Six Questions for Andrew Ottenhof
Andrew Ottenhof is the owner and sole artist at The Foundry Tattoo, Odessa, Ontario’s first and only tattoo shop. Andrew began tattooing professionally in 2009 which seemed like the natural progression for an individual with a life-long love for the visual arts. Born and raised in Odessa, Andrew began tattooing in Kingston but soon after pursued opportunities to work in the Greater Toronto Area as well as traveling the globe to tattoo. His need to progress and a long-standing passion for drawing, painting and sculpting shines through in his diverse work as a tattoo artist. Andrew is one member of the collective organizing Kingston’s very first tattoo convention, The Limestone City Tattoo and Arts Festival and has taken part in numerous art exhibits and tattoo conventions in Canada and abroad.
1. Tell us about yourself and your background with respect to the tattoo industry. What was your first tattoo, and what was the first tattoo you did for someone else?
My interest in art and tattooing began in childhood, and at a very young age showed an interest and natural talent for the visual arts. As far back as I can remember I was drawing, painting, creating art out of anything I could get my hands on, and drawing “tattoos” all over myself. I always had a fascination with tattoos, and remember being captivated any time I saw someone with tattoos. Tattoos had this rebellious allure and I was always curious about the people I saw who wore them, and the artwork that they displayed. At 16, without my parents knowing I went and got my first tattoo. The whole experience; the tattoo itself, enduring the pain, the feeling of being (for lack of a better term) a “bad-ass”, and expressing myself with this permanent piece of art. All of it gave me a rush I had never felt before, and I was pretty much hooked. I got a small camouflage number “7” on the back of my arm, and it was my entrance into the culture of tattoos. I still have that tattoo, and it’s a great reminder of the first step I took into the world I know and love. I’ve been tattooing professionally for eight years, and got my start by buying some equipment from a friend after he had tattooed me numerous times. I gleaned whatever knowledge I could from him, and despite a falling out with him, will always credit him with being the first person who offered me a chance to tattoo. After buying the required gear to get going, one night he set up a machine for me, and I tattooed myself, and from that moment forward I was hooked. The first tattoo I did for someone else was on a long-time best friend, and I put this stack of skulls and the phrase “Dead men tell no tales”. It was an incredible feeling, and believe it or not, I still get that sense of excitement when I pick up a machine, almost a decade later. Much like my first tattoo, for the first little while, I remember being absolutely terrified every time I would tattoo someone, but it served as a motivation to do the best I could at the time. After a couple of years of tattooing friends, or any willing participant, I managed to get a job at a local Kingston shop on a probationary basis, and tattooed seven days a week, for as long as the owner would let me work in a day. I just remember the overwhelming feeling of wanting to progress and learn the craft. Having never completed a proper apprenticeship, I always felt like I needed to work as hard as I possibly could and strive to learn and progress every day in order to be considered a true tattooer. That feeling has always stuck with me.
2. You own and operate a local tattoo shop called The Foundry Tattoo. How would you describe the style of your work, and what do you draw upon for inspiration? What is your process for developing new pieces of work, and experimenting?
I spent years working in other tattoo shops, side-by-side with some very talented people and tried to absorb as much knowledge as I could. Eventually I felt confidant enough in myself and my work to open my own studio. When I first started tattooing professionally, my biggest concern wasn’t creating new things, or expressing myself, it was simply getting a solid grasp on the technical side of applying a good tattoo and doing it with consistency. That in of itself seemed hard enough. Another huge learning curve for me was figuring out how to translate my artwork into tattoos. Eventually I got a handle on how tattoo composition differed from composition in other mediums, and with that understanding I was able to begin applying my artistic style to the tattoos I was doing. I was always inspired by cartoons and comic books, as well as abstract art, expressionism and modernism along with classical art and renaissance art. At the moment, I bounce between pieces that range from purely abstract to very graphic oriented tattoos. The inspiration for my art and tattoos ranges so much these days. Some pieces are a reflection of the physical world around me; nature, people, architecture. Some days, its purely reflective of esoteric ideas, feelings and emotions. My style differs from day to day, and in a lot of cases is dictated by what a tattoo client is looking for. I’m lucky in that I get to explore a lot of different styles and ways of composing tattoos, simply because my clients aren’t all looking for the same things. If given artistic freedom with an idea or a tattoo, sometimes the idea itself dictates the style I do it in. I like exploring different ways of doing things, so shifting styles keeps things fresh and interesting. I have the advantage of working in a variety of mediums, but most of my tattoos and artwork start in my sketchbook and take shape from just scribbling down the idea first.
3. As one of the co-organizers of the inaugural Limestone City Tattoo and Arts Festival, you are aiming to put Kingston on the map for the progressive arts. Why was it important to you to get involved and help this new festival get off the ground? What aspects of the local tattoo scene do you hope to highlight during this festival?
The idea came to fruition after years of participating in tattoo conventions, and although a daunting task, was something that myself and my partner Ashley wanted to take on. Kingston is one of Canada’s most historic cities, rich in heritage and at the same time bustling with new, progressive ideas and events. A tattoo festival seemed like an event that would flourish in Kingston, and we wanted to create an event that took all of the best aspects of the tattoo culture and presented them to Kingston in a way that invited the community to take part. Whether a seasoned collector or a curious observer, this event will be inclusive, and offers anyone interested the opportunity to get a sense of what the tattoo culture is and what it means to those deeply rooted in it. The local tattoo scene is a thriving one, and well-represented in the festival, but the focus is equally aimed at bringing artists from all over Canada and the United States to our great city. We wanted the community to have a chance to see some of the incredible talent that calls Kingston home and take in artists and artwork that may otherwise not be seen in the city. By offering people a chance to see tattoo artists from near and far working and creating under one roof, the hope is that it will open people up to the idea that tattooing isn’t a closed community and maybe create a new level of comfort with the local tattoo community as well. There are numerous tattoo shops in Kingston, some old, some new, but all great. By inviting everyone to take part it may in some ways prompt people in our community who were timid or curious to walk into a shop here in Kingston and feel that same level of comfort. The art and tattoos that are being produced in our city are phenomenal, and we want to expose that to people in a way that creates a feeling of welcomeness at the festival, and every other day of the year.
4. Aside from showcasing local and international tattoo artists, the Limestone City Tattoo and Arts Festival is aiming to change stereotypes regarding the tattoo industry and community. As both an artist and festival organizer, what are the misconceptions you want to resolve?
I think before the festival even happens, a lot of the lingering cliches, stereotypes and misconceptions about the tattoo culture have been dealt with. Popular media has already quashed the general public’s misinterpretations of tattoos and the people who are involved in the culture. It’s probably fair to say that some people may still have some preconceived notions about tattooing as a whole, but tattoos have gained a huge amount of popularity in the past five to ten years. Tattoos and the people involved in the culture were at one time viewed by anyone looking from the outside in as subversive, and oddly enough, that I think that was some of the allure for me when I was growing up. Times are changing though, and tattoos are becoming viewed more as an art form and a way to express oneself, rather than a culture full of people on the fringes of society. The festival itself will provide people with an opportunity to see what it’s really all about. The overwhelming majority of artists and people who I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside or putting work on are really just normal, good-hearted folks. That’s the side of tattooing we want to represent and showcase to everyone, especially people who may still see it as a culture that embodies any negative attributes. For me personally, becoming involved with tattooing changed my life and I felt welcomed into a community that embraced everyone who wanted to participate. We want people attending the festival to see it as we see it, a positive force, a community that thrives on positivity and inclusivity and at it’s core a culture that invites people to express themselves free of judgement.
5. The Limestone City Tattoo and Arts Festival boasts convention-style exhibits, live music and it even permits people to get tattooed on site. Can you give us a glimpse of what aspects of the festival you are personally looking forward to the most? Are there any artists in particular you are hoping to see in action?
For me personally, just seeing the event take place and having the community take part is going to be pretty satisfying. I think just watching people enjoy themselves and engage with artists and fellow patrons will be gratifying, and I am really excited to just watch people explore the artists, vendors and events over the weekend. Everyone who has participated in creating the event, myself included, all seem really enthusiastic about presenting tattooing as a whole in a way that makes people want to take part and enjoy the art and atmosphere we’ve tried to create. The artists we have working at the festival are of the highest caliber in our industry, and all of them are really approachable and down to earth. I feel like attendees will get a chance to see tattooing at it’s finest. Holding a festival that showcases that kind of talent opens people up to the idea that tattoos are an art form that is progressive and expressive. There are definitely a few artists who I am looking forward to meeting for the first time, and definitely excited about watching them produce the work I’ve only seen photos of. At the same time, I can’t single anyone out for the simple reason that every artist that will be in attendance has my utmost respect and admiration. I don’t know if I can stress it enough, the artists attending are amongst the best in North America and the world, and I hope everyone attending is as excited as I am about having them come to Kingston. I’d love to get tattooed at the festival, but part of me feels like I’ll be busy making sure the artists and the people attending are looked after. At the end of the day, we want the local community to enjoy this, and I don’t want to take time away from anyone who might have a chance to get some work at the festival.
6. What sort an atmosphere can attendees, tattooed and not tattooed, expect at this year’s festival? What do you hope attendees and exhibitors will take away from the experience?
I think that’s a pretty easy question to answer. Fun, fun, and a bunch more fun. This year is the very first time Kingston has seen an event like this, and ideally we want everyone who attends, artist or attendee, to enjoy themselves. Don’t get me wrong, there is a seriousness that goes along with artists who tattoo at this level, and the art that people will see is the product of a lot of focus and hard work. At the same time, when I’ve worked at festivals or conventions like this in the past, there’s also an infectious sense of friendly camaraderie and a lot of humorous back and forth between artists and exhibitors. That feeling tends to rub off on the people attending, and our hope is that everyone gets into the spirit of simply having fun and broadening their horizons. Whether you’re tattooed or not is pretty inconsequential at an event like this, and we hope it serves as an opportunity for anyone with any curiosity about the tattoo culture or the art of tattooing to come and see what it’s all about. Everyone is welcome, that’s the vibe we want everyone to feel. We hope anyone who sets foot on the festival floor leaves with a feeling that they took part in something that thrives on creativity, community, and progress. We have an opportunity to bring people from all walks of life together, and we hope people see how cool that can be.