We really do believe all of our artists are known for creating some of the best tattoos in the industry. But when it comes to Realism, Ryan Jenkins has a reputation that some would consider celebrity status. Although, he’s not comfortable with that at all.
My daughter will sometimes pull up Google images of me and my work and show them off.
“I have tattooed celebrities. I’ve been called one. But I don’t necessarily like that, it’s a lot of pressure for me.”
It might be his humble, down-to-earth nature that has kept him grounded, in a neon-lights, psychedelic world called Las Vegas where anything goes. It’s not always easy out there to stay true to your art, when the party really never stops.
Coming to Vegas was the best for my family. But it took a year to learn how to live out here. Even school starts at 9am—they expect you to be out partying. I needed to learn how to take life seriously and tattooing seriously. I had to put a cap on the lifestyle because I’d be too tired and fall off track really quick. And I love working with Hart & Huntington so I’m not going to let that happen.
Ryan uses the word, love, and means it. He had two major goals for himself growing up: making a career with his art and working at Hart & Huntington. And he achieved them both.
My friends and I made the newspaper tagging schools. That wasn’t a good thing, but the talent was there. After school, I started driving a truck. Then the show, Inked, aired and that was it. Because of that show, because of Carey Hart, who I think changed the world, I said, I can do this.
“ I made a homemade machine and practiced. I became an apprentice and said, I will work for H&H one day. And here I am.”
He comes from honest roots and he’s an artist first, then a tattoo artist.
My mom was a fine artist. She sold paintings and even designed blueprints for Navy ships. I would always draw next to her.
Although, she wasn’t crazy about tattoos at first.
She’s a Mormon, so she didn’t like the idea of me being a tattoo artist at first. But I am the only child that is making a living from art and that’s really important to her.
Breaking into the business is never easy. Ryan’s first wife opened a door, talking to a shop owner who had an opening. He soon became an apprentice, but true to many artists’ experiences, it wasn’t sunshine and roses.
My mentors started pushing me backwards. They were hating on me. I think it was because I was better than them, because of my art background. But I learned a lot. I cleaned a lot. It was some ‘wax-on, wax-off’ stuff.
Today, Ryan is about to take on his first apprentice, his daughter. He plans to be a very different mentor than what he had coming up.
My goal is to get artists on the fast track. It doesn’t have to be all cleaning for months. I want them drawing soon so we can focus on technique. We will learn to clean. But I want to take on someone who can be better than me. This is what I plan to do with my daughter.
Although Ryan supports his daughter in this career, he’s also cautious about her getting into the scene.
If she tattoos in Vegas, she’ll have an endless supply of clients. This career can put her through school. But there is a downside. There are a lot of people who are shady. People party. I don’t want her exposed to that.
What she will get is the training and teaching from an artist who does portraits that you almost need to do a double take on, because of how real and alive they look. And with every piece, Ryan only gets better.
“Every time I lay down a portrait it gets sharper, more dimensional. I get better. I look back on my first tattoos and I think, wow, they suck.”
Today, clients are blown away when they see what he’s created for them. Some of his most memorable moments are when he draws memorial tattoos. One in particular was a piece for a woman’s father, whose story was similar to Ryan’s own. The experience had them both emotional.
She talked about who he was and how he died and there were a lot of similarities. My dad passed at a young age, at 45 years old. She cried when the tattoo was finished because it looked just like him. The experience just sticks out to me.
With every piece he does, Ryan only finds ways to up his game. He attributes part of his professional growth to Hart & Huntington, because the artists really do support each other and help each other grow. But for as much as his craft means to him, Ryan’s ultimate purpose is being a dad.
“I want to be remembered as a father. And one who shares his art with his children.”
You can’t get much more real than that.