Every tattoo is different. This art form is permanent and personal, especially for the people who create it. On a mission to ink our own skin, we researched and tracked down some of the best tattoo artists in Dallas for an ongoing series.
Upon stepping in the front door of J. Hall Gentleman Tattooers, you're greeted by a friendly “butler” (heavily tattooed receptionist in a T-shirt) who welcomes you into the institution (tattoo shop), and offers you a bottle of water (Fiji!). If you have ever been to a tattoo shop before, you know this type of reception is not the norm. Generally, there’s a snarling guy blaring death-metal and answering your questions with the deepest sense of ennui. Which is why Josh Hall, founder of J. Hall Gentleman Tattooers, set out to create a much different experience.
Hall’s shop, located in the Cedars district, is furnished with lush velour couches and hardwoods. Over the loudspeaker, death-metal is replaced with Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé. Each of these details was not without plenty of forethought. “I wanted to create a place where I wanted to get tattooed,” says Hall. “The only way to survive in this business is to be nice to people and take care of them.” Twenty years ago, though, Hall’s setting wasn’t quite so luxe.
After giving his first tattoo at age nine, a “hand-poked” job carried out with needles and India ink, Hall took an apprenticeship with a tattooer buddy. After a while, he decided that he wasn’t ever going to be able to make any money as a tattoo artist, so he enrolled in paramedic school, and spent eight years working in the field. In the meantime, though, he continued to work at tattoo shops as a piercer, when a co-worker asked if he wanted to start learning how to do tattoos. “I figured out that I could make a lot better money tattooing than working on an ambulance, and that very quickly changed my outlook,” he says.
His first “real” tattoo in a shop, a blue-and-black nautical star, turned out OK. “I’m not going to say I never did a bad tattoo in my time, but even from the beginning, they were passable,” says Hall. “It’s not like I was tearing chunks out of people or anything.” From there, he continued his progress in street shops, doing as many tattoos as he possibly could. “If there’s 30 people waiting to be tattooed and two tattoo artists, one of you is going to make more money than the other.
Fortunately, Hall quickly learned that he was, well, quick. In fact, he brags that he is “the fastest tattooer that you have ever seen in your entire fucking life.”
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“I don’t judge anyone for working at their own pace, my pace just happens to be significantly tuned up from other people’s,” says Hall. “I recognize that I am not the norm in that respect.” Hall says, he can cover your entire back in ink in less than four hours, probably a quarter of the time that most shops in the city would quote you.
He’s further found a niche as the guy that you come to when you have a really bad tattoo. Cover-ups have become Hall’s specialty, especially projects that other artists have turned down. The worst ever happened a couple of months ago, when a woman came into his shop with a “werewolf thing,” that Hall says looked more like a bathmat than anything else, in size and in shape. “I put a big ole’ fuckin’ wolf head over it,” says Hall. “That was a big fucking tattoo, man. Probably the biggest, nastiest cover-up I’ve ever done.
Cover-ups are relatively common in the tattoo world, a fact that Hall attributes to human stupidity. Often, when someone decides that they want a tattoo, they want it right then. There’s an immediacy to the urge to get tattooed, whether it’s because you’re too scared you’ll chicken out or because you’ve finally figured out the perfect ink. “If you can’t wait a few days to get a tattoo, then I don’t want your fucking business,” says Hall. “Kick on down the road. I’ll take the cover-up when you come back around because you went to Joey’s fuckin’ Tattoo and got a mess on your arm for $20.”
He also repeats a mantra that’s been hanging on the walls of tattoo shops for decades when people attempt to rush him into giving them a tattoo. “Good tattoos aren’t cheap, cheap tattoos aren’t good, and you get the tattoo that you deserve,” says Hall. “This ain’t fuckin’ Burger King. You can’t have it your way. Why would you want to rush the guy who’s putting something permanent on you. It takes as long as it fucking takes, just sit there and shut up.”