Photography by Amy Moore of Amy Moore Photography
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
I am TeeJay. I am the owner of both locations of White Tiger Tattoo and have been tattooing professionally since 1991. I work in a variety of media beyond tattooing, but am mostly known locally for my tattooing. My paintings and other artwork are represented at Whitman Works Gallery in Penfield.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Artwork and creating are my passions and I have wanted to be an illustrator of some variety from the time I was very small. As a child my mother would read me Greek/Roman mythology and there were very few illustrations in the books we had. She told me that when I got older I could make better books with more pictures. Over the years the focus changed from print media to tattooing - but the drive is still the same. I want to help visualize the things that we walk around with in our heads.... to share my images and the imagination with the world at large.
How did you get started in your current career? What were some difficulties you faced?
I don’t know what a typical artist looks like or how they get to where they are. I do know that when I was small I wanted to be wise. I wanted to be the kind of person who had answers and that people could come to for learning/advice. I didn’t know at the time what I was asking for. Wisdom comes hard - it comes from making a lot of really stupid mistakes. I did. I made more than my share of poor choices and have gotten to where I am today via a very long and arduous route that included overcoming addictions and homelessness. Today I have been clean and sober for over 30 years. I raised a daughter as a single parent while building my career. None of this has come easily, but they say that nothing truly worthwhile ever does.
In moments of self-doubt, hardships or failure, how do you build yourself back up?
Today I battle my inner demons by working with others. Helping to develop the imagination and spark in others when they have their own moments of doubt. My goals today are simple. Each day, make every possible effort to cause no harm - beyond that if possible try to be a blessing in the lives of those around me. When the darkness tries to sneak back in and drag me into the pond scum I try to force perspective. To remember that my survival rate thus far is 100% and whatever this is - I will get through it as well.
What is your best advice to someone just starting out? What advice do you wish someone had said to you?
I wish that someone would have explained to me that there was never going to be a point in my life where everything would go smoothly - where I would have all of the answers and feel like I have it all together. I think it would have made things simpler to know that we are all winging it. The more questions that we answer, the more that come. Especially for artists I think we will always be pushing ourselves to grow and learn more and that actually can be the best part of the ride if we let it. If you are doubting yourself as a creator, remember that it is all incremental. We try to grow and stretch with each new project. Moving towards what we eventually want our work to become. Every piece isn’t going to be a masterpiece, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile. Every step brings new lessons. Enjoy the process.
What inspires you?
Inspiration is all around. Every single thing that you encounter throughout the day can be seen/heard/interpreted in another way. What would you like it to be? What could it be? What would someone with no explanation see it as? If you could show people the world inside your mind, how would it differ from what is in front of you? How can you show people your world? How can you help them find their own magic?
What is your favorite part of what you do?
In my own work I try to explore my what ifs. To help people see the magic and beauty in the world all around them. In my tattoo work I try to help people feel more comfortable in their own skin - rather that is through decorative or reconstructive tattooing the goal is the same. Or in other words, to help them present their best self to the world - whatever that may mean to them. If there is a challenge in that it is usually with clients who are not in touch with their authentic self and are trying to present what they think others want to see instead of what they truly want to be. Screening those clients can be tricky, no one should get tattooed with an image that doesn’t represent who they want to be.