Portrait by Gabriel Maldonado (@dontbejaded)
Kane Navasard’s understated fine line tattooing is a testament to the craft’s unique coupling of established tradition and contemporary progression. Both Navasard’s upbringing and his artistic practice embrace the cultural diversity of the Los Angeles area. Unique imagery and an acute sense of placement draw out the rough beauty inherent in eccentricity.
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
Kane Navasard, Los Angeles, 1984.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I was born and raised in the East Hollywood and Mid-City area of LA. I was the only child of a struggling single parent mother in an Asian-American household. She was tough as nails and let it be known to me that she would support whatever I did in life as long as I didn’t end up in jail. My crowd was rough around the edges, but I never got caught slipping because of those words in the back of my mind. We were constantly on the move between various troubled neighborhoods. Growing up in a Chicano-dominated community had a strong influence on my upbringing. Although I was never in the best environment, I embraced my surroundings as they gave me thicker skin.
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I primarily work out of a private studio in LA and at Midtown Tattoo. In the beginning of my career, I started at a shop called Platinum Ink in Santa Ana. I then landed a spot at Lowrider Tattoo in Orange County, where I truly matured as an artist.
How long have you been tattooing?
I’ve been tattooing for seven years now.
What inspired you to learn tattooing, and what did you initially learn how to tattoo?
Initially, tattooing never came across my mind at all. I was working various dead-end jobs—barely getting by after dropping out of school. The creative field was something I was always into, but I didn’t know what realm of art I was going to dabble in. I was already somewhat heavily tattooed, but never thought of making a career out of it.
I believe it was 2009 when tattooing found me. The idea sparked when I met an artist named Jun Cha. He presented tattooing in a positive and elegant way that encouraged me to take that leap of faith. He gave me some key advice on how to get started, and everything blossomed from there. In the beginning, I was working a lot on script and lettering. I was told that was the one thing that would keep me busy and put food on the table. Being surrounded by gang writing growing up, this was something I picked up easily.
Were you trained through a formal apprenticeship? Describe the circumstances of learning.
I was accepted as a general shop apprentice at Lowrider Tattoo. The shop is known for their fine line black and grey work, as well as their skillful execution of imagery from the Renaissance period. They instilled a strong sense of discipline and expected results which were nothing less than perfect. As an apprentice, I left my emotions at the door. I knew I had to keep an open mind and be open to constructive criticism in order to evolve as an artist. I was always drawing forms, still life, and replicating various statues on paper. I had a rule that, for everything I do, I’m going to do it twice. If I was told something didn’t look right, I had to start all over. Not only was I taught the technical procedures of tattooing, but the shop seemed to put a stronger focus on building positive relationships. Jose Lopez, the shop owner, would always tell me it’s about creating a great experience first for a client. The tattoo comes next. With that being said, they provided me with the formula to brand myself and to stay ambitious in life.
"I’ve always seen those ventriloquist dummies dressed up in a tuxedo which has a sophisticated vibe, so I took that and added the clown make-up to display that sinful neighborhood steelo as well. It’s the best of both worlds, which completely represents who I am as an artist."
Have you previously studied art in an institutional setting? If so, what level of training did you reach and in what disciplines?
I attended school for graphic design for a short while, but dropped out. Although that field wasn’t for me, it wasn’t a complete waste as some of those skills I learned helped in my career as a tattooist. I like being self-sufficient, so it’s great being able to design my own business cards, website, logo, etc. Prior to starting my apprenticeship, I took various drawing and painting courses for a span of two years—just to establish a stronger foundation in art for myself. The courses ranged from drawing anatomy, figure drawing, and drawing from sculpture.
Did that training help as you learned the mechanics of tattooing?
I want to say with confidence that I was able to pick up tattooing fairly quickly due to my previous training. It was easy for me to analyze and break down certain methods and techniques I would see while observing other tattoo artists in the process. I learned that you have to have an approach in whatever you do, the knowledge and skill to accomplish the task, and the motivation to complete it.
How did you develop your style? How would you describe it? What are your influences?
My style stems from LA culture and Chicano art, while using my own subject matter. I kept chiseling away through constant practice and repetition. It just ended up taking a life of its own from there. I scaled down the size of my artwork just to reach the end result faster, and this translated into my tattooing as well. My imagery has a rebellious and classy aesthetic to it. This is exactly what my puppet logo represents. I’ve always seen those ventriloquist dummies dressed up in a tuxedo which has a sophisticated vibe, so I took that and added the clown make-up to display that sinful neighborhood steelo as well. It’s the best of both worlds, which completely represents who I am as an artist.
Have you had or do you have plans to take on apprentices?
At the moment, I don’t have any desire to take on an apprentice. I still feel as if I have a ways to go in this craft, and am still learning something new daily. Maybe after my tenth or 15th year in tattooing I may change my mind. I guess it’d be cool to pass the torch down the line.
What do you look for in a shop?
Good vibes and no lames.
Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
Buying gold chains and shooting dice.
What inspires you generally?
My neighborhood, homies, my mom, and taking risks.
Are any other forms of media, traditional or digital, important to your work?
I’m down with all aspects of art. I don’t want to keep myself in a bubble strictly as a tattoo artist. I think change is crucial, and experimenting with other forms of art is a great way to grow.
"In my perfect tattoo utopia, I hope more variety in content is contributed to the table. I appreciate any artist that has their own style, that is always trying to raise the bar in doing something different."
Is traveling important to you? If so, where do you usually travel? Do you have any interesting experiences abroad that you can share?
Traveling gives me a sense of balance. I think it’s a beautiful thing that I’m able to take my craft and have the ability to work anywhere in the world so easily. It’s a great way to network and expand your audience as well. A handshake goes a long way. I love going to New York. There’s something raw about the city that motivates me. The last time I went to NY I got to work out of Fun City Tattoo. I ended up tattooing the head honcho, Big Steve—that was surreal.
What is the main challenge of tattooing today?
Standing out: social media has unearthed so much talent out there that it’s become overwhelming. Not only do you have to be a solid tattoo artist, but you must know how to market yourself and present yourself to the masses. You can apply the greatest tattoos in the world, but if you lack the knowledge and charisma on how to get yourself out there it’s difficult to make it in this industry. Like Steve Jobs said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
Ideally, how would you like to see tattooing evolve? How do you think it will evolve realistically?
In my perfect tattoo utopia, I hope more variety in content is contributed to the table. I appreciate any artist that has their own style, that is always trying to raise the bar in doing something different. I think tattooing is headed in the right direction, although I do miss the time when you had to earn some visible tattoos. I feel that has lost its magic lately.
You can see more of Kane Navasard’s work on Instagram, Twitter, and online.