When Judd Bowman was growing up in Pennsylvania, becoming a tattoo artist wasn’t really a feasible job. Tattoo shops were hours apart from each other, the industry hadn’t hit the airwaves of cable TV, and there weren’t visible sleeves on everyone from soccer moms to baristas just yet. But even by the time he started high school, Bowman wanted to get tattooed more than just about anything else.
“When I turned 15, I begged my parents and got them to sign for a tattoo for me,” Bowman says. “I quickly became friends with the tattoo artist, so by the time I was 18, I had a bunch of shitty, bad tattoos. I didn’t really think much of it, so I just collected some tattoos for the next few years.”
While many heavily tattooed teenagers go straight into apprenticeships these days, Bowman didn’t consider it as a career until a while later. The artist began as a carpenter, but he befriended a tattooer after a few years on construction sites and the two began sharing artwork. Inspired by his new contact, Bowman bought a few machines and began inking friends and coworkers out of his home for a bit — but it didn’t take long for him to realize a career change may suit him best.
“After a few months, I had a portfolio of tattoos that I’d done that weren’t too terrible,” Bowman says. “I took that to a biker shop in the area — because where I was from, the nearest tattoo shops were like an hour away — and started there to build a portfolio and get better.”
Once he’d learned the basics under his biking bosses in Pennsylvania, Bowman made the move out to Oakland — where he took a break from his tattooing career to grow weed for a living — before tattooing his way through Europe and then heading down to SoCal. Now that he’s established himself in the local scene, Bowman has become known for his unique take on blackwork.
Without using any color for many of his tattoos, Bowman is able to capture a classic elegance with a modern twist on many of his tattoos. As an artist whose goal is to someday have many people recognize his tattoos when seen in passing out on the street, the Black Diamond Tattoo artist knows that keeping his all-black technique fresh and interesting is the key to his success. But really, his love for blackwork only started because of how popular color tattoos had become in his hometown.
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“Being from a real small town, it always seemed like color tattoos were more of a bargain — like it was really nice if it was red and shit,” Bowman says. “When I started tattooing, I thought that’s what I had to do because everyone wanted color. It’s not like I hate doing color, it’s just that I think there’s something super classy and mysterious about blackwork. I’m down with a lot of different styles, but I just like the classy traditional images that have a little bit more of an illustrative twist.”
Of course, when Bowman first got started in the industry, he wasn’t really worried about carving out a spot for his blackwork or making a name for himself. A little over a decade ago, a lot of the tattooing TV shows were just starting to hit the airwaves and bringing the inside of tattoo shops to people’s homes. Having seen the beginnings of those programs, the laidback Bowman’s biggest concern was that the artform he loved and career he was beginning would end up being a lot more drama and trouble than he was looking for.
“When I started tattooing, it was at the very start of the reality TV tattooing, so I thought that’s how tattoo shops were,” Bowman says. “Maybe that’s why I didn’t get into it sooner. I thought it was just so much drama. I quickly realized it’s not always really like that, and it’s actually super chill a lot of the time. Over the years, I realized it’s about who you’re around, and that drama can be a real thing. It’s kind of silly I think because tattooing is this beautiful, innocent thing. It should be fun and about letting loose.”
Black Diamond Tattoo, 412 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, 310-399-1177, @juddbowman