tanding at the dock, looking out over the water, life calling. The challenge is not in seeing the possibilities of what a boat ride down that river might look like, but in accepting that call and climbing into the boat with both feet. What is on the other side of a decision like that? Only what you make of it. For Jon Squires, an emerging and exciting new tattoo artist, the decision to take both feet off the dock was not arrived at lightly. Nor has his journey thus far been without its fair share of doubt, trials, and soul searching. However, despite everything, the freedom to chart an autonomous course, wherever that leads, has made it all worthwhile.
Though introspective and willing to discuss anything with absolute honesty, Squires doesn’t conform to the typical characterization of brooding artist. He is amazingly funny, warm, and sarcastic as all get out. And through his unique spin on Traditional Americana and Neo-Traditional style, he’s somehow managed to convey that depth of humour, honesty, and emotion into his artwork. Given his incredible creativity and talent, his name is sure to quickly become synonymous with his work, his art definitively identifiable as, “a Squires piece.”
We caught up with Squires over coffee to discuss giving it all up to gain it back and the oft coined variations of the phrase: anything worth doing is bound to be difficult. Moreover, his curmudgeonly old man tendencies, which may require addressing.
What three things can’t you live without?
Food, freedom, and music…I don’t know if that’s what you were looking for, should I have said oxygen? [Laughs]
If you were an inanimate object would you be happiest as a) a paper clip [holding it all together], b) a coffee cup [enabling addiction], c) a street sign [telling people where to go], or d) a piece of gum stuck to a park bench [sticking it to all of them]?
J: I would be the paper clip, one hundred percent. In a lot of situations, I end up being the one holding shit down (believe it or not)!
BW: I thought you might choose the gum; you’re kind of sarcastic.
J: Ha! No, well, I am super sarcastic but any sarcasm is usually just in jest. I’m a pretty hopeful and introspective person, so it’s not a defense mechanism or you know, an outlet for anger I’ve experienced since puberty [laughs].
What one thing could you really do with less of?
Pessimism. Pessimistic people have an edge, and it changes the climate of the room.
When did you first realize being creative was something you just had to do full time?
J: I’ve wanted a creative career for a long time; I always wanted to be a musician. My teaching career was a backup plan, you know, Plan B. But of course, Plan B always makes a little more sense than Plan A. Most people who have a Plan B end up following that path.
BW: You can get trapped in it…
J: Exactly. It’s the one with the stable paycheque, benefits, and retirement plan. When I finished my degree, it made sense at the time. It was much easier to get a job teaching than it was to become a rock star, you know?
As fate would have it though, I started getting tattooed early on in my teaching career and having drawn most of my life, it kind of just clicked. I found this whole new outlet for being creative [tattooing].
Why did you choose the medium of tattooing to express your creativity?
J: I’m not one of those artsy fartsy types who just look at a wall and see something amazing out of paint smears. I love artwork, I love looking at artwork, I love creating artwork, but honestly, it became a way I could make money doing something I love (drawing) and have the lifestyle I wanted.
BW: It’s also a tactile way of getting your work out there right?
J: Yeah, I mean, for the sake of the interview I’d love to have this great answer like, ‘oh, just the permanency of my art on peoples bodies and tapping into their emotions, and hearing about all their problems…’ but, no. None of that stuff occurs to me. I love spending time with people, but I have no delusions about being a therapist as a tattooist. At the end of the day, I just really want to draw, man. [Laughs]
Walk us through your creative process…how do you carry a sketch concept through to being ‘tattoo’ ready?
J: It is, to some degree, a collaboration between the client and me. A client will start by bringing in reference photos and I try to get into their heads about what they want to see if it translates. The most stressful part is the composition, the drawing stage. It’s way easier to please clients with your work than yourself sometimes.
Once I’ve figured out what they want, I build it into what I think works as a tattoo, and an image, but also how it works with the body…how it works within the space they’ve given me. I do my own reference research as well to tie in their concept with my style. I think that s pretty much what every artist does. Most of us don’t live in a vacuum; we all draw inspiration from various places and make it our own.
Once you’ve got the concept down its fairly easy to transfer the image and go.
BW: Is there certain stuff you won’t do?
J: Yeah, stuff that’s completely outside of my style, like photo-realism. I mean, it looks really cool when done well but that just isn’t how my brain works!
BW: Hello Kitty?
J: No I would do a Hello Kitty [laughs], why not.
Most people that come to me now have seen the portfolio and are coming specifically for my style, but I basically do any piece that I can do justice to and that will translate well as a good tattoo.
How would you describe your current tattooing style?
J: Most of the stuff I do is Traditional or Neo-Traditional. Traditional Americana is the old-school sailor stuff, etc. Neo-Traditional is the revival of that, but the term is fairly broad. You’re taking old school tattoo composition but drawing with more depth and perspective, using more advanced techniques and tools.
BW: Is that how you’ve always drawn?
J: Yeah, I was always drawn to bold lines and strong colours. Well done Traditional pieces are timeless, and when you see the work after a few years it still looks really good. Growing up on the east coast, Traditional imagery just speaks to me. It’s not a conscious nod to my roots, I just enjoy anything with anchors, flowers, skulls, ships, compasses, and animals; Native American stuff too. Their regalia, it’s intricate and colourful; their artwork is geometric and focused around nature, aspects I really appreciate.
What’s your favourite portfolio piece to date?
The simple banner heart pieces, with their intense colour saturation and depth, are great. I really like the Native American pieces, such as the one with the woman wearing a lion headdress.
How do you see your style progressing?
J: There’s something about doing the small little pieces, knocking out little pieces that can tie into other things. I’m working on a few sleeves right now; the real challenge is making sure the bigger pieces have some flow.
Obviously, every artist wants the ability to be more selective. I’m becoming more selective as I go along, but I’m still new to the game. To gain as much exposure as possible, I’ve made it a personal goal that every time I travel somewhere cool, I’m going to make a connection and get tattooed.
BW: Did I see you just recently got inked again on your most recent trip to L.A.?
J: I did, yeah. It’s a rose with a banner that has my wife’s name on it. It’s on my leg. Super romantic! [Laughs]
Who are your tattoo heroes?
The artist who tattooed my leg, Jacob Doney (based just outside of L.A.), is super cool. His line work is so solid and clean.
Kirk Jones (in Melbourne) and W.T. Norbert (in Sydney) are two other artists I admire. I’ve had work done by both of them. When you see their tattoos you immediately say, ‘that’s a Kirk piece’ or ‘that’s Norbert’s work’. Their work would be classified as Traditional, but they have made it their own and kept to their unique style despite the critics (and there are always critics). I find that very admirable.
Any other creative mediums you would like to try your hand at?
J: I love woodworking. It requires expensive tools and space, but I think I could really get into it. I really love furniture made with reclaimed materials, you know, stuff that looks like Jesus built it? I’d have a workshop where the snow is quietly falling outside and I’m tinkering away, but who knows. I’d probably get into it halfway saying, ‘this shit is hard,’ and end up with a half built canoe in my living room for the next six years…
BW: Strange Pinocchio dolls hanging from the walls…
J: Yeah [laughs], just a collection of real strange shit.
Having put one foot in the boat, then two, what vision do you have for life going forward?
It’s about pursuit of contentment. I’m happy but I’m never satisfied. My vision for how this plays out is always in relation to how much freedom I have and how much I’m enjoying what I’m doing. 20 years from now, I think my life will look a lot like it does now; it’s just that I’ll have a greater deal of autonomy.
Talking about getting into the boat, the only times I felt like jumping back on the dock were times when others weren’t as supportive as I’d hoped. But negative opinions or lack of support doesn’t (and shouldn’t) dictate or change the course of what you’ve decided to do. If anything, it makes you more mindful of setting out with sincere intention and being committed to your vision for your own life.