A Pound of Flesh is a brand widely recognized in the industry with their synthetic limbs increasingly appearing at tattoo shops and conventions, and a quick check on Instagram reveals a generous 15,000+ posts with their hashtags. Shaun Miller and Abraham Cobaxin, the brains behind the company, provide a simple solution to all tattoo apprentices and beginners – a way to learn and practice techniques without having to tattoo actual people.
All artists had to practice somehow prior to APOF’s existence, right? We know that synthetic skin isn’t exactly a new concept, and neither is practicing on yourself or surfaces like pig skin and various fruits. A number of online discussion threads weighing the pros and cons of various practice surfaces exist, and for good reason. In a conversation with Save My Ink, Shaun brought up that “…all of these fall short in being a successful means of learning to tattoo. All of these fail to saturate like tattooing real skin. They also all fail to replicate the contours and shapes of real body parts.”1 This is not news to most tattoo artists.
We all know that an exact replication of human skin is impossible with its reactions and reflexes, but APOF is the next best thing. Their mission to create an experience closest to tattooing real skin2, to cut down on the amount of poorly executed tattoos3, and what started as a means to support themselves during slower tattoo seasons quickly grew to be so much more. Why? Simply because of the quality of the products they put out and the response they received from the community. Not only are beginning tattoo artists and apprentices looking to APOF limbs for practice, seasoned tattoo veterans and professionals are hopping on the APOF train, too. The tattoo world is in a state of constant progression; it’s being revolutionized by industry professionals and artists developing new machines, inks, and more. Every conversation I’ve had with tattoo artists have proved that you have to be passionate and motivated – you have to have that burning desire to push yourself forward, and sometimes that means having an open mind and trying something new. Most of the time, it means that the practicing never stops. What could be a better medium to try out new techniques or equipment or keep practicing than APOF synthetic limbs? These limbs are also a wonderful way to showcase work; it is a physical example allowing potential clients to see how an artist’s work translates from a concept onto “skin.”
Shaun is no stranger to plenty of tattoo artists and us here at Painful Pleasures, but we wanted to know stuff about him that’s not already in another article or interview. We sent along some questions for him to answer and he happily obliged, despite being a busy man.
Besides the need for a better practice tattoo surface, how did APOF come about? What are the background and/or experiences that you and Abraham had that led to this idea of synthetic tattooable limbs?
The main reason for APOF was so that I would be able to depend less on tattooing to make a living. My daughter had just turned one and having to work the long hours of a tattooer wasn’t conducive to being the best Dad I could be. Tattooing is a life style and I embraced it for seven years of my career, but being a Dad is far more important. Abraham wanted to learn to do special effects and learned how to mold his own hand by watching a YouTube video. So the extent of our experience was none.
Can you tell us how you and Abraham came to be business partners, or the “Dr. Frankensteins” as your APOF site describes, in this venture?
Abraham started out as my tattoo apprentice. He eventually started tattooing full time and we worked together in the same shop. When we developed the product, we decided to see how far we could take it.
What you guys created was and still is a huge hit with the tattoo community. Did you expect APOF to blow up like it did? Was it all through word of mouth and getting artists to try them out?
You never expect something you create to become a big deal or successful. It was a big shock that we grew so fast. We started by giving out the APOF hand to a select group of artists to have them try them out. We wanted their feedback and their endorsements. Getting their testimonials and shout outs via social media helped get us to where we are.
Is there anything, from the start of APOF to now, that you would have done differently?
There’s always things that you could’ve done better, but I can’t pinpoint any one thing that I would change. We grew the company as efficiently as we could. Trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves.
Besides APOF, you’re also a tattoo artist with many awards under your belt. Do you have any wise words for other artists out there trying to enhance the industry?
From both an artist’s and a business perspective, my advice would always be to make your own mark. Try to be original. Don’t just jump on the next trend or style of tattooing. If you’re going to try and help the industry, then do it by being innovative. Don’t leech off someone else’s idea.
Tell us a little bit about yourself outside of APOF – family, work, personal interests, etc…
As I stated earlier I have a beautiful daughter. Her name is Evi and she’s four years old. I’m five years married. I spend most of my time at home with my family or traveling. All other free time is spent playing basketball. I’ve played most of my life and is my outlet for any stress I have.
What’s your next move? What do you hope to achieve next?
My next move is to keep innovating the industry with new products to help make traveling and tattooing easier. I also want to keep growing my tattooing and tattoo more going forward.