Brücius is with us here at Sang Bleu right now, his incredible talent for light strokes and beautiful draftsmanship has helped him create a huge following and we are incredibly honoured to have him guest with us these past few days. I had a conversation with him yesterday and here is what he had to say about making it and using all your experiences to help create a life you want to live.
So you’re from San Francisco?
I was born in New York state, and what I remember most growing up were all the trees. It was practically a forest. I think that’s why I’m still so connected to nature.
New York, that’s cool…
It was a stark contrast to city life in Los Angeles, where my family moved when I was little. LA is certainly not full of trees.
You moved to LA with your family?
I grew up on the west coast, moving back and forth from LA to San Francisco and then Seattle.
I studied architecture, then fine arts. I thought maybe I’d be an illustrator, or be a special effects artist, but I had no idea what major that would fall under. The school I went to was pretty hardcore, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. I learned a great deal there.
After that, I spent about a year as an artist assistant in Los Angeles, doing fine art graphite drawings. I was mostly working on ten-foot tall portraits. I didn’t really like the job, it was hard work and I was making just three percent of the sale price—that’s how it goes. At that point, I told my friend [tattoo artist] Idexa Stern that I was looking for something different, and she said, “Why don’t you become a tattoo artist?” I was skeptical at first, it came with a different reputation that was really separate from the fine art world. But I figured I’d take the risk, it had to be better than where I was.
And that’s how it started?
I had no idea. I was so scared of the industry and the world. I had one little tattoo, but I was timid because I never had money to get them. I had just never been in that circle. I had always admired people that had the guts to get them—people who had a good plan, knew what designs they wanted, but I was always removed and looked on from afar. But I was ready for something different, so when I talked to Idexa I figured, why not.
Idexa had started Black & Blue Tattoo in San Francisco in 1995, and when I first started there 5 years ago, I was working at the counter and apprenticing. I worked my ass off, wasn’t afraid to clean toilets, and worked my way up. I just picked up skills and lessons from everybody, and in a year I started tattooing. Now I manage the shop and do my own work there.
Pretty quick, but because I had my fine art background and had been an artist for 30 years already, I was used to layout and rendering. Plus I worked 100 hours a week. Idexa was fixing the shop and she needed a hand, and then I suggested she have a manager. She was only there once or twice a week because she has kids far outside the city, so she gave me a shot. I went from apprentice, to artist, to manager, and now I run the place. There’s a new roster of artists, and almost double the number of people there, and Black & Blue is considered one of the top tattoo shops in San Francisco. It’s world-class. Black & Blue is Idexa’s jewel, and I like to think I helped polish it up.
What do you look for in your staff?
I will only hire people who have a good spirit and a good portfolio. If they have potential and the portfolio needs some work, I hire them. But if someone comes in with a great portfolio and poor attitude, they can’t make it there. It’s really about the vibe. I want to work with good, hard-working people, and so do Black & Blue customers. It comes in part from working in the service industry.
Customer service is really important to me. When I tattoo, it’s not about the money. It’s a gift—it’s the best feeling when someone leaves and they are so stoked. Getting to know someone and making them feel at ease during their session is just as important as giving them a great tattoo. And that means if there’s something someone wants and I know I’ll suck at it, I will just tell them no.
You draw inspiration from a lot of things, on your website you list all your references in one huge list instead of a bio, how come?
I don’t like to be boxed in or categorised, and I’m not as wild as I wish. It’s more about if something is a good match for the client. I don’t have ego about the work, and I enjoy collaborating with my clients. They’ll get to know me when I’m with them for 3 hours, 3 days or whatever.
Can we talk about the tattoo artist as a superstar?
I’m becoming pretty well-known. It’s something I can’t even grasp, I’m riding whatever it is that’s happening. It’s awesome because I’ve had some jobs that made me unhappy.
I’ve been a waiter, I’ve painted houses…I was doing odd jobs until I was 33. I just wanted to be free—San Francisco does that to you. Eventually I said, I’ve got to get my shit together. San Francisco was too expensive and crime was rampant and landlords were taking over. I was working in a restaurant, and I had two guns pulled on me in a robbery. I just got fed up, I wasn’t going anywhere.
So what made you focus?
I said to myself, “get your stuff together and get out of here.”
Okay and how did you do that?
That’s when I moved to Seattle. It’s a beautiful city and it’s a bit more calm. I said to myself, do what you know and what you’re good at—so that’s when I went back to school.
To do what?
And did you know at that time you wanted to tattoo?
No, not at all.
So what were you thinking at that stage in life, where you had moved and started a course, what were thinking in terms of a plan?
I was like just do what you know and what you’re good at.
So you just followed your heart?
Well I was studying architecture when I was 22/23 and I stopped drawing.
I was kind of angry at the art world. I wanted something else.
What were you doing during this point where you had stopped drawing?
I would just play, I wasn’t really focusing. I was doing work to get the money and then hang out and drink with my friends. I learned important life skills from these not-so-great jobs that I still use today.
Even if my jobs weren’t fantastic, they were all about interacting with people. I was a coordinator at a co-op, so I have a bit of socialist background. I’m shy so I forced myself to do things I’m uncomfortable with. I worked with people for a long time, so you get to know how people are. I also learned discipline and a strong work ethic, so I apply those everyday.
You have your own style, you only use black and they are very much like drawings. How often do you still draw or paint and how important is it to do so?
Presently my calendar is very full and leaves little time for other art. However, I had been drawing and painting for 30 years, and it’s a vital part of my development as an artist. My craft reflects the skills I have acquired. Knowledge in rendering, layout, light/dark, and design are at the core of my work. I have an obsession with lines, engravings, etchings, and woodcuts. Albrecht Dürer, Raymond Pettibon, da Vinci, and Egon Schiele are a few of the many artist that I continue to study. Control in the lines is what I focus on and am proud of, and that contrasts with the freedom in nature. Nature inspires me most.
How do you feel about the current fashionability of tattooing in our contemporary culture?
I think it’s great. Although, I am not a big fan of the mainstream trends. I like to think of tattooing as a rebel art form. The taboo of tattoos is lifted thanks to this exposure, but it is becoming a commodity and we have to be aware of the risk. We’re seeing the gentrification of tattooing. Being a part of a subculture rather than the mainstream is part of my lifestyle, and breaking stereotypes is important to me.
Tell us about Black and Blue, because it’s a queer shop, can you tell us a bit about the history?
Idexa Stern started up the shop 20 years ago. She did it against the odds—queer discrimination, misogyny—and stood strong trying to make it work. Everyone there was female and queer. The city is about gay rights, all rights, everybody’s rights, so you get a huge variety of people coming into the shop and everybody’s welcome. I don’t care about your gender, age, sexual preference, identity, I just care about someone coming in and saying to me, “I want this, can you do it?” I’m pretty mellow myself and I have a gentle side.
It really comes down to humanity, and I like San Francisco for that reason. Everybody’s themselves, there are no barriers. Idexa originally only hired an all-female, all-queer crew, but then after that she realized it would be best to accept everyone and have a variety of genders, race and age to become truly inclusive.
You are part of this new generation that has stepped away from what we know as traditional tattoo, which I feel is really exciting, but do you think this will or has any negative connotations for tattoo culture?
Traditional tattoos are well-loved and will always have a place, only now it shares the industry with a different group of artists. Tattoos in general have advanced to an art form that pay tribute to graphic design, CG art, art history, and many fine art media. Art is by definition an expression according to aesthetic principles. That elevated significance is awarded to it both by the artist and dilettantes. What could be negative about advancing the craft to this level by creating new forms of its expression? Those who view this as negative for tattoo culture fail to see the relevance that tattooing now has in the contemporary world, from both a cultural and artistic standpoint.
What is your parting message?
Open heart, open mind.