You can just look at Megan Massacre and know she’s no stranger to the world of tattoos. Massacre has been tattooing since 2004 and modeling for both national and international publications since 2007. She’s also an animal enthusiast, supporting the ASPCA, PETA and living a vegetarian lifestyle. Needless to say, she’s sort of busy.
But not too busy to design two instantly iconic bikes for Sailor Jerry and Harley Davidson’s Summer Sweepstakes giveaway. She brought her tattoo sensibilities to motorcycle design for a look that will be both classic and cutting edge for years to come. We discussed how she met the unique challenges of decorating a bike, the intersections of tattoo and bike culture and the incredibly intimate process tattooing represents.
Have you always been interested in motorcycles, or were you a newcomer when you were asked to decorate them?
Well, I’ve been a tattoo artist since I was 18 years old and bikes and bikers have always been a huge part of the tattoo culture. So from the very beginning, that was just part of it. The people that I worked with, the people that owned the shops, all of these people were part of the bike community. So it was just part of the style, you know? I always thought it was really cool. My dad always rode bikes, so that always made it seem pretty cool [laughs]. Now I never rode them myself, because I’m really small [laughs]. I don’t think I could pick up a bike, that’s always been a slight fear but I love taking rides with other people and all that. It’s just been a part of the culture that I immersed myself in.
Why do you think those worlds sort of organically meshed together?
Well I think it’s a couple things. There was a period in time where both bike culture and tattoo culture, were considered even more rebellious than they are now. I think that’s why it went hand in hand so well, because it was rare to see a biker that didn’t have a tattoo. It was just part of that rebellious lifestyle. Those were the type of people tattooing at one point in time too. A lot of bikers were tattooing, and a lot of tattoo parlors were owned and ran by bike clubs. The businesses were working hand in hand.
How did being a tattoo artist inform how you approached decorating the bikes you were assigned to customize?
For me, I remember when the project was first presented to me, my first response was “I need to see this bike in person.” Because it was almost as if I would be decorating someone’s body with a tattoo but this being a body of a different sort. For me, when I do that, I need to see the person. If they want their arm tattooed I need to see their arm. I need to see its shape. I need to measure it. I need to see that area so that I can draw something that goes with that part of the body. So it looks like you were born with it. It was the same thing when it came to the bike. I went there, I took pictures, I traced and looked at the parts I’d actually be painting. Then I literally drew them on there like it was a tattoo.
To me it was about putting images that fit, the bike itself, the specific part where it would be, things like that. As far as artwork style, it’s somewhat of my tattoo style but definitely simplified. Mostly because my tattoo style is very detailed and very complicated. For this particular project, that wasn’t going to lend well to the time frame [laughs]. So I streamlined my tattoo style and I knew that I also really wanted a pink bike. I was the only girl, so I felt like I had to represent.
What’s the most complex piece you have created, or what was the most difficult tattoo concept to realize?
Honestly I feel like a lot of my tattoos are the most difficult but I do a lot of really complex animals. I try to make them as photo-realistic as possible. Like literally going in and doing every piece of hair on their face, every little dimple in their nose, every eyelash on their eye. I’m hyper-focused on every aspect of the animal and animals have a lot of hair. They’re very technically difficult. One, in particular, I remember I did this realistic tattoo of this pocket watch and a ribbon. The pocket watch I did real big, with every detail. It was really difficult, it was an antique gold watch with all these markings and numbers and I went through and just did every single one of them. But I love that, what probably sounds like it’s difficult, I like to do those. The more complicated, the better I enjoy doing it.
You mentioned you do a lot of detailed tattoos in that answer, what is it about that specialty that draws you in?
I definitely go through phases but I never stop doing any kind of tattoo I’m comfortable with. Before this I was doing a lot of those Katrina Girls, the girls with the Day of The Dead make-up, that was a thing I did a lot of. I did a lot of flowers, stuff like that. I started doing this dog and cat tattoos when I was doing New York Ink and my friend wanted one of his dog dressed up in Victorian clothes. It was super cute and super fun and this just made people flood in wanting me to dress up their pets and tattoo that onto them. So I have been doing a lot of those but as it has evolved it has gotten more serious and photo-realistic. The trend has died down from the funny portrait and now the more serious portrait is in. But I’m cool with that, because again I really enjoy it. Ever since I did the show, people just think of me whenever they want a dog or cat portrait. I love pets, I work with animals a lot. I work with the ASPCA a lot. I do a lot of events. My store in NYC, Grit and Glory, does a lot of charity and will do stuff like close the whole block down and have a block party to raise money. I just think it’s important to show love to these animals we let into our lives.
So tattoos involve a lot of pain. It’s an incredibly intimate process shared between two people and often people get tattoos about pain. I have friends that got ones of say, a lost loved one for example. Did you ever have a harrowing, emotional, or cathartic tattoo experience?
You know that’s actually pretty common, I actually don’t think it was as common before tattoo television came out. I mean people were still getting tattoos because of emotional stories but that kind of set the tone for that since those shows always were looking for those kind of stories. Not just to get a cool tattoo but it had to do with life and these important situations. So now I have had a lot of clients who aren’t just looking for a tat, but are also looking for some sort of therapy. It’s almost like a therapy session I have with people.
I remember in particular a few years ago. I was tattooing this one guy and he asked me to do a very large wrist piece. Wrist tats are some of the most painful you can get, so you have to break them up into multiple sessions. Not only that, but he couldn’t sit still at all, so I saw him for many sessions over the course of three months. This is a young kid, he was 18 years old and he was a mess. You could just see that he was really struggling. Every time he would come to get tattooed, he would talk a little bit more about why. Bit by bit he started to open up. He eventually was able to tell me why he was getting the tattoo.
The kid told me that his brother passed away in a car accident. This was for his brother and he was having a really hard time but it happened four years ago so it wasn’t incredibly recent. But he was still holding onto it as if it happened yesterday. After a few sessions he brought me in a stack of pictures, around 30 pictures, and he set them down in front of me. He asked “I wanted to know if I could show you some pictures of my brother, so you understand what this is about.” So I look, at this big stack of photos, and the first two were of his brother. The other 27 photos were all pictures of the car that his brother died in. I was like “why are you carrying around these photos?” He said, “I don’t know I’m just so angry.” He was clearly messed up about it so I said, “You know what, can I hold onto these?” He said that was okay, so I told him, “These are safe with me. I won’t lose them.” I held onto those photos for the entire rest of the session. I’m not qualified for therapy at all, I do tattoos but in my mind I just knew this kid shouldn’t be walking around with these photos. So I kept them. Every single session I felt like he was able to seem a bit brighter and by the end of the tattoo he never asked for those photos back. I felt like that was good. As if it was a concrete step for him to move past it. I definitely felt like I was giving him straight up therapy. That’s just one of like a hundred stories I have like that.
How would you approach someone who strongly disagrees with the art of tattooing? What would you say to someone who is a concerned parent, or possessing the stereotypical tattoo paranoia, or someone scared to get one at all?
I have definitely had a lot of people in my lifetime, not so much anymore but towards the beginning of my career people out in public would say, “You messed up your life.” Women would come up and say stuff like, “When you’re a mom you’ll regret that.” People would be concerned I’d never get a job, yadda yadda, those types of things. I mean it’s true but to an extent.
For example, if you want to get a really crazy face tattoo, you have to think a lot about that and what that might mean for your life. But if you don’t know somebody, it’s not your place to say what’s a bad judgment for their life. You don’t know their experience or career. What works for them might very well work just fine for their world. That’s what I’d say, you can’t judge somebody you don’t know anything about. Also honesty is the best policy. Like if your parent tells you you can’t get a tattoo, still do it but only if they aren’t going to get kicked out if they do [laughs]. Just tell them this is who they are and they might be disappointed but they are going to still love and care for who you are.
What kind of tattoos have you refused?
Tattooers do all kinds of different styles. I used to be the kind of artist that did any and every style, especially when I was learning. Now that I’m further in my career I know what I like to do. I know which are my favorite and the ones that I’m best at. So for me, Japanese tattooing is not my forte. Can I do it? Yes, but do I really enjoy it as much as portraiture? Absolutely not. Japanese tattooing has all kinds of rules and makes it turn out a certain way. My creativity just doesn’t work best that way, it’s not loose enough for me. I like to be a bit more abstract and creative in what I draw. So that just doesn’t work out for me. So if someone asked me for the Japanese style, I’d just redirect them to someone who I know does that best. Or even someone who will just enjoy it more. I just believe in honesty and I’ll tell people, “Yeah, you might want this person.” I just like to do what I can have fun with. As for the other parts of the question some people come in convinced they want a massive back piece. Then they hear about all the time, pain, money and suddenly they aren’t as interested [laughs].
To sign up and win one of the bikes she decorated, click here