DH: Ok, let’s start with the basics. What is your sign and do you like long walks on the beach?
RL: Hahaha! I’m a cancer. And to be honest I absolutely hate the beach. But if I was to go a walk would be the best thing to do there.
DH: How long have been tattooing?
RL: I’ve been tattooing 10-11 years. I’m not exactly sure when I got my start.
DH: Was tattooing your first choice?
RL: Not particularly. I’ve always been involved in the arts, but I always thought that wouldn’t make a good career. I’m so glad my thinking on that changed.
DH: What did you first think your profession would be?
RL: Initially I was a dental technician.
DH: You were that before you started tattooing?
RL: Yeah, and even through my first few years of tattooing. I did it for 10 years prior and learned it on the job. It was actually very similar to tattooing.
DH: How long was that, and was there any schooling involved?
RL: No. Out of high school I was a landscaper. That was a summer job first through school and then even a few years afterwards.
DH: At what age did you start tattooing?
RL: I think I was 26-27. I’m not sure. All my jobs overlapped a bit. I was always a two job kinda guy.
DH: You said you were still working as a dental assistant when you started. Was tattooing only part time at first? I know it was for me. I was working at a restaurant and going on interviews. All with the dream of becoming a comic artist.
RL: Yeah, kind of. I did long hours as a dental technician. I was the metal worker in the shop who did castings of crowns and bridges. Later, I started making jewelry and tattoo machine parts for the guy who apprenticed me.
DH: Is that what lead you into the tattoo world?
RL: Yes. I was trying to sell stuff I made. I was interested in making alternative jewelry. Unfortunately, when I got into machine parts the guy didn’t want to leach me anything about tattoo machines unless I had an understanding of the tattooing process. So I asked if I could learn how to tattoo. I really thought that it was all just to be a good machine builder.
DH: So, were you always into art but you figured machinery would be your way to express it?
RL: I was always into art but I loved the practical application of it. It was always a shortcoming for me and my art that I never found a purpose in it besides my enjoyment.
DH: How far back does this passion reach? High school? Pre-high school?
RL: As long as I can remember.
DH: What was your early outlet? Drawing and sculpting? I always thought I’d do art and writing somehow. I painted everyone’s punk rock jackets in high school! I just didn’t think it would be tattooing.
RL: Mostly drawing. I was always kind of a loaner. My family didn’t live in a neighborhood. Art was my go to. There weren’t many other kids around.
DH: Where did you live?
RL: In Damascus, Maryland. That’s also where I grew up
DH: I only really know Baltimore. Is it a bit more rural there?
RL: Yeah. It’s just on the edge of suburbia, about 45 minutes west of Baltimore.
DH: So, the start of the whole process was you just walking into a tattoo shop one day, with the intent of selling the owner some of your metalwork?
RL: Yeah, that was it for the most part. We had some mutual friends and had hung out a few times prior.
DH: Well, it worked out great. I love the way your stuff is looking now! I noticed that, earlier on, you were more focusing on straight up realism.
RL: Yeah, for sure. When I was learning I did all styles, but I always felt subpar. One day I tattooed a portrait on myself and boom, I figured out somehow I could do that more than just traditional.
DH: Was your first step then from more traditional tattoo images towards realistic ones?
RL: I did a bit of everything at first. It was only when I did realism that things finally clicked for me.
DH: How far were you into a tattooing career when that occurred?
RL: I’d say a few years. Looking back now, they were definitely not great!
DH: Your early realism pieces?
RL: Yeah. At the time I thought they were good. But it was definitely a long road until they were actually good.
DH: I think most people go through that journey. I’m truly embarrassed by some of my early work.
RL: For sure . It’s definitely a long road.
DH: I think what’s currently drawn everyone’s eye to your work, is not the realism, there are a number of people who do great realism now, but instead your revolutionary use of texture. When did that start, and what inspired you?
RL: There was a time, a few years back, where I felt like I was only doing a technical process. Not creating. I sat down for a few days and just crafted some spear designs. Without really thinking. Just kind of a mixed media style. I noticed, after looking at the result, that there was a similarity in all the designs. Once I tried to tattoo them I realized they were too complicated to do so. I needed to loosen up and just let whatever happens come out .
DH: I had almost the same experience back in art school. I drew a half human, half skull portrait and just felt like it was too plain and cliché. So I cut it up with a box-cutter, splattered another canvas with ink, and glued the strips over top. Suddenly it felt new and innovative to me!
RL: That’s awesome.
DH: That striving to do the unexpected can make some great results.
RL: Yeah, so now that’s kinda the hard part. I try to relax my mind when I create a design and let the symbiosis come out.
DH: When did you feel that you’d pulled of a unique style?
RL: The first one I did I knew I had something. It felt really natural. And since then I feel like I’m always exploring. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve totally pulled it off! I am super excited to see what it leads to in the future.
DH: I think that edge of uncertainty tends to bring out the best! How long would you say it’s been since you’ve evolved into this current style?
RL: I’ve been exploring it since 2018.
DH: Have you noticed a huge positive response to your new style?
RL: It’s almost been overwhelming.
DH: Nice! Great to see it’s working out. Is there some kind theme you prefer? Much of your work has Gothic and horror elements. Is that your preference or the mainly the client’s input?
RL: I’ve noticed it works best with horror or Gothic elements. I usually ask folks for a few nouns and then I’ll pick one. I then ask for a few tattoos that I’ve done that they like. Honestly, I never know what the tattoo is going to look like so I try to keep things as open ended as possible! I’m super grateful that folks trust me.
DH: Do you have something that you really want to illustrate but have not yet had the chance?
RL: Honestly, not really. I have a few things that are really wild. I really don’t even know how to explain them. They would be fun to try but haven’t gotten that far yet. They are kind of bio, but have a humanoid figure. I just really want to keep going if that makes sense and see what comes of it.
DH: Do you hold all that as an idea for the future?
RL: Yeah, I’m just not sure if the ideas are all there yet. It’s just one of those things that came out of my imagination. I think it’s like a halfway point for me, in order to merge what I’m currently doing with what’s to come.
DH: What’s your current wait, and if you could whisper in the ear of a client before they made an appointment, what would you say?
RL: I only book a few months at a time. As far as a wait super hard to say with Covid. I’ve had tons of requests work and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to get everyone in. If I get creative freedom I’ll try to get anyone in the next round of booking. As far as what i’d say, “let’s get weird!”
DH: So more bio-mech Pikachus then?
RL: Hahaha! Sounds like it could be fun. I grew up in the woods. I literally know nothing about pop culture so it’s hard for me to relate with it. But I’m up for trying anything once hahaha!
DH: OK, lets wrap this up! Thanks for doing this. How can people see your current work and what’s the best way to get a hold of you?
RL: I literally just looked up Pikachus! Yea, man, thank you. The best way for folks to see my work is on Instagram or through my website RobbyLatos.com.
DH: OK, awesome! So, before we go, give me one parting recommendation for a Netflix series, movie, book, or whatever that we can check out!
RL: Uhhh, that’s such a hard one. Like I said I don’t do much of any of those things but I’d say the hike the Seneca Rocks in West Virginia. Oh yeah, My Octopus Teacher. It’s a documentary on Netflix.
DH: Haha! OK, I’ll take it!
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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!