What sets you apart from realism and caricature tattoo artists. What makes someone want a Cecil Porter tattoo and what defines your style, color and use of lines?
I would have to say my use of color. I brought everything that I ever learn from 20 years of illustration into my tattooing. You can see that in my hard lines and edges. In realism, it is to take the piece and make it look as close to the photo as you can. I never try to do that I absolutely do not want to do that. I feel that I am a photocopy machine. In the tattoo world, that’s huge. The closer you can get it to the photo, the better you are. But I came up in the illustration world, and if you do that that’s not impressive. What sets you apart in illustration is being able to find those things that to you make that person who they are, and exaggerate them. I do it in my tattooing and with my color. A lot of my illustration stuff now is more caricature. But I still take an artistic approach with my tattoos. Say I’m doing a Clint Eastwood. I’ll make all the edges sharp. There will be no curves. It automatically makes him feel grittier. And if I’m doing a Scarlett Johansson, then everything’s curved and soft. And I’ll make the eyes bigger and they’ll angle them slightly down and I’ll make the lips for those kind of things make it more than the reference. Then I just attack it with as much color as I can. That’s good and it’s bad. It kind of puts me in a niche of a niche. Because you have to like that kind of color usage and that exaggeration to want to come to me. But the other side of that is that if you like that then I’m one of your only options. But if you look at color portraiture as a whole, there are a lot more artists that are good at making it look like a photo then there are that will take it and do what I do with it.
So even though it’s a smaller niche, and there’s not a lot of guys doing it so I get a lot of work because there aren’t many other options. When I first moved to Southern California, I would get emails that would say “Hey I want a color portrait, but can you do it like Nikko”. So for a couple years, I would try to manipulate my style to fit them. Which, working in the illustration industry, you kind of learn that. Because when you work for a studio, your work has to look like the studio. So I could do it somewhat. I can never be a Nikko Hurtado, there’s only one Nikko Hurtado. But it just bummed me out, because I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to do, my style. Eventually I said screw it, I’m going to do the colors the way I want to. For a couple of years it hurt me. Until I started to build it up. At first people said it looks wrong. And then more of art-minded people started seeing it, and liked it.
Who are some of your influences and how have they impact your style as an artist?
My first influences in art were guys like Norman Rockwell, JC Leyendecker, Basil Gogos. Guys that just dominated with color. Especially in Basil’s case. That guy threw color around like it didn’t even matter. And it looks amazing. As I got older, guys like Simon Bisely, and Jim Murray, it was their color that got my attention. And then I knew what I wanted to do so I would just get any literature on color that I could find. I would make color theory tests for myself. What I found out is that the more into the professional side of the industry I get, the more I see that most people don’t use color like that. There are some who know color theory and their work is amazing, but their not as expressive with color. Not like Basil Gogos used to be, or Simon Bisely.
A lot of guys do it on a subtle level, and that works, and it looks great, but you don’t see guys who go crazy over the top with color like they did, not in realism anyway. For me it’s always been color. Whenever I just let myself go with the color, that’s what makes it fun. Not every job you get, especially in illustration, do you get to go crazy. One of the better things about being a freelance artist is that people will hire you because of your portfolio, not because of the studio you work for. So you get more freedom to be more expressive. Once you get to a certain level in tattooing, people come to you for the style you do, specifically. People come in, more often than not, they understand that I’m going to do just crazy, stupid color. To try to go the other way now, it’s a struggle. Once you train your eye to see those colors and exaggerate them, it’s hard to go back the other way.
Do you you see you and your family staying in Portland for awhile or do you have any future goals in ?
We love it here in Portland! However there’s a school I want to go to in San Diego, CA., that’s one of the most prestigious places for illustration. For some reason if you say you live in New York or California, they take you more seriously in the world of illustration, especially if you freelance. As a tattoo artist, I can be anywhere but I would still love to do more illustration. I don’t have the name for that which I have in tattooing. The opportunity to learn and grow as an artist may reside in San Diego at some point in the future as I continue to develop as an illustrator…
What are the positives/negatives about the tattoo industry right now?
I would say that the biggest change is that it’s not taboo anymore. Since it’s been on TV it has become more accepted. So now I know people who are just killing it as artists, becoming tattooists. There are even kids going to art school with the intention of coming out and being tattoo artists. Alot of old school tattooists might not like this, but anything that’s raising the qualityof the art is great. There are a lot of negatives – Every kid who doesn’t want to work a job sees those shows and think they can be millionaires, and hang out with rappers and party all day. So they go and get an apprenticeship at some crappy shop. He doesn’t really learn anything at puts out bad quality tattoos.
What’s a typical day for Cecil Porter?
I get up around eight, get here around nine thirty after I spend time with Ashley and the kid. Set up, start working. If I’m tattooing that day, get my tattoo done. Go home, eat dinner, come back and work on illustration stuff. I usually get home around three thirty or four and just crash out and start all over again.