Don Ed Hardy at the 2018 Bay Area Tattoo Convention

Don Ed Hardy at the 2018 Bay Area Tattoo Convention

Bay Area Tattoo Convention

December 3, 2018

Photography by @S_ENSE

We are pleased to present a profile on the eminent American tattooist, Don Ed Hardy. Video excerpts from the full conversation, which took place at the 2018 Bay Area Tattoo Convention, can be seen below.

My name is Ed Hardy. I was born in Iowa while my father was away in World War II, but I grew up in Southern California. My father is English—he’s from Yeovil, Somerset.

I started tattooing while I was finishing art school in 1967. At that time, I was on a career track to go to Yale, where I had a scholarship for a graduate degree as a printmaker—a classical etcher.

There were no formal apprenticeships when I began tattooing. The first guy to really help me out was Phil Sparrow. He was a closeted guy who used to tattoo in the Midwest before coming out to California. The first day I was in his shop he showed me a book of Japanese tattooing and when I saw it I thought well, instead of going to grad school, I’m going to become a tattooer. I’d been interested in tattooing since I was a kid, but I first got into the practice because I wanted to do Asian-style work.

That’s what I got famous for but I kind of did everything: I had street shops; I was the first Westerner to move to Japan and tattoo there. When I came back from Japan in 1973 I opened the first private, appointment-only shop in San Francisco where I’d ask people to bring in their own ideas. In those days, tattooing was all done by flash and very few tattooers were able to do custom work. That changed it around: a lot of tattooers from all over the world began to come and get tattoos by me.

I paint, draw, and travel. My hobbies are in art history and literature. I’ve been coming to the Bay Area Tattoo Convention for years and years. I live in San Francisco, so I’m just a short distance away.

There’s tens of thousands of talented people tattooing today, which is great—it’s exploded in a way we never thought it would. It’s terrific that it’s become a career option for young people with an art interest and a passion to do it. I think the main challenge of the art form now is to do something unique enough to make a living out of it.