DH: So Frank, were your initial plans to tattoo? I moved to NYC to be a comic artist and just kind of fell into it.
FLN: No, my initial plans were to be an accountant.
I was in college at the time for it. I kinda fell into it in 97 when they legalized it in Brooklyn.
I did it more as just a job for about 12-13 years before I decided to fully commit to it.
Wasn’t till I left NY and moved to FL that it really became my career.
Once I left NY I was really focused on becoming an animator and character designer, but I met the right people in the tattoo world and things kind of just took for me.
It allowed me to combine what I really loved doing without having to answer to anyone.
DH: You’re in Miami now right? When did you leave NYC? And why did you switch your career path from animation and character design to tattooing?
FLN: Fort Lauderdale area, well my shop is anyway.
I have another shop up in Stuart too.
I’m about an hour or so from Miami.
I left NY in 2007.
I moved down to FL to go to school for Animation and Illustration.
I was tattooing at the time to pay my bills and my way through school.
Around 2008 I met Mickey, who hired me to work at his shop.
Within 6 months of knowing him he decided to throw a tattoo convention which became known as Tattoolapalooza.
My wife and I, helped him run the show and it gave me an opportunity to meet some amazing tattoo artists.
That really is where my friendship with Jesse Smith and Stefano began.
It would also be the catalyst into helping me kick off my career and tying my style of art into tattooing.
In 2011, I really started to make some waves in the industry and in 2012 when I graduated my career in tattooing essentially exploded.
This left me with the dilemma of pursuing a career in Animation or Tattooing.
Well, suffice it to say, I wound up opening my first shop with Mickey and my wife and focused on pursuing my career in tattooing.
I realized I could create my own worlds and visions, instead of someone else’s.
That was the birth of Into the Woods as well as my career in the Tattoo Industry.
DH: Awesome it worked out for you. You have a very unique style, and it’s great to see people who are more on the custom illustration side of things. I know you’re extremely busy with multiple projects going on now, but was that always the case?
FLN: You know I think I always inundated myself with multiple projects and constantly working.
I always had a tendency to spin too many plates as one would put it.
I felt that if I slowed down I would feel like I failed at something.
That’s really been the last 7-8 years of my life to be honest.
But since this whole “Pandemic” hit, it actually allowed me time to re-evaluate my life and slow down a bit.
I realized I spent the last 8 years working so much that I never really took a moment to enjoy any of it.
So honestly since then, I’ve taken a break from everything and decided to just allow life to happen and just enjoy my everyday how ever I want.
I’ve been less stressed and have come to realize that nothing has fallen apart and life has actually been that much better.
Long story short, I’ve decided to just take it easy and try out some new hobbies and things I’ve missed out on in the past.
DH: Oh, cool, what new hobbies did you start?
FLN: I tried my hand at miniature painting for a bit lol.
That was fun but didn’t last as long as i thought. Hahaha!
I was always into firearms but never really got to dedicate anytime to it.
So I’ve been spending a lot more time with that and collecting and customizing guns.
Been spending a lot of time at the range with my artist Tucker.
Been having fun rebuilding some of my guns and just buying new ones.
I got back into video games too… just because I can. Lol!
It’s become more about doing things because I can now verses worrying about not doing things I think I have too, if that makes any sense.
It’s become more of a want to versus have to.
DH: Tell Tucker I said hello! What guns do you have? I have 8, and most of mine are older military guns I shoot, like my M1 Garand and Springfield 1911!
FLN: I will do that! That’s awesome man!
Well my 2 favorites are honestly my PS90 and my Tavor X95.
Thats my baby. I’m almost done fully customizing my G19 which I have been having a lot of fun shooting.
I don’t have any older guns like that. I like the stranger looking ones.
My birthday is on Saturday so I’m going to buy myself a Scorpion EVO that I’ve wanted forever.
DH: I think it’s pretty amusing that the guy who draws cute animation based critters is all about guns!
FLN: I have a Springfield Hellcat that’s my EDC. I just had that one Cerakote. As a matter of fact Joey from Infinite Irons did it for me. I draw cute cartoons but my favorite toys and cartoon when I was a kid was GI Joe.
DH: Aside from shooting guns and preparing for the apocalypse, what are some of the side project art ventures you’re working on now? Yeah, the small ones.
FLN: Wait! Are we still doing the interview or just bullshittin’ about cool shit?! Hahaha! I still have a ton of them at my moms house in Brooklyn! That was all i collected.
DH: Shill the interview! I’ll edit it. It’s a lot more personal and interesting if it’s not just the standard tattoo questions.
FLN: Always wanted the Aircraft carrier, but never got it.
My cousin had it so I had to wait till we went to LI so I could play with it.
Aside from Apocalyptic preparation I am currently not working on any art projects.
I mean I draw a few things here and there for tattoos or just for shits and giggles, but I’m honestly just having fun learning about other things I guess.
Doing this has actually helped me draw better because I don’t feel stuck.
It helped my creativity in a weird way.
DH: You create these unique characters and atmospheres for your tattoos, and they look very illustration, animation or comic book inspired. Do you or did you ever do anything with them outside of tattooing?
FLN: Good question. Actually there are a few projects that are kind of in the works, yet on hiatus at the moment.
I was working on a couple animations and hoping to do a really cool illustration book.
Everything I design really is part of a complete little world of mine.
I’m hoping to combine them all in a cohesive way for people to enjoy.
DH: That’s awesome! I do that with my writing but not really my tattoos.
FLN: Sometimes each piece is its own little world for me and I feel like each one has its own story.
Well everyone of my tattoos is an illustration first.
So the Characters, environment and story come before it ever gets tattooed.
DH: I feel like people like you and Jesse Levitt have a real select place in the industry. You guys have your own unique styles and just do illustration work straight out of your head.
FLN: Levitt or Smith?
DH: Him too! Even when you have great artists with a wealth of talent, they still are restrained by single images and often heavy customer input.
FLN: I do a lot of research and a bunch of studies before I design a piece.
So I have these grand thoughts of what i want something to be, but it’s never that on the first try.
That’s why I do a lot of prep work and thumb-nailing prior.
DH: I feel a bit torn between my writing, my illustration for books and magazines, and my tattooing. It seems like you basically combine all three.
FLN: Yeah, I’m grateful I don’t suffer from that.
Clients usually tell me their idea and then get whatever i design for them.
Probably because I take the time to understand the story they’re looking to tell more than the image they want.
So usually by time I’m done, I convey their story better than they previously envisioned it.
That’s what all the time and research is for.
To figure out the best way I can illustrate their story.
It’s like having to do the cover art for each clients book. Lol!
Has to make you wanna read the book.
DH: I understand completely. So, with all that prep work, how much time do you spend planning a tattoo before you can actually do it on flesh? And in a related question, how many days a week do you tattoo?
FLN: Well as far as prep work depending on the size or complexity of the project it could take me a few days to weeks to sometimes even a month or so.
DH: How far booked out are you currently?
FLN: Prior to the “Pandemic” I was only tattooing maybe once or twice a week.
I do 2-3 hour sessions at most.
Honestly most of my time goes into my artwork.
Now I haven’t really tattooed at all since end of March I don’t book out.
I pick a couple projects I wanna do and just strictly focus on that, once I’m done designing those I’ll pick another one to start on.
I like this better. At one time I had almost a 3 year wait list.
It was ridiculous. Now I just do the projects I’m gonna love from start to finish and don’t have to worry about planning so far ahead.
I’m an illustrator who does commission paintings on peoples skin.
I’m not an everyday die hard tattooer.
I stopped that a few years ago exactly! I see the projects I’m working on once a month.
So it’s the same people till I’m done.
DH: You run more than one shop two, right? I run one shop and that alone takes a huge chunk out of my time in a way, it allows me a bit more freedom too, as I don’t feel the pressure to do things I’m not into.
FLN: Yes, I have 2 shops. I have an amazing crew and great people that help me run it.
I have to be honest, I’ve really come to just enjoy the business side of things and being there to just see my artist focus on their careers and help them grow.
I did my time. I’m 23 years in, it’s their turn now.
DH: I’m 21 years in. I hear you!
FLN: I’ve also gotten into investing in other businesses outside of tattooing which have helped allow me more leisure time to choose what I wanna do.
I come from a family of business owners and learned how to re-invest a lot and diversify as opposed to tattooing to live if that makes sense.
DH: Yeah, that’s great! Let me ask you a few more technical questions and we’ll wrap this up. Do you have needle combos and colors you prefer?
FLN: Absolutely! As far as needles I use, mainly curved 9,13,23 mags Liners always BP 5,7,9 and then Ill use a couple round shaders here and there.
Colors I’m all Eternal, I personally love my own set, probably because I made it based on my own color pallet.
DH: I use round shaders a lot these days. What do you use?
FLN: Usually a 5 or 9. I tend to use them for the smaller little things on my pieces.
DH: Do you hand draw stuff on the client, or do you use stencils?
FLN: I stencil everything. Only thing I will hand draw on if I have too is some environment stuff to fill out an area. But never a character.
DH: Yeah, i spent a whole month guest spot in Europe where I hand drew everything on the client. Never again.
Frank: Oh no! I could never! I always hate my first drawing and I know it’s not my best. That’s why I draw things 2-3 times or more.
DH: So, to wrap this up, what are you working on currently, and how can people get a hold of you?
FLN: Currently I’m finishing up a little animal monster leg sleeve design.
Dan Henk has been working in and as a part of the tattoo community for 20 years. He writes novels, illustrates magazines and books, and owns The Abyss Fine Art & Tattoo Gallery in Long Beach, NY, and competes in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jujitsu. Check out all his adventures on danhenk.com!