Interview by Shane Cashman – www.futureancestor.tumblr.com
I met with Krooked Ken at last years Roc City Tattoo Expo. My plan was to find a moment to sit down with Ken at the convention and get a conversation going for Swallows & Daggers. The best way I found fit for us to talk was to just sit in his chair and get a really solid tattoo from him.
So we spoke while he tattooed.
Krooked Ken tattoos out of Black Anchor Tattoo in historic Caroline County, Denton, Maryland.
Krooked Ken – You’re either going to get a good tattoo and a bad interview, or a good interview and bad tattoo. Can’t be both.
Shane – Either way is fine with me.
Krooked Ken – Buyer beware, bitch! Not like your momma told ya, not everyone is a winner! (He starts tattooing)
Shane - What drew you towards the traditional Cap Coleman style of tattooing?
Krooked Ken - The aspect of the design drew me to it.
Lil Gary, who taught me how to tattoo had been tattooing for 35 years so I immediately got to see 35 year old tattoos. A guy came in to the shop once with a 70’s style portrait, fine line, and it looked beautiful. On his other arm he had an EGA, (eagle, globe, anchor) tattoo and they both looked like they were done 2 days ago. We had a picture in the shop of the tattoo from when it was done, and I got to see it 35 years later. They held up.
Shane – You’ve been tattooing since 1994?
Krooked Ken – Yea, I started with Lil Gary in Dover DE. George Keeler and Bill Galloway both worked there and were big influences on me.
Shane- What were you doing before you started to tattoo full time?
Krooked Ken - I was a logistics specialist. ISA. Industrial Systems Association. I would travel all over to places like Philip Morris.
Shane - Were you getting heavily tattooed when you were still a logistics specialist?
Krooked Ken – Oh yea. I had two sleeves, pretty much finished. Hands. And an anchor on my neck. But, I wore a collared shirt to work, and since I have no neck no one could see it! The way I see it is if someone can make you money, if they’re good at what they do, and are a good person, it doesn’t matter how tattooed they are. I wished they would have stopped me (from getting some of my first tattoos.) I got five tattoos before the artist said anything to me. Then during the sixth one he said, “Do you like jokes?” I said yes. Then we just started telling jokes. So some of my worst tattoos are some of my favorite. Because of the experience. Eventually, while I was still doing the logistics job I started to get phone calls from my tattoo artist. He’d be like, “what do you call forty dead babies?” And I’d be like, “I’m in a meeting right now!”
Shane - How did you find your niche in the traditional tattoo world?
Krooked Ken - Say two people did the same tattoo. One from like the 1920’s, one from the 1970’s and so on. I’d ask myself why does one tattoo look that way and that another? I would hang picture machine flash on my fridge. All the same piece of flash but by different artists. Then I’d ask myself, why are they all different? What appealed to me was the limited color palate.
Shane - When did you start working under the name Krooked Ken?
Krooked Ken - I would say mid to late 90's, it was early on. I was at a party at tattooer, George Keelers house and an author yelled out to me from across the yard "Krooked Ken, the finest lines from the krookedest spine," and it just stuck!
Shane - What piece of flash would you like to tattoo that no one has asked for yet or piece of flash you don't get to tattoo enough of?
Krooked Ken - I have wanted to do a large geisha girl for a long time but it just has not happened yet... someday!
Shane - Do you collect a lot of tattoo memorabilia?
Krooked Ken - A lot of antique tattoo flash. A few originals. Just flash in general. I told myself I only needed two original pieces. One by Cap Coleman and one by Stoney St. Clair.
Shane - I love your pharaoh's horses tattoo that has you as one of the horses. You've done quite a few tattoos of yourself on people. How did that come about?
Krooked Ken - A tattooer that I used to work with named Grady Spades had a very small spot left to tattoo under his arm and jokingly I said you should get a picture of me on there. He said draw it up and he would get it. So I drew up the caricature of myself. As luck would have it he moved to another shop before I had a chance to tattoo it on him but it was because of him that I drew it. Then one day at a convention I was looking through my drawings trying to find the art for my appt. and while I was flipping through them I came across the picture of me and a gentleman standing behind me said "hey, was that a picture of you?" I said it was and he said he had to have it, so I put it on him later that day. The kid wasn’t even a tattooer but just thought it was funny. Well it took off from there, as soon as I put it on the Internet all hell broke loose. Then we started picking old designs and putting my head on them for laughs. Then we really opened a can of worms.
Shane - What brought you to the Roc City Convention?
Krooked Ken - My good friend Aiden formerly of Love Hate invited me to the first one and I fell in love with the show, been going ever since. It’s great to tattoo in a room with folks that seem like friends forever.
Shane - What do you look to gain from working conventions?
Krooked Ken – It’s great to see old friends and spend time with them but when it’s all said and done, I’m there to feed my family. If it opens a door for me that’s a bonus, but family first.
Shane - Where do you like to travel for conventions or to guest spot?
Krooked Ken - I love traveling. It’s one of my favorite parts of tattooing. The comradery and friendships. I’ve tattooed across the country. Up and down. One of my favorite places is Ohio. I have some really good friends out there.
Shane - Any current tattoo artists that you are into?
Krooked Ken - Way too many to list but I love looking at Jason Kelly's stuff. Also, Justin Shaw, Timmy Tatts, JR Tubbs, and Lowercase J.
Shane - Other than tattooing do you work in any other mediums?
Krooked Ken - I spit shade flash.
Shane - Have you ever had anyone try to barter something really odd for a tattoo?
Krooked Ken - The use of a roto tiller to do a family garden.
Shane - How do you think all the reality TV tattoo shows have changed for good or bad the tattoo industry?
Krooked Ken - I try to see things from both sides. I would say the good part is that I’m tattooing folks that would have never thought of being tattooed 10 years ago if it weren’t for the TV shows. The bad I would say is I’m tattooing folks that would have never thought of being tattooed 10 years ago because now they think its a fashion statement.
Shane - What do you like to listen to when you tattoo?
Krooked Ken - Blues, early country. Bill Monroe. Then there are times when I’ll listen to Bongzilla or 3 Inches of Blood. Depends on who is in the shop though.
Shane – A lot of people come in to the shop I work at and ask for a lot of art that unfortunately sometimes don’t translate into the best tattoo. So when I saw this quote on your website, I immediately loved it. “PLEASE UNDERSTAND IF I CHOOSE NOT TO DO YOUR DESIGN. BRILLIANT IDEAS DON'T ALWAYS MAKE GREAT TATTOOS. Can you elaborate a little on that?
Krooked Ken - When folks come in wanting a battle royal chest piece, done the size of a dime, not a great idea!
Shane – Any hobbies we should know about?
Krooked Ken – Guns! Family and guns. Bang, bang, bang. I’m that asshole shooting skeet with an assault rifle! I’ve always been in to it. There were always guns around. I am always responsible though and I kept them away from my son who is twelve now. But now we all shoot together.
Shane – Where would you like to send people looking for your online portfolio?
Krooked Ken - www.krookedken.com
Shane - Is anything coming up in the near future at your shop that you are doing, or in your travels that you’d like to promote?
Krooked Ken – In September we do our annual Tattooing To Save Babies: http://krookedken.com/resume
We have so far raised over $30,000.00 in three years in memory of my two daughters that died at a very early age due to premature birth, so it has become something that is very close to my heart. You can read more about it at the http://krookedken.com/resume link. I also have a 5 page poster set that I am selling through www.bicknee.com or directly through me at http://krookedken.com/artwork/1612297_5_PAGE_POSTER_SET.html
Every shop needs these on their wall...hahah!