10 Most Famous Tattoo Artists in the US
Looking for the best tattoo artists in the world? You won’t find all top 100 tattoo artists in the world in America, but the number gets pretty close. The huge area and diversity of the USA has allowed tattoo artists to grow in innumerable directions. You can find traditional American artists penning out their Sailor Jerry tattoos right alongside a master of Irezumi. Blackout tattoos, white ink tattoos, and abstract tattoos all push the limits of the medium and find their home in the USA. Today, I want to look at the 10 most famous tattoo artists in the US, and what we can learn from each of them.
Finding the 10 Most Famous Tattoo Artists in the US
Whether you’re looking for the best realism tattoo artist or the best geometric tattoo designer, America has its fair share of talented professionals. Sifting through them is hard, even for celebrities. I gathered ten of the most famous tattoo artists in the US based on actual notoriety, for once. This means that some artists share a style, but they all have complex histories, cultures, and locations across the states. Some of them even changed the history of tattoos! Perhaps all of them have, though only time will tell…
I’m completing this list alphabetically, but Tyrrell does come first in at least one other thing–his youthful appearance. He’s been a tattoo artist for decades, but he looks like he could be an apprentice…now those are some life goals. Born in Detroit, he eventually decided Eastpointe had the better environment for him. He’s one of the best realism tattoo artists in the world, let alone America. He fills his portfolio with realistic depictions of movie stars, family members, animals, icons, and all sorts of major pop culture icons.
Although he rarely dips into the world of pigments, some of his tattoos include a minimal amount. A bit of red around eyelids or blood around a zombie’s mouth keeps his designs bold without distracting from their content. Given their placement on skin, sometimes color is unnecessary to pull off that realistic look. With careful shading–something he excels at–even black and white tattoos look alive.
Chris Garver began his career at just 17. He attended the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, which likely gave his artistic skill the boost it needed to jump right in to the professional world of tattooing. He sold many of his things–including an excellent bass guitar–to afford his first set of tattoo equipment. After apprenticing for six months, he was able to tattoo his own clients and eventually become a full time artist.
His style takes from all kinds of inspirations–Irezumi designs decorate his portfolio, but portraits and traditional American tattoos are interspersed among them. He featured in the TV show Miami Ink, which greatly boosted his popularity. One look at his gallery will prove that he deserves all the fame he gets, though.
Unfortunately, Cliff Raven passed away in 2001, but his place on this list is immortal. Along with Ed Hardy and Sailor Jerry, he was one of the first artists to practice Japanese Irezumi tattoo style (which feels a little redundant to say) within the states. He mentored many of the best artists in the world and dared to be openly gay in a time where homosexuality was frowned upon or worse. His clients could care less about his background, and he found himself with famous clients like Cher and Ringo Starr lining up to receive his designs. His work and efforts will persist for eternity.
Don Ed Hardy
If you’re still looking for the best tattoo artists in California, then Ed Hardy should satisfy your needs. If you’re looking for an accessible artist, then turn back now. Ed Hardy is famous to the whole world as more than a tattoo artist. He studied under Sailor Jerry himself and even tutored in Japan to become a master of Irezumi. His style mixes Japanese and American traditional tattoo styles. The fusion of bold colors and intricate linework made his art popular across the world.
Starting in the 2000s, Ed Hardy licensed his work out to companies of all sorts. You can find his art on shoes, lighters, jackets, perfume, and even condoms. The success of his brand helped him retire. He now lives out of the spotlight at the ripe old age of 74. Honestly speaking? That man deserves a break for his amazing contributions to the world of tattoos.
Tuttle is an excellent example of someone who found their calling and went for it. He got his first tattoo at just 14, then went ahead and made a profession of it. He tattooed all kinds of celebrities and traveled across the globe. He’s the first person to tattoo a client on all seven continents. That includes Antarctica, of course. During his early years, the popularity of tattooing exploded. He believed that this was because of the women’s rights movement, during which he saw a huge uptick of female clients.
His popularity earned him the ire of a few other tattoo artists, including Sailor Jerry himself. Nonetheless, Tuttle continued his career unphased. His first studio was open for a bit over 29 years before he faced his only setback–mother nature. The 1989 earthquake caused structural damage to his studio, rendering it unsafe. Like all true tattoo artists, he simply set up shop down the road. May he rest well.
Unfortunately, Maud Wagner is the only woman on this list. With so many talented female tattoo artists making a name for themselves in today’s world, I expect that to change in a decade or so. For now, Wagner is the only one with enough notoriety to place her among the 10 most famous tattoo artists in the US.
Maud Wagner lived between 1877 and 1961, and her popularity began with her career as a circus performer. So, how did this lady make it big compared to both the men and women of her time? She was the first known female modern tattoo artist in the United States. Tattoos date back for ages, and it’s certain that Native American women beat her to the title, but Wagner is the first lady recorded. Her terrific skill popularized tattoos in inland areas. Prior to her career, tattoo culture existed mainly on the coasts. If that’s not an achievement, I don’t know what is.
Hurtado doesn’t have a tragic backstory, didn’t start tattooing at a young age, and didn’t feature on any television shows. However, his amazing style propelled him to the spotlight and he remains one of the most famous tattoo artists in the USA today. He features in many instructional videos that are used to train apprentices and hone the skills of seasoned tattoo artists. He was interviewed by outlets such as Ink Master and LA INK and even landed himself a jury position for the Chaudesaigues Award.
His tattooing skill makes the work look easy, while his designs impress artists of all kinds. He even takes special care to incorporate color theory into his work! The realism and emotions expressed in his tattoos are second to none. Many of them look like an actual photograph that was etched into the skin of his clients permanently.
Although a tattoo artist by trade, you can find Paul Booth in all sorts of worlds. He created a landmark tattoo shop called Last Rites Tattoo Theatre. It was filled with the best of the best tattoo artists and focused on dark or morbid subject matters. Onlookers could watch as these new tattoos were born before their eyes. Eventually, he expanded the concept. He created his very own ‘dark art’ gallery which hosts the top artists of surreal and morbid styles. Combined with the tattoo theatre, the gallery provides a peek into human nature and the limits of life and death.
When Booth started his work, dark tattoos weren’t as popular. His work focused entirely on demons, evil creatures, nightmares, hellhounds, gore, and anything else your grandma would faint at seeing. He gained a cult following which propelled his career forward. The proceeds of his work were used to create two different documentaries on the art and tattoo world. Seeing as one has the subtitle ‘Volume I,’ I think we can expect at least one more from this eccentric tattoo artist.
Born in Connecticut, this first generation Irish immigrant eventually found himself in New York as a tattoo artist. Although he died in 1909, he achieved so much in the world of tattooing that it’s impossible to leave him off a list of famous American tattoo artists. He created a simple tattoo machine prior to Thomas Edison’s alternative rotary-style pen. He improved upon Edison’s pen and created the first rotary tattoo machine, which he then went on to patent. From there, modern tattoo machines evolved from O’Reilly’s work.
Whether he or Thomas Edison was the first person to invent the tattoo machine is irrelevant–what matters is that he certainly made his own versions and popularized its use in the tattoo world.
Last but certainly not least on this list, Scott Campbell resides in New York and has tattooed stars such as Orlando Bloom, Sting, Howard Stern, and Courtney Love. His art precedes him, with such a dazzling array of diversity that you’d be hard-pressed to find a more versatile artist. You might find a toony character nestled in among the realistic designs. Intricate geometric designs provide a contrast to doodles that resemble a child’s work. All of them came out of his pen, but they look like the work of at least four different artists.
The reason for this diversity lays in his upbringing–despite living in New York, he grew up in the heart of Louisiana! He knows the ins and outs of conservative America but walks the streets of one of the most liberal locations in the country. Alongside his tattoo work, he often appears in galleries and art shows. You might recognize his 3D “paper” cutouts featuring dollar bills as the medium.
Champion of USA Tattoos – Sailor Jerry
You might have noticed an important name that is missing from this list. Well, don’t worry. I didn’t forget about him. I simply gave him a dedicated spot so other artists could get a chance in the spotlight. Norman Keith Collins, better known as Sailor Jerry, is undoubtedly the most influential tattoo artist in the American inked world. In fact, I would wager that he is the most influential tattoo artist of all time. While Irezumi is a style just as proliferous as Sailor Jerry tattoos, they don’t exactly trace back to one person. Sailor Jerry defined his own style and half a century later we are still emulating it.
If you’re new to the world of tattooing, Sailor Jerry might be an unfamiliar name, but his tattoo designs will be recognizable. In fact, if you think of a ‘stereotypical’ tattoo design off of the top of your head, then I would bet money that a Sailor Jerry tattoo is the first thing you think of! Well, that or tribal tattoos. Who knows. Point is, Sailor Jerry created nautical designs that became badges of honor for sailors passing through Hawaii. Even to this day, sailors and tattoo enthusiasts seek out traditional Sailor Jerry tattoos and wear them with pride. Without a doubt, Sailor Jerry is the #1 tattoo artist in the world.
Finding Your Perfect Artist beyond the 10 Most Famous Tattoo Artists in the US
Sometimes, finding your perfect artist is about more than availability. It’s about finding your personal aesthetic. When you find an artist you adore, you find a new part of your soul. Many of the artists on this list, despite being one of the 10 most famous tattoo artists in the US, are either dead or so famous that they have no availability. However, by looking into their style and their past, we can learn what it means to wear a tattoo. The people behind the art can tell a story just as complex as their designs. Finding the story that resonates with you is just one step of finding your place in the inked world.