CJ Fishburn; The Boy Gentleman of Tattooing
Interview by Jordan Tinney - http://www.falsecathedrals.tumblr.com
I attended the Salt Lake City Tattoo Convention this past weekend, and needless to say it was amazing fun. I got tattooed plenty, and I met some great artists and connected with some artists that actually recognized me from my work here on Swallows n Daggers! While I was in SLC I made it a point to reconnect with the boys at Cathedral Tattoo, mainly CJ Fishburn and while I was there I managed to snag an interview with him, and snapped some pictures of his amazing collection of tattoo antiquity. Among such is a still-functioning Jonsey machine, a Paul Rogers acetate including the pigment bottle that was used to make the acetate.
I first met CJ last September when I was in Utah for reasons unrelated to tattoos, and on the drive back to Denver I stopped over at Cathedral to check out what the hype was, and an immediate friendship was formed. I was tattooed by Tyler James Densley, and unfortunately at the time I was unable to get tattooed by CJ. This time around, I sat down with CJ one on one and I snagged my tattoo while I was at it!
Jordan Tinney: What year did you start tattooing professionally?
CJ Fishburn: Around eight or nine years ago, whenever that was? (laughs)
JT: So did you have a traditional apprenticeship?
CJ: Not really, the guy that I learned from, he could tattoo, but he taught himself to tattoo so he didn’t know very much about teaching other people, or about process, he had a way that worked for him, but that is actually what taught me what to do. I had to look at it and figure out why it wasn’t looking the way I wanted it to cause when I had pictured stuff in my head, it was like American traditional tattoo, or a Japanese tattoo or whatever, and all the stuff I was supposed to be doing there wasn’t at all like that so I had to like totally flip the way I was doing it, you know, which he didn’t like. But he was a good teacher, he taught me a lot about drawing and how to think about my drawing. Nice guy. But that’s kind of like what put me on to seeking out the information that I wanted.
JT: What got you interested in tattooing? Was it something you just stumbled upon, or was there more?
CJ: I wanted to do it since I was a kid, since I was like 14 or 15, and skateboarding, going to shows, doing whatever, and you see it and you’re like think you can do it. From that age I was very vocal, like “I’ll never have a job like you, I’ll never do…”, whatever, so I got in a lot of trouble, and all this stuff and I just turned around and put that energy into tattooing, since it was something that I wanted to do since I was young and then I realized it might actually be a viable option to live on. Doing it seemed so impossible. It’s really awesome on a weird level, like when you’re a kid and you draw on yourself. Tattooing is cool because it teaches you anything and everything else you wanted to know, in addition to tattooing. If you’re not finding reasons to be continually excited about it, then that’s your fault, there’s more than enough there. You can always paint, you can collect stuff, travel more, you can weld or build machines, or paint signs. It’s very multi-faceted.
JT: Have you always tattooed in Utah, did you grow up here?
CJ: I was born here, then I moved around a bunch, between Arizona and California, and then came back up here from Arizona to start tattooing.
JT: When did Cathedral get started?
CJ: About a year and a half ago.
JT: Where did you work before Cathedral?
CJ: Our old shop, Eleventh Street, which is just up in Sugar House which is about 15 minutes from here. There were a ton of us working there, and it was awesome but so many people going in different directions that it didn’t all pan out, you know? So we opened this place just to kinda focus on exactly what it is we wanted to do.
JT: Who owns the shop?
CJ: Me, Jake Miller and Mike Askerlund. He (Mike) is the manager, he does all the managing stuff, yeah, which is awesome, because without him things would be way harder. He calls people back, helps us out with conventions, does all the normal stuff, he paints signs, he designs banners; he’ll do way more than he’ll tell you he does.
JT: When did you start collecting historical tattoo-related things? Did you start sporadically, or was it just an impulse thing?
CJ: When I started getting into doing the ‘right kinds’ of tattoos then that made me interested in who did it before, but I never like intended on gettin’ all serious about it or anything, I just like… had some acetates, maybe, and the first real thing I bought was a Phil Simms machine and I spent a good chunk of change on that… it was a deal, but you know. And then I kind of got another thing, and another thing, and then it got easier to find it and I started to know other people that were doing it, so after a while there was enough of it stacked up that it started to become a problem (laughs). It was starting to get ruined, or potentially ruined, so then I had to get this stuff up on the wall; and I realized I have a lot more than I did. But I’ve always got stuff coming if I can do it. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some nice people that are into it. There’s always more, there’s never an end to it. If you can read about it to know enough, there’s endless amounts of it. This is one of the last times where people are, like, rediscovering history, because today they know to, but back then they didn’t. It’s good to have around the shop, you can draw some it, and it’s great for people to see it and learn from it. Being able to see any of it at all in person is enough.
JT: Do you do a lot of traveling, or do you stay mainly around this area?
CJ: We do like two big ones together, and then we go and do our own thing. I think I’m going to do more traveling, but on the convention side, like set ones that I really wanna do, and then go do more guest spots. It’s a little more low-key, I just wanna travel and see other people, and their stuff. So I wanna be able to do that and not be swamped by a convention.
JT: Have you ever experimented in building your own machines, or welding, things like that?
CJ: I’ve done it, just to know how to do it, but I taught myself. I can paint and I can do more stuff but I’ll leave the machine building to the good machine builders, you know?
JT: Well thank you for sitting down with me and taking the time to talk!
CJ: Sure thing.