Omaha is a veritable hotbed of talent. The city’s authors and musicians routinely grace national “best seller” lists. Alexander Payne is in contention for more Academy Awards this year. Johnny Carson, Fred Astaire and Marlon Brando, legends all, at one time called Omaha home. And then there’s Chris Blinston.
Unless you happen to have a tattoo in your household, Chris Blinston may not be a household name. However, in the World of Tattoos, he is perhaps as well known as Warren Buffett is to the denizens of Wall Street.
Blinston’s trek to star-status began in 1999 when he and a fellow Marine by the name of J.P. “Smitty” Smith created Big Brain Productions in Omaha. Blinston’s degrees in Art and Architectural Engineering from Kansas State University no doubt helped unleash the creativity and raw instincts needed to be successful in the tattoo industry. His stint in the Marines didn‘t hurt either. He received more than 20 military awards including a NATO honor (equivalent to the Medal of Valor in the U.S.). The movie “Behind Enemy Lines” is loosely based on one of his platoon’s missions in Bosnia.
The opening of Big Brain also coincided with the rise of MMA fighting in Omaha. Blinston didn’t pursue fighting as a career but he did bang it up in the cage for two years.
“I really enjoyed it, but it was difficult to train hard for the cage and then go back and tattoo the next day,” he says with a laugh.
Since those days, the Bellevue West grad has gone on to win over 200 industry awards and is the only artist to take home 28 consecutive “Tattoo of the Day” awards from national festivals.
Blinston has been named one of the “Top 20 Most Influential Artists” by Skin Art magazine and is a member of Tattoo Magazine’s “Dream Team”. He’s also been featured on TLC’s “Tattoo Wars.”
(So take that ‘Oracle of Omaha‘! For you out-of-towners, that’s Warren Buffett’s nickname. The last time I saw the world’s second richest man was in the rearview mirror at a Burger King drive-thru. True story.)
Blinston currently resides in Coral Springs, Florida, where he owns and operates “No Hard Feelings” Studio. When he’s not working in the shop, he spends time with his 8-year-old daughter and is active in her school and church.
You can catch Blinston in action this weekend at the “Best in the Midwest” Tattoo Convention at the Mid-America Center. More on this tattoo icon in this recent Q&A:
How did you get your start in tattooing?
Blinston: It’s ironic that I started my professional career on the day that Princess Diana died. Me and Smitty (current owner of Big Brains Productions in Omaha) started in a shop in Orlando called “Bad Dog”. So I’ve been in the business for over 14 years. Before that we were in the Marine barracks, after coming back from Bosnia, just joking around with friends and doing some homemade tattoos.
Any special training?
I’m a self-taught artist. Basically all the skills I learned in the beginning I just kind of learned on my own and from watching other people. When I started at “Mad Dog” they kind of straightened out a few of the things I was doing wrong. But for the most part I am completely self-taught.
How would you describe your style?
My style could be described as “bold-line color realism”. I like to do things that are realistic and then add a little artistic freedom and amplify the colors and then give it a hard line on the edge to make it stand out from the body.
Tell me how Big Brain was born?
Smitty and I worked at Mad Dog for about 2 1/2 years and then we just wanted a change of scenery. He’s from Florida and I’m from Nebraska. We came back to Omaha and gave it a shot. At that time I think Omaha had maybe eight shops…it was pretty untouched. Growing up there I knew the Old Market was the place to be. The funny part is that the current Jackson Street location is actually the seventh location we applied for. We tried for six other spots prior to that and kept getting denied, because at that time the business just wasn’t accepted so we were literally getting the door shut in our faces.
I recently saw a video of you applying the world’s first-ever mid-air wireless tattoo. Tell me about that.
(laughing) Well, every year at the South Florida Convention we try to come up with a stunt. We decided to do a full mid-air tattoo. Basically, the female that was being tattooed was suspended by hooks in her back and thigh - she was in the air only being held by her body. I was in a body harness and we were completely off the ground in a cage. Then what made the event even more unique was that my equipment was all wireless and off the ground. So from the ground up, to everything we were using…nothing was touching.
Over the years, what tattoos have you received the most requests for?
The industry has changed a lot since the internet took off. We had a client the other day that was looking for an oriental dragon that was horizontal and it was difficult to find any kind of reference on that because the era of the armband and the tribal has pretty much gone away. What’s happening now in the industry is everything is more vertical. For example, people are getting quarter sleeves or half sleeves as opposed to when we first started and everyone was just getting little tattoos (or floaters). People get an entire collage with detailed background and subject matter. What we’re mostly asked to do is still the basic stuff: hearts, roses and skulls. The difference is that now they’re added to a scene that encompasses an entire part of the body.
What advice do you have for artists just getting started?
The number one thing I tell my guys is that it’s really all about the hard work you put in at the beginning. A lot of practice, a lot of drawing, a lot of art. The second most important thing is to make sure that you’re involved with the right studio. If you’re not a realistic artist you don’t want to be learning from a realistic shop; you want to maybe learn from a traditional shop….or whatever you’re style is. That’s important. You really need to put in the time. You need to be here six or seven days a week. Unfortunately, to do that you need to give up a lot of your life during the training process, but the dividends at the end are worth it.
Have you tattooed any celebrities?
I tattooed the band Crazytown. Remember them?
Yeah. He’s the “Celebrity Rehab” guy. And in Florida we tattooed a lot of the Orlando Magic guys.
For someone who has never attended a tattoo convention tell them what to expect at the “Best in the Midwest” Convention.
These conventions are designed for people that are in the local area to get out and see tattoo artists from all over the world. You’ll see what kind of work they’re doing, the different styles and processes. You’ll get a really good idea of what’s going on in the world in our industry. The energy level gets super high at the end of the show because then all the artists like to get together at the local bars, mingle, answer questions and talk to everyone. What you should expect to see are some really big names doing some really amazing work. It’s kind of like an art show but it’s live art happening right in front of your eyes.