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Up Close and Personal with Megan Jean Morris

Tattoo by Megan Jean MorrisDan Lorenzo: I know people from all over the world, but I don't believe I know anybody who grew up in Maine. How did you like growing up there?
Megan Jean Morris: Maine was awesome. I actually grew up in a really small - some people would call it a shack. [laughs] It was mostly my dad's garage and then we had some living quarters. It was way out in the woods and we didn't have running water.

No way!
We had a little stream we could get our dishwater from. It was a good stream, you could fish trout out of it.

Did you grow up in the 1800s or something?
[laughs] No! This was Maine! Maine is really behind the times always. No running water. We had a spring for our drinking water and we bathed in the lake at the end of the street.

This sounds like an April Fool's joke!
It's true. I didn't learn how to straighten my hair or pluck my eyebrows until college. [laughs] I was shell shocked in college learning how to not be judgmental of the entire world. I thought I was a hippie in Maine. I was like, I'm a hippie! I'm open minded. And then I realized I'd never been exposed to 98 percent of the other people and when I went to college, I had to learn not to judge sorority girls and learn not to judge people from Jersey. [laughs]

Wait a minute! It's fine to judge sorority girls, but you're telling me you judged people from New Jersey?
[laughs] I judged everyone because I didn't understand how the guys didn't know how to work on cars and I… just had a lot of judgements. I realized that I wasn't open-minded and it was the best thing for me, because then I started accepting people for the way they are and I became interested in how different people are. 

Tattoo by Megan Jean Morris

Did you really discover Talens at age five?
Yes. I painted, well I stamped my best friend's entire naked body in Talens black ink. We got in a lot of trouble. I was always getting in trouble for painting my friends or myself.

I read that you were living hand-to-mouth when you started your apprenticeship. I think being poor and struggling when you're in your twenties is a great experience. Would you agree?
Yeah. When you look back, you realize those are some of the best times of your life because you really appreciate everything. Your life is spontaneous because you don't always have the option to pay for a "simple fix" so you have to be creative and you have to have relationships with other people because you need help. You need rides. You need...

Food?

Food! My friends used to give me their leftovers. 

Your bio says you're a tomboy and now I know why. You know how to work on cars?

Yeah, only in my older age have I learned how to express my femininity and to be in touch with it. In Maine I played with boys and the "cool thing" was to be strong, be independent, don't cry when you fall, climb the highest tree, and be able to ride your bike really fast. That's what was cool in Maine in my area.

Megan Jean Morris,

Your Ink Master bio reads, "She's aware that she comes off as arrogant." I don't see you as arrogant, do you?

Well, talk to me about art. [laughs] I'm not arrogant, I'm opinionated because I think - I have an educated background in art. I'm used to discussing art and having a real opinion about it, and I'm able to back it up. I think a lot of tattooers only now are coming from art school, but a lot of tattooers come from a non-schooled background so they discuss artwork with each other as if it's a social conversation and they don't want to offend anyone. I'm not used to that. I'm not committed to that. I've spent my life trying to get better at this. It means a lot to me and I'm not going to slight myself or other artists who work really hard to accomplish something by making false niceties just so someone feels good about their tattoo or their paintings. I think it's really important to look at something and just say, "Okay - this is why it's working or this is why it's not working," and then you're giving people who have worked hard credit. Art is subjective, but there are fundamentals that can still be judged. I think it's kind of boring if we all just sit around and pretend like, "Everyone's [art] looks great - it's just a matter of preference and personal taste." [laughs]

Going to Europe often has changed my life, I see you went to Rome. Did going to Rome change you as much as going to tattoo conventions for the first time?

[long pause] Yes! Going to Rome has really shifted a lot of things for me. Seeing the level of artistry there and really understanding that a person committed their entire life to one thing and being a master at it...just makes me, I don't know, I'm still processing it. It makes me feel like a hobbyist when I looked at the sculptures there. [sighs] I just couldn't believe it. I was speechless and I'm still speechless. 

I see what you do and I don't assume they could do what you do. I consider you a master in your own right in a different medium.

Yeah… I don't feel like a master. I really don't and I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. 

Tell me about the impact it had on you when you went to Hell City [Tattoo Convention] and saw Nikko Hurtado.
I was barely tattooing at that point when I first went to Hell City. What I felt there was, I realized for the first time that you could create "art" with tattooing. It was no longer just a technical application. The shop I was in when I was in Maine was old school. It had flash on the walls and I was making the needles for the shop, so the first convention I ever went to was Hell City and it blew my mind.

Tattoo by Megan Jean Morris

Time for gossip. Is this the second season in a row that there's romance on Ink Master
[laughs] Apparently. Who was that, Marissa and some other guy?

Tyler.
Yeah, Tyler. They have a real solid thing though. Cleen [Rock One] and I are older than those guys. We've both been through a lot. We're both a little bit guarded. He lives across the country from me so… we like each other, and I think we were both lonely and we're good people and we kind of saw that about each other in the house, so I'm not really sure what it is… but I liking hanging out around him. [laughs] He doesn't drink and I really like that about him, and I noticed he wasn't getting caught up in any of the drama in the house. He seemed like the most solid "good old boy" there.

You're part of the Painful Pleasures family, right?

Absolutely! I like working with companies and people that not only have great products, but good people and companies who have really good customer service. My sponsorships developed organically. Painful Pleasures… it feels like you're dealing with a "mom and pop" company rather than some kind of corporation that's just there to make money. I feel like if I have any questions, I can ask them. I feel like if I want to give feedback on a product, I can and they would find it valuable. Painful Pleasures sends me things to try and I know that they're interested in what we think of their products as their clients and as tattooers, and that's really what a supply company should be about. 

Have you tried Recovery yet? 
I haven't yet. I've given Recovery to some of my clients to try and everything has healed up beautifully, but I have to try it myself when I get tattooed next. Everyone's been really happy with the feel of Recovery. Everybody says, "I love how it feels and I love how it smells." People have said nothing but good things about it. 

What ink do you use for your black and grey work?
I use Eternal Lining Black and then I use Eternal Triple Black.

What needles do you use?
Needles.... I'm down with the Cheyenne cartridges. I've tried others and the Cheyenne are the most consistent for me and I really like the color coding thing that they do so they don't get mixed up on your tray.

 

Tattoo by Megan Jean Morris
For more on Megan Jean Morris, visit www.paintedsoultattoo.com.

 

* Photographs of Megan Jean Morris by Jill Greenberg provided by Spike. Tattoo images provided by Megan Jean Morris