From humble beginnings tattooing fruit, Ash Gravino has evolved into a renowned artist. Making the sea change to the Coffs Coast, he has found a strong customer base from people that admire his style. Focus caught up with ash to find out what it takes to tattoo for a living …
You are very well known in the region for your tattoos. Take us back to the beginning; when did you know that you wanted to be a tattoo artist?
I grew up in a home that nurtured an interest in art and music. My father did oil paintings and was commissioned to do the occasional sign writing job or art for T-shirts and trophies when I was a kid. This led to me being a keen drawer from a young age; I guess dad and his friends having tattoos sparked my interest in tattoos, and I always liked the sort of images that were commonly found in tattoo art.
What was the progression to where your career is today?
It all started when I had a weekend job as an assistant in a piercing studio in Parramatta; the lady I worked for had a partner who was a tattooist. I had been practicing tattooing on all sorts of fruit in my fruit bowl and thought I’d better take it to the next level, so I went and sat with him and picked his brain for all the information and tips that I could. Help to get started in the tattoo industry was hard to come by 18 years ago. Eventually he told me about a friend of a friend of his who was opening a brand new studio in Fairfield in Sydney; that’s where I got my start, and the journey has been amazing. Tattooing has changed so much since I started, and its evolution is accelerating … It’s an exciting time to be a part of it.
Have you always lived on the Coffs Coast?
No, I grew up in Sydney’s Western Suburbs, and tattooed there for 10 years. I didn’t think I’d ever leave Sydney, but after several visits to Coffs, the sea change became more appealing. After a little research I discovered that the Coffs Coast has a thriving tattoo culture. I made the move 8 years ago and haven’t looked back.
Tell us about your style …
My style has changed considerably over the years, inspired partially by trends of what people are asking for and partially by improvement in my ability. In the early days of my career, my friends and I would wait three months for a European tattoo magazine to come out to see what sort of artwork they were doing; most of the time we’d be left scratching our heads saying, “Where do you even start?” when we saw what they were achieving …
I enjoy doing custom pieces for clients in many styles; I love when someone messages me with a really cool original and personal idea. I have been leaning towards realism and surrealism for a little while, and more recently I’ve been doing a lot of watercolour style pieces. It’s hard for me to pick a favourite style – maybe because of the diversity in clients I had in my early years, I’ll always be a bit of an all-rounder …
What was your first ever tattoo?
The first tattoo I ever did was a small Bass Clef music symbol on a friend’s ankle; I did it with a tattoo machine that I made from a tape recorder motor, a model train power supply and a sewing needle. It still looks surprisingly OK almost 20 years on – I can’t say that about all of my early attempts though.
What advice would you give to people considering a tattoo, and what is a common mistake people make?
There is so much advice I could give, but to keep it short, don’t make a decision based on anyone else’s opinion. Tattoos are personal, and only you have to live with your tattoo.
When choosing the right artist, a little research will go a long way. Thanks to Instagram and the like we can see amazing examples of tattoo art being done all over the world every day, and it becomes easy to spot the difference between quality tattoos and tattoos done badly.
In the Coffs area there are a lot of talented artists, some with particular styles they specialise in and strengths.
Look at the artist’s portfolio before choosing, and even if they are quite good, make sure they can do the style that you are wanting to get.
Make sure you speak up – tattoo artists aren’t going to be upset if you need to ask a question or you have concerns; again, it is you that has to live with it, and we want you to be happy.
Do you think that tattooing gets enough respect as an art form, or do you think it still carries some sort of social stigma?
Slowly but surely it’s getting more and more respect as an art form. Tattoo art is worn by people of all ages from all walks of life these days. The old negative opinions of some people die hard, but thanks to professional artists striving to improve, tattoo exhibitions, tattoo TV shows, and new technology, tattoo art is becoming more widely accepted.
Out of all the pieces you’ve created, what is your favourite?
I don’t think I’d be able to pick one favourite piece – so many come to mind! There are a lot of people in this area who have come to me with awesome ideas, and I have loved turning them into unique pieces of art.
What do you enjoy most about living on the Coffs Coast?
The ocean! I just got my first surfboard and I’m trying to learn to stay on it! Moving here has been great for my work; the people here are really creative when it comes to tattoo ideas.
I have met the coolest bunch of people since moving here, so hanging out, working with, and playing music with all these friends over the last eight years has been awesome.