Ka Mana‘o: Inspiration generally distorts the reality of things. If you were to move to the mainland do you think your style of art would change because you’re in a different atmosphere with a different perspective?
Matsuda: I do think my art would change due to being exposed to a different lifestyle. This is why I think it is important to travel as much as you can.
Ka Mana‘o: Why did you get into tattooing?
Matsuda: After college I moved back to Hawai‘i and wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. I had an art degree but in Hawai‘i there’s not a lot of jobs. I also didn’t want to sit in a cubical and stare at a computer all day working on graphics.
Ka Mana’o: The whole cliché nine to five job didn’t work out for you. What made you become a tattoo artist?
Matsuda: Friends encouraged me to try tattooing. I originally am a stencil artist so the transition from a X-acto blade to a tattoo machine was pretty smooth.
Ka Mana’o: Do you think being a tattoo artist has a label or stereotype?
Matsuda: I think there is a stereotype of being a tattoo artist, and how we are supposed to look and act. I don’t fit into the stereotype very well. I am not a big guy with tattoos on my face and after work I usually just go home and get some dinner.
Ka Mana‘o: What do you think about females in this industry?
Matsuda: I think its great that females are getting more into the industry. Although I don’t think it matters much what gender you are as long as the art is what the client wants.
Ka Mana‘o: OK, so would you consider Kat Von D to be an inspiration to you?
Matsuda: I haven’t watched her show in awhile, but when it first appeared on TV I did watch it. I do think she is a big inspiration. A younger female tattoo artist is something that is not so common. She set up her shop with a lot of really good artists that she could learn from. I think that is important, to keep expanding your knowledge. I think anyone can inspire my art especially other artists.
Ka Mana‘o: Are there any specific areas that you won’t tattoo?
Matsuda: I do not tattoo hands or faces. I do tattoo necks sometimes but it depends on your career path. Even though tattoos are more acceptable in today’s society, there are still many jobs that will not allow tattoos on certain areas of your body. I don’t want to be the reason why you will be turned down for a job.
Ka Mana‘o: That is a good point. So in general do you think tattoos are a culture thing? Trend?
Matsuda: I think tattoos are both culture as well as a trend for some people. Being in Hawai‘i, Polynesian-styled tattoos are very popular. Each shape has a meaning behind it, lots of culture behind each individual design. I try to tell people not to get tattoos just because it will look cool but to find something that have meaning to them. They will be living with it forever and when their kids ask them later why, I would like them to have a better answer than it was the in thing to do.
Ka Mana‘o: What does tattooing mean to you?
Matsuda: Tattooing to me means being able to wake up every day and create art. I’m not stuck being in the same routine and every day is exciting. I get to meet new people, hear their stories and help them remember moments in their lives through art.
Ka Mana‘o: Any advice for students who choose to lead the life of a tattoo artist?
Matsuda: Learn as much as you can about anything related to the art field such as painting and sketching. Everything around you will influence who you are as an artist. Respect is also important.
Ka Mana‘o: What does respect have to do with being a tattoo artist?
Matsuda: Respect for the art form, the history of tattooing and yourself as well as other artists. Also helping clients to have more respect for their body and discourage them from a bad judgment tattoo that they will most likely regret later in life.
CrayonInked offers a 10 percent discount to students with a valid college ID. Learn more at www.crayoninked.com