All Eyes on Josh Payne

Tattoo Artist Josh Payne

Tattoo Artist Josh Payne. Photo by Tavares Shirley.

If you don’t know who Josh Payne is, you’re missing out. His colorful and outlandish tattoo work is taking the industry by storm and we were lucky enough to run into him at the Ink and Iron show in Long Beach, CA.

Josh a veteran tattoo artist and owner of Ascend Gallery in Cortland, NY. He purchased his first tattoo equipment when he was just 16 years old and began tattooing in his mother’s kitchen. “I started as wrong as you possibly could,” he says. “I fixed a lot of shit as I got older.” Now, 13 years later, Josh has made quite a name for himself as a tattoo artist and his work has been turning heads on Instagram so fast; he’s been causing an online whiplash.

When we saw Josh at the show, he was tattooing a fantastical mad-eyed eagle on an eager client in the bowels of the Queen Mary. Despite the stuffy atmosphere, incessant questions and passing eyes, Josh was completely down-to-earth and approachable with a boisterous, infectious laugh. His carefree, go-getter personality makes sense since he’s a rider too. Josh owns a 1979 Harley Sportster, which has been transformed into an original bobber. Just like his tattoos, his motorcycle is a work of art. He may have sacrificed form for aesthetics though, as he says the bike is “back breaking” if ridden too long. “I pretty much just ride it around town, here and there. It’s a bar hopper,” he jokes.

Josh doesn't do small, simple pieces. He does big, colorful work that makes a statement. Josh did this piece at the Ink and Iron show in Long Beach, CA.

Josh doesn’t do small, simple pieces. He does big, colorful work that makes a statement. Josh did this piece at the Ink and Iron show in Long Beach, CA. Photo by Tavares Shirley.

Of course, anyone who can rump around town on a kidney-killer is bound to be brave. It’s this bravado that makes tattoo conventions fun for Josh, rather than daunting. “I love tattooing at conventions,” he says. “There’s something about being out here in the spotlight that I enjoy. It’s stupid fun getting to meet all the people that look up to you and know your work. Four or five years ago, I was that guy, getting meet the other dudes they I looked up to. It’s crazy and surreal that people know who I am.”

But conventions are not all fun and games for Josh. He averages 15-16 hour days at conventions, especially at Ink and Iron, since he was booked solid, mostly because of his presence on Instagram. “Instagram has been amazing for this industry,” he admits. His client for Sunday at the show was a kid who actually had one of Josh’s earlier tattoos and this tattoo was one of Josh’s viral sensations.

Josh's 1979 bobber.

Josh’s 1979 bobber.

For Josh, it has been a backward, humbling spiral. The more experience he gets, the more the pressure mounts. “Everybody gives me these rave reviews, saying that they love my work, and I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing yet,” he says. “I feel like the more people that know who I am, the more scared I am that I need to work harder.”

Josh is one of those good-neighbor-type guys that is super easy to be around. That, paired with his artistic ability, makes him the ideal artist if you’re interested in getting some more complicated, bigger pieces of body art done. If you’re going to spend hours with an artist, you want to know they care and are as passionate about your tattoo as you are.

Josh is quite an inspiration because he doesn’t believe in coasting a short distance on natural ability, but rather throttling forward with a passion and desire to be better at his craft. “I feel like every day I just want to be better than I was yesterday,” he says. “I feel like I’m starting to figure out what I’m doing and just scratching my potential, so I’m excited to see what the next few years bring.”

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