A Japanese tattoo artist who was blown away by his encounter with Filip Leu and Ichibay, and has devoted his life to the Japanese style from 1999 to the present day. Let’s get to know him a little better and hear about his interpretation of the Dragon in an eBook where he will reveal all his secrets…

Hi Jamie, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
I’m Jamie Macpherson (aka Ninjamie) owner of Hidden Dragon Tattoo in Vancouver, Canada.

Jamie Macpherson, Hidden Dragon Tattoo, Vancouver, Canada
Jamie Macpherson, Hidden Dragon Tattoo, Vancouver, Canada

When did you start tattooing and how would you define your style?
I started tattooing in ’99 under a traditional apprenticeship at a typical biker run shop. They hired 19 year-old me, because I could draw custom work for challenging customers, and they were impressed by my artistic ability (I have been making art my entire life and wanted to work a job where I could produce art for a living). Back then I was striving for a comic book style similar to Todd McFarlane or John Romita Jr. Part of my apprenticeship was to study the piles of tattoo magazines that my mentor had collected over the years. I started to see all the things I liked about comic art in Japanese Tattooing.

The bold brush stroke lines, the contrast, the graphic simplicity and of course the folklore and stories all reminded me of the super hero comics I had been studying.

Did your style change over time?
My early attempts at learning Japanese tattoo design was to try a modern twist on it. The magazines had shown me the wide range even in Irezumi from Canadian tattooing, Paul Jeffries and the Dutchman with their bold colour choices and artistic rendering which was distinctly different from the traditional works from Japan where the art was based on Ukiyoe prints and had style that varied from tattoo family to tattoo family and region to region. But the thing I was particularly drawn to was the European school of Japanese tattooing, innovated by the likes of Filip Leu, Mick from Zurich, and Luke Atkinson, to name a few.

They pioneered an updated form of Irezumi that followed traditional rules, but wasn’t visually connected to any one family of Japanese tattooing. The dragons could all look different, the backgrounds flowed like comic book elements and the finger waves had been evolved into something very special that had never been done before. I later travelled to Europe to gain a deeper understanding of this style and made friends with my heroes along the way. After being tattooed by Filip Leu on one of my trips I met Ichibay (tattoo artist and painter from Tokyo) and he really helped me drop old habits that were showing up in my Japanese style. We painted together for a few days and I learned so much about using the correct mediums and types of brushstrokes to use. This helped me to refine my style down to a traditional Japanese layout combined with European flow. I felt this best suited my defining style as I am also European (born in Yorkshire, England).

Is it important for you to also paint and draw besides tattooing?
I feel it is important to do art outside of tattooing to find that thing to represent who you are in this big world of tattoo. I have been making art since I could hold a pencil and have always used many mediums, including making music and practicing martial arts. Martial arts have helped me to discipline myself better and organize my studies more.

Music makes me think of parallels in storytelling and reminds me of how everything has its fundamentals.

Why does someone become a heavy metal player and someone else writes country music? It’s these things that define us as artists so we can stand alone or join a genre. Likewise, I find that when I approach Japanese tattooing now, I work within limitations and follow rules that I have learned, but then I also like to paint abstract surrealism where I can let loose and the sky is the limit.

What are your favourite subjects and techniques?
I like to use a background wash, for example when I start surrealist works and build up shapes from what I see in the paint splotches rather than trying to pull something from my head. Then I can watch as it unfolds and the inspiration comes from the process. I also like to approach my work with enthusiasm rather than trying to solve an equation. I want to be having fun through the process instead of feeling like it’s a race to the end. Enjoying being in the moment of creating. You need to enjoy subject matter and I think it shows in the work when you do.

Where did the idea of this eBook come from?
My love of dragons inspired my eBook “Dragon Secrets” and I wanted to give more than just templates and stencils for people to copy. I have compiled broken down forms and parts of dragons rather than step by step so people can piece together their own dragon. This way it ensures that it will be completely different every time and from person to person. More like a study tool. I’ve taken many notes over my travels through the years from legendary artists and great friends who have helped me on my journey. This book is my little way of thanking our beloved tattoo community and I hope it will be helpful to everyone who checks it out.

What are your projects for the future?
In the future I will compile more of my sketchbooks that cover so many subjects and I am also working on a tattoo related comic book which is a lot of fun. Stay hungry and enjoy your life in tattooing!

Follow Jamie on Instagram: @ninjamie_tattoo