The Beautiful World of All or Nothing Tattoo
by Joy Surles
Available in Tattoo Masters Magazine
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I sat in front of a pile of mail that had accumulated for a few months. I was serving as the editor of Art and Ink Publications. There had been an interlude with no editors as the offices had transitioned from Hoboken, New Jersey to Charlotte, North Carolina, and the mailed submissions had gotten backed up pretty deep. One of my duties as the editor was to sort that mail. I sent back what didn’t make the cut and sorted the rest of the images into folders for possible future use.
The job was new, so I was still having a lot of fun. I opened envelopes, cursed my paper cuts, and sorted tattoos into piles like “Arms,” “Zombies,” “Japanese,” and “Back Pieces.” Some of the tattoos were pretty cool, and some of them looked like they’d been applied with Crayola. Overall, though, they all looked like tattoos – even the best ones. They looked like the tattoos you’d always looked at – rebellious, sexy, and fun, sure, but nothing that really rocked my world. But then, I got my first submission from All or Nothing. It was a pretty thick envelope, and what I found inside took my breath away. These images were not just tattoos; they were works of art. The colors were amped up so much that it was hard to believe they could be real. The high-impact images weren’t just stamped on the bodies of the wearers; they had been carefully constructed, artfully considered, and applied to become integral parts of each body. The people in these pictures had been transformed.
This collection was not just a bunch of tattoos – this was art. This was about what Michelangelo was doing on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. This work required the level of skill that went into constructing a Shakespearean sonnet. This was a Renaissance, and I was in a position to watch it unfold, to spin the story of these master craftsmen as their works evolved into a more than a fad, more than a moment – I was witnessing the birth of a movement.
These images changed everything.
Another part of my duties as the editor of this magazine syndicate was to select the artists we would feature in each issue. I chose Brandon Bond as the first artist to feature in our flagship publication. I contacted him via email, and I was impressed with his friendliness, his openness to discussion, and his eagerness to cooperate on the story. I’d been warned that tattoo artists could be divas sometimes – inaccessible, indifferent, and difficult to pull into dialogue. Brandon, however, was like a stick of dynamite. I sent him a list of starter questions, just to get the ball rolling in our conversation, and he replied with paragraphs upon paragraphs – funny, insightful, and smart writing that was full of insight into his art and his business. He set a high bar as the first artist I worked with, as his open, approachable attitude is seldom replicated in the tattoo world.
This self-declared media whore loves his press, and he has taken some flack in the tattoo industry for his affection for attention. And it is true, the man loves his paparazzi; however, my impression of his openness to the media was that it was not sycophantic. He did not kiss my ass (although I think he did ask me if I’d like my ass kissed). His openness is a refreshing reinvention of the closed-world approach to tattooing.
Tattooists earned that hardened attitude through decades of being marginalized and associated with the underworld. The hardened shell on these nuts can be difficult to crack, but Brandon Bond made interviewing easy and fun.
The openness that Bond brings to the table and that he has instilled in his team of tattooists represents a change in the tattoo world that is refreshing. Tattoo art is everywhere, and it is no longer a marginal art form or lifestyle. All or Nothing has opened their doors to shed some much-needed light in the dark world of tattooing.
In that first article for Skin Art, Bond had recently released his book Whore. I pored over the book, decompressing the life, the inspiration, and the stream of conscious ruminations of the subject of my article. It was interesting to compare the life of the man I was discovering through our series of interviews with the life that was revealed in Whore. The Brandon Bond I spoke with was light, funny, approachable, and energetic. The Bond that emerged in the pages of Whore was dark, driven, and formidable. It became clear that both sides were accurate. Whore reveals the underside of Bond’s public persona, and to understand the man behind the art truly, you must read this presentation of his life story.
Around the same time, my husband was wrapping up the grunt-work of a tattoo apprenticeship at a small biker shop in town. He’d learned the basics of how to tattoo. He could clean tubes all day, sweep floors, operate a tattoo machine, and draw flash-style designs for the tattooist who had trained him; however, he had learned very little about the art of tattooing. He had been tattooing for a few months, but he was dissatisfied with what he could accomplish technically, and felt like his work was growing stagnant. When I landed the gig with Art and Ink, we hoped it would be an opportunity for him to meet new artists and to grow creatively, and when I showed him the magic that was All or Nothing’s portfolio, we both got excited.
That September, we attended the North Carolina Tattoo Expo in Greensboro, where Brandon won his second Artist of the Year award, and we had the opportunity to meet Brandon Bond and some of the other guys on his team. He invited us into his color-blending seminar, and it changed everything.
In the 90 minutes or so that my husband spent listening to Brandon explicate his process for blending colors, he discovered more about tattooing than he’d learned in his entire apprenticeship. The clear, precise explanations of his signature techniques made it easy to understand, and Brandon provided a living gallery of his clients to illustrate each point.
Again, I was astonished by the juxtaposition of premier-quality tattoo artwork with open, honest conversation. I was impressed by the generosity of an artist who would stand before a group of people and give away his trade secrets. I was impressed by his humility (which is not something Brandon is known for) in saying, “I didn’t make this stuff up. I learned it from guys like Joe Capobianco who have been blending colors this way for years.”
Yes, he charges for his seminars. Yes, he makes money for sharing his techniques. However, his willingness to share information in the cutthroat tattoo business represents a substantial change in the way tattoo artists are doing business these days. The All or Nothing team works collaboratively, and no artist passes through that studio without leaving it with a more impressive portfolio. This team’s generosity in sharing how and why they do what they do changed everything.
Testimonials From People who’ve purchased The Whole Enchilada!
The Whole Enchilada made me realize how bad I suck, and how to correct the problem.
Tom Deibler Dragon Wind Tattoo LLC Alarion PA united states
The whole enchilada is two hours of nut up or shut up.
Sean Lanusse @ infinity tattoo Portland, or USA
The whole enchilada takes you from the minor leagues to the hall of fame all while sitting on the couch. Once an artist learns the mechanics of tattooing the needed skills and insight to convert the loftiest of ideas into giant paychecks becomes difficult . Unless you are a sibling of a top tattoo artist, there are effects that will elude you for decades even as a working pro. Bond demystifies the jedi-mind tricks of tattooing. If this is how you feed your family, you cannot afford to NOT own this series.
Danny , LOST TATTOOS, South America.
This DVD made me spankin’ rich !
Aivanne, Black Sheep Tattoo, Geneva Switzerland
I learned that no matter how long you’ve been tattooing there’s always something to learn. I’ve always been afraid to do color work because I started as a black n’ grey artist. After watching the “Whole Enchilada” and paid attention to what Brandon Bond said I now FEEN for color and want to do more and more color. Thank you Obi-Bond Kenobi, you’re the best!
Painful Thoughts Tattoo
Perris, CA, USA
PS right off to watch it for the 9th time cheers mate
Hey man, I just got “The Whole Enchilada” in the mail yesterday. I’ve watched it twice already. I just want to let you know I’m very happy with my purchase. I have never taken any seminars and this video let’s me take yours over and over. Today is my day off, but I’m already thinking of what I can do on my apprentice if I go up to the studio later. Also, I feel like I’ve been missing something. I see myself taking seminars in the future from other artists I respect and admire as well. Not only that, but I’m thinking about getting some work from you when I get some money saved. It may be a while since I have kids and all, but I’m sure that once I begin to apply the knowledge I gained from your video the cash will start rolling in. Thanks again for being such a driving force in the tattoo industry.
Sincerely, Doug Garcia Tattooer Body Effects Tattoo
Dear Mr. Bond,
My name is Michael Norris. I am a tattoo artist at a tiny little street shop in a tiny little town in Arkansas. I ordered your Whole Enchilada DVD a couple of weeks ago and I just wanted to tell you how much I liked it. And how much I appreciate you sharing you knowledge. I had heard about you from articles in magazines and some of them gave the impression that you were a complete d**k. I think after watching the DVD that that is most definitely not true. Anyway, I do tiny little tattoos, mostly flash and probably 50 percent of that is cherry creek. I watched your DVD and I am learning about how to steer a client into a much better decision when it comes to a tattoo. I have started doing a lot of tattoos for very cheap just to show people what can be done and hopefully it won’t be long and people will start wanting larger custom stuff. You have inspired me in many ways, I am definitely drawing more so that when someone wants a custom piece I can come up with something that they will love and that will be fun to do. Your color blending technique has paid off already. I did a butterfly yesterday that was about the size of a business card, or smaller and I had some of the best blends I have ever done in it. I have never been happier after doing a 60 dollar butterfly. So even if people are getting smaller tattoos for a while, at least I will be able to take more pride and satisfaction in them. Thank you again.
My husband left that seminar in Greensboro itching to tattoo. He applied his first full-color piece using the color blending techniques he’d learned the very next night, and it was truly a relaunch of his career.
I assisted Brandon with his seminar video The Whole Enchilada during that same session, which opened this information to the rest of the tattoo community. If you are a tattooist who hasn’t seen it, get it. Like stop what you’re doing, and order it right now. It will change everything.
Through the intervening years, I’ve been a sometimes collaborator with the guys at All or Nothing, from writing about their work for various magazines to covering them extensively in my two book projects from Wolfgang Publications (Tattoo: Behind the Needle, which features Brandon as the premier artist, and Tattoo: From Idea to Ink, which includes several All or Nothing artists and is chock-full of their art). I’ve reviewed their DVDs, watched artists come and go, and been honored to witness the evolution of this dynasty. From the All or Nothing team’s involvement with pit bull rescue to the Vicktory to the Underdog initiative to rehabilitate the dogs saved from Michael Vick’s compound, it has been an honor to be a witness to this remarkable team.
The best part is, it’s not over. These guys are still cranking out high-volume, high-quality artwork. They are still teaching and learning, growing and regrouping. They are still on a mission to conquer the freakin’ universe, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to come next.
Joy Surles is a writer in Charlotte, NC, and she is the author of Tattoo: Behind the Needle and Tattoo: From Idea to Ink.
You can see her husband’s work at www.GeraldGaddyTattoo.com.