We are proud to introduce our custom built Feldman Tattoo Machines, hand made in Los Angeles, California by world reknowned artist and machine builder, Brandyn Feldman. Brandyn is a former U.S. Navy sailor, with a great respect for the traditional way of tattooing. He has been inking great tattoos since 2003 and has owned and operated his own shop since 2005. Brandyn has built some of the finest customs this side of the West Coast and continues to fine tune his skill and his line of products, now expanding into beautiful inks and the really cool, for stencils, Stencil Slime! This guy has been featured on many various magazines, website blogs and books.
Here is a interview with Brandyn Feldman:
What were you doing before you decided to be a tattoo artist?
I was in the navy. I worked on and built cars with my dad. Machining has always been something I was good at. In highschool, I was the kid with a mowhawk that was slightly angry all the time.
Ha, weren’t we all?
Maybe. I once stabbed a dude in the leg with a pencil because he tried to grab my balls. He had a polo shirt on and I hate the color salmon.
You’re a mad man Brandyn. So let’s get to the good stuff, what attracted you to being a tattoo artist?
Being a punk rock kid in LA, I thought that the modern navy lacked nostalgia. I was stuck in a unrealistic fantasy when I decided it just looked like a lot more fun than riding around on a fucking boat. It gave me a chance to change the way people thought. I could read a person and figure out myself what to put on them to make them happy and I liked that.
How did you get started, where did you apprentice and under whom?
I didn’t actually apprentice which is extremely rare. I literally taught myself how to tattoo. I believed I had figured out the technical aspect of it. Other than that it was just putting designs on people. While in the navy and started bullshitting people into letting me tattoo them. I bought what I could afford and improvised on the rest. I found a catalog from Kaplam and bought two tattooo machines, a power supply tubes, needles, ink, and ink caps & just said fuck it.
How did you get hired at your first shop with no apprenticeship?
The shop was called Skinflix, the old man Benny that ran it took a liking to me because he kinda realized I had to grit to do it and become successful. He asked me how I got out of the navy and I told him it was because I beat the shit out of this dude who bothered me for months. Following the incident, I blamed it on the navy and they let me out.
Tell me about the shop.
It was a straight up biker shop. There was a well-known, highly respected motorcycle club that frequented the shop to hang out and get tattooed. This deaf guy came in once and wanted a superman logo on his chest. He couldn’t hea shit and he stepped on the peddle. We all laughed and he couldn’t figure out what we were laughing at. I knew right then that I’d meet everyone and anybody doing this and that it’d be fun no matter what. Anytime penetration is involved, people loosen up. We smoked cigarettes inside the shop and there was a motorcycle work bench in the back where the guys with the red and white vests worked on their bikes. We scrubbed our tubes in the sink, shit was gnarly. All I smelled was cigarettes and green soap for about nine months.
Nine months. Where’d you tattoo after that?
I went to Fullerton, CA to work at a shop called Ghost Story. I worked with Frankie Mageno, he’s the most talented artist that nobody will ever know about. I fucking loved that shop. It looked like what I thought a tattoo shop should look like. The first tattoo I did there was a straight razor with a banner over it that was supposed to say Snitches Get Stitches, and to this day it’s the only tattoo spelling I’ve ever fucked up. Snitches Get Stickers. The guy thought it looked so cool he wasn’t even mad, he actually really liked it because it was different, or at least that’s what he told me. I stayed there a year and then worked at about four more shops until finally opening my own.
I bet opening your own shop so early on was intimidating. How’d you pull that off?
Yeah. I opened on Melrose Ave. The whole first year I realized over and over that I shouldn’t have opened up a shop yet. I was so new into tattooing and I fired my piercer the first three weeks we were open. He had covered his station with pictures of dead things, animals and shit. I kept the shop staffed with two or three other artists and often threw people’s shit right out the door when they didn’t do shit right. I wasn’t trying to be a dick, in fact I was just keeping the quality of my shop top notch. If you got caught stealing, out the door. Pictures of dead shit, out the fucking door. We were in that location for just under two years when I moved it to downtown LA. I fucking loved downtown LA. Fucking loved it. It was in an old Crocker National Bank and was on the third floor. You wouldn’t even know it was there even at the top of the elevator unless you knew how to follow the smell of green soap and the sound of a buzzing machine at work. There I set up a machine shop where I began to make tattoo machines for the first time.
Did you ever tattoo on tour or anywhere besides a shop?
Yeah, I tattooed on Warped Tour. I tattooed in the back of a tour bus for a long time. I rode with Bodog’s bands and once got to hang out with Johnny Rotten. Him and I meshed pretty well because we’re both absolutely insane.
Why’d you start building machines?
I guess I just knew I could do it, or hoped I could. The whole metal working aspect of it made a lot of sense to me. It made clear sense that it I built tattoo machines it would lead me to be a better tattoo artist. My dad’s best friend was a true craftsman. I didn’t know I could do it by welding, so I started casting them first. Joe taught me how and to this day I remember the first time I got the castings back. I remember how exciting it was. I quickly drove back to the shop and had to figure out how to put the holes into them. My main focus was making the holes straight, how I wanted and needed them. I knew more about the history of tattoo machines themselves than I did about ones from the present. At first I had no desire to build and sell the things, it was purely something that I knew would improve my tattooing ability. Every artist wants to be the best. Every craftsman wants to makes their own tools. If someone needs a special type of hammer, they build it. I had been making my own needles since the beginning and learned it on my own. I figured if I made my own needles I could build my own machines. Even though it’s completely different, it gave me the confidence I needed to actually produce something useful that I was proud of.
What’s different about your machines than others?
I never know how to answer this fucking question correctly. It isn’t an easy comparison. There’s amazing machines out there I will always aspire to be able to build. Other machines make me want to emulate them and there’s always going to be that one thing that I want or need to do different. I take it home with me. I go to bed thinking about fucking machines. Machines made 5 years ago, 45 years ago, or 100 years ago. It’s always some weird thought about tattoo machines in my head. A machine I made two weeks ago could be dead to me and then a month later quickly come back alive. It’s like an adventure that will never stop. I’m constantly over criticizing the other machine’s capabilities. There’s a consistency in always trying to be better. Making production machines makes things difficult because I’ll get something really good and even if I think it’s perfect, I’ll want to change something. I get guys buying machines I look up to telling me that mine is the best fucking thing they’ve ever used and that makes me a better builder and a better tattooer. Guys telling me that my machine makes them a better tattooer is the best thing I can hear. I also love hearing people say they hate my damn machines. In doing that, they’ll give me the true input I need to improve.
Who do you look up to machine-wise?
Alive or dead?
Alive, then dead.
Brian Hibbard (sp?) mainly because he clearly makes the best tattoo machines on this planet. His attention to detail is flawless. He’s strange, really guarded. I’ve met him twice and only said a short amount of words. He and I will probably never know each other but the way that he produces a tattoo machine is flawless. He doesn’t promote. Most builders are full of shit, just because you build a tattoo machine doesn’t mean it’s good. The ones that are true and real shine through. It’s just kinda something you can see. The proof is in the pudding.
What about dead?
The thing about tattooing and machine building is that there’s a certain magic that’s put into it. Some have it, some simply don’t. Paul Rogers because he was a living machine wizard. He was a tattooer that was dedicated to the craft and started in the circus. I think that’s pretty fucking cool. He embodied everything tattooing should be. Owen Jensen for his design. His production was ahead of his time It was different that what had been done before. It had a solid feel. You could throw one of his designs in someone’s face and it’d kill them it was so damn heavy. Sailor Jerry is what tattooing is and should always be. He was, and still is, tattoo itself.
Did you get into these dudes before or after you started building?
Oddly I used Paul Rogers machines when I worked in Benny’s shop and had no idea. They were handmade and empowered the magic of tattooing. I didn’t even know it at the time but I can look back at that time and understand what it was. It was beyond my knowledge as to why my tattooing had progressed so heavily but looking back I can totally see a difference in what I was doing at the time.
Where do you feel the love comes from? The magic you’re talking about. What is it?
It comes from all a love of working with your hands and a certain commitment to perfection, or striving for it. If you give enough to it, it’ll give back to you. There’s a thing called Greybeard or the tattoo gods. They’ll give you as much as you put into it and I firmly believe that. I’m walking, talking, smoking proof.
Where do you see the tattoo machine industry going in the future?
The good thing about tattooing is that no matter what happens within it, the real dudes will always survive. If you really study machines you’ll notice major differences. From the first patent in 1891 until now there have been major changes but loads of consistencies. As long as the wheel is polished, it’ll continue to spin better and faster. There will be more tattoo artists tomorrow than there are today and that’ll continue forever. If you make a solid product that can literally improve someone’s art, they’ll continue to love them. Guys that build machines are always creative. We like to create and build things we like, naturally. I think the weight of them will change for the better because a lighter machine is always better. Either some asshole will start making shit and sell shit, or amazing tattooers will make beautiful machines that people can be proud to use. There’s days that I walk in and want to make a machine look 50 years old and there’s days when I want to make something look “hot rod” clean. I’ll always make something I think will grab someone’s attention but being a creative industry, it’ll always change. The vintage look will always be in fashion whereas the clean look will look the same. I’ll keep it fresh with mine and stay motivated. The quality will get better with time as the esthetic changes but that’s to be expected.
So you’ve been building machines for about seven years, how has your personal approach changed?
It’s like a fucking beautiful thing. I was trying to be like the dudes I liked. It took me three or four years to really nail down my style. I like aggressive, classic, high quality machines. The materials that I use produce the strongest magnetic pull, I stay on that good shit. I build machines the way I tattoo. I’m way more prolific in my knowledge so my concepts are different. I started realizing how things worked a little better and used stronger, more advanced materials. It’s like a snowball. The further into it I’ve gotten the better the results have been. I’ve created a monster within myself. A tattoo machine building, completely obsessed maniac and the only thing that’ll ever hinder that is when I’m on my death bed. Bury me with these things. Someone once told me that I intimidated them with my growth and that motivated me more than anything.
What’s the future of Feldman Tattoo look like?
I’m just going to keep jamming my cock down people’s throats. With social media I’ve found a way to really put my shit out there and I think it’s had an amazing effect on the product development itself. When you know you’ve got well-respected eyes on your shit, you know you’ve got to come out swinging every single time. Using that energy is what’s made me able to keep growing in what I do.
Mad props to you Brandyn! Be sure to check out his custom made machines on our site. Like our Union Machines, we will only carry a limited amount of each model. Each model that we have is uniquely built for Hildbrandt customers, there will not be another machine just like the one you order. Also, be sure to check out the new direct drive rotarys that Brandyn will be cooking up in 2014!