Tattooing is Jesper Jørgensen's "dream job". Hailing from a small city in Jutland, Denmark, he says, "I never really had a plan, but I knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want the whole 9-to-5 thing."
Today, his work brings the Copenhagen-based artist into contact with misfits and outcasts like himself. "To be a tattooist, you kind of have to be a little weird! I’m not very fond of how our society is run and how people are encouraged to be lemmings or sheep. I tend to tattoo guys who remind me of myself - they are sick of religion and sick of everyday life."
Now that he is an established tattoo artist, Jørgensen enjoys a creative career with flexibility. "My favorite part of my job is the absolute freedom. I can do whatever I want all the time. I can smoke weed when I want to. I can go traveling when I want to. I can live my life the way I want to live it, and not answer to anyone other than myself. I can also go anywhere in the world and make money."
The Stay Cold designer talked to us about his journey and offers advice to aspiring artists.
Have you always wanted to be a tattoo artist?
Growing up, I did the typical partying and drinking. I knew there was something bigger than living the normal life that society tells you to live. It seemed too boring to get a girlfriend, get a house, get some kids, and then spend the rest of my life in front of the TV. Being a tattoo artist was always a dream. I thought the work was interesting and it sounded like a good job, but it seemed like a fantasy.
How did you get started?
I was in school, but it was just to pass the time. I wasn’t studying anything I would use. I was getting tattooed by a shop in my hometown, and since I didn’t have a lot of money, I asked if I could clean the shop to get a discount. They were pretty cool with it. All of a sudden, their apprentice quit and they asked me to replace him. I was 23 years old. It was a lucky coincidence.
How did you transition from Jutland to Copenhagen?
I was in that city for 2 years, tattooing in two different shops, and then I realized that if I wanted to evolve my work, I would have to move to a bigger city.
I went to Copenhagen for a weekend to find a shop I could work at. The Sailor’s Grave was the first place I walked into and it's the best shop in Denmark for traditional tattooing. I knew a lot of people who got tattooed there. It was my goal to work here but I didn’t expect them to hire me. I just went into the shop and asked for a job. I showed up with my portfolio, talked to my boss, and said I was willing to do pretty much anything to work there. At first, they said no, but then all of the sudden, I got a call and they wanted to give me a job.
Where did you develop your skills as an artist?
I didn’t really have drawing skills at all. I’m not the biggest art fan because I don’t enjoy going to museums, and I never had an art education or drawing education. At my apprenticeship, I didn’t learn much about drawing. I just learned how to set up a machine. I looked at the work of my idols. I learned how to draw on my own through trial and error. Because I really hate normal work, I was really motivated and put all my energy into being an artist.
When I got to The Sailor’s Grave, my skills started escalating fast. Being the worst artist at the shop motivates you to get better. Being around really good tattooists is super inspiring.
Where do your ideas come from?
Horror movies contribute to my inspiration. I listen to dark music, death metal, punk and hardcore. all the music of underdogs. My tattoo work is traditional but with a darker evil touch. My ideas come from Satanic influences, dark demonic elements, which appeals to my clientele. I don’t want to be what everyone else is, so my style of tattooing tends to provoke a lot.
What does your normal day look like?
I come into work around 10 and I start preparing for my customers. I only do one appointment a day because I don’t want to be stressed about it. I set up my station. Then my client comes in, and we do the tattoo. Afterward, I’m off so I can do more or less what I want. Usually I end up going home to draw and paint just for the fun of it.
Have you had any mentors who have helped you on your path?
My biggest inspirations are Zooki, Marija Ripley, and Judd Ripley. Judd not only teaches me how to tattoo, but he teaches me how to be a good person. He teaches me how to be humble. He’s my life coach.
What are your other artistic interests?
I do a ton of painting. I actually like painting better than tattooing, because you have all the time in the world to do it, and you can do whatever you want. I spend a lot of time trying to perfect my drawing and painting skills.
What did your family think of your interest in tattoos?
My family is a bit old-fashioned and conservative and thought I was just going through a phase at first. But they’re really happy for me now, and I’ve tattooed both of my parents!
What advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Stay humble. Don’t talk shit about others. Just go all in from the start, because hard work beats talent. If you want something bad enough and put 10,000 hours into it, you’ll become good at it at some point.