It started as something simple. Austin Spencer, artist and owner at Vegas’ own Studio 21 Tattoo on West Flamingo Road, was just illustrating and networking—two things he does every day. And then an idea was born.
Spencer was drawing some stuff based on the work of a fellow tattoo artist, Jonathan Penchoff of Black Lotus Tattooers in Gilbert, Arizona. They met at a convention. “He’s always drawing hipster-type stuff, so I was replicating it and hash tagging him on Instagram, just kinda making fun of him,” Spencer says. “Then I called him up to make sure he wasn’t mad, and we were laughing our asses off.” They came up with a fun exercise. Each artist would pick a theme, they would compose new drawings incorporating those themes, post them both to Instagram and see which their followers would prefer. “He picked a monkey and I picked church. We both drew a monkey head with a church on top,” Spencer says. “But just by cross-promoting each other to our followers, we gained new followers.” Idea born.
Last week—on September 19—Penchoff (@earthgrasper) and Spencer (@onmydong) created the Instagram feed @TattooFightClub. They established the rules, and no, rule number one is not you do not talk about Tattoo Fight Club. Two artists who want to battle get two days to choose their thematic elements and the orientation of their line drawings, complete their work and share the two images together on Instagram with the #tattoofightclub hashtag.
Hundreds of pieces started flowing in, with the hashtag, through email, all over. As of this writing, Tattoo Fight Club has 6,212 followers, after just six days. “I haven’t been able to sleep. I was up until 3:30 in the morning last night just commenting on people’s stuff on my phone, nerding out,” Spencer says. “We had 600 followers the first day. And it’s been 100 percent positive.”
Tattoo Fight Club has already become more than a way for artists to show off their style. These simple line drawings are the first step to creating a tattoo. Instead of just being exposed to the finished product, fans and followers get to see the beginning stages of the artform. And at least one Tattoo Fight Club drawing has already been tattooed on someone, by La Crosse, Wisconsin artist Justin Harris (@greenbaybully). The subjects for that one were wolf and all-seeing eye.
Spencer’s got big plans for Tattoo Fight Club and he’s not wasting any time. Soon these artistic bouts will be taking place on a website at tattoofightclub.com. A logo has been created and a small line of merchandise will be on the way. They’ve already been approached by someone who wants to put together a book of the artwork. Still, it feels like more than a promotional phenomenon. “Everyone who is helping this along are volunteers, people who just want to get involved, tattoo artists and people who are just interested,” he says. “We just want to have fun and promote each other, but also push ourselves as illustrators.”
Spencer plans to incorporate Tattoo Fight Club into some big plans he’s working on for Studio 21’s 10-year anniversary early next year. But right now, he’s getting a big kick out of the growth of what was a simple idea. “We just put it out there, and now there are tattoo artists all over the country sitting around working on this thing we created a week ago.”