Interview with Willy Smith

Willy Smith

Willy Smith

Vinyasa Productions is excited to join with Denver Tattoo Collective to put on Tattoo Masquerade ™. Willy Smith is the mastermind behind the DTC. I asked Willy a few questions to get to know him a bit better.

Where are you from?

I am a Colorado native, born and raised,  but I have been all over. I spent a few years in Montana as a child, lots of time in South Dakota and I have traveled all over place for conventions and tattooing.

I still have yet to visit a couple of big states  on the bucket list; I have seen every edge of the United States and MY favorite moment of all was standing on a single rock at a point where two oceans touch. That was pretty awesome and kind of sentimental for a friend that passed.


What animal would you be?
I really connect with elk; I have had several people tell me that the stag is my totem animal. I am a avid outdoors man; I love bow hunting and camping. I’ve been archery big game hunting for about 29 years. It’s actually a personal goal to be able to sneak and stalk a elk to a point that I can reach out touch him. I’ve come close a few times.

What made you get into tattooing?
That’s actually a really long story, but in short, I was always into it. As I grew as an artist, conventional art and art education failed my desire to create freely. Several old school tattooers at the time were teaching me more, and far faster than what I was getting at art school. An artist by the name of Quintoon Hoover is really the man that kind of gave me the kick-in-the-ass I needed. He took the time to talk with me many years ago and told me just to keep going and to keep sticking my foot in the door until someone would finally let me in. I made the plunge and suffered through years of hell as an apprentice (just like all of us) and have never looked back.


How long have you been a tattoo artist?
Twenty-three and counting. I have my own studio. I tattoo every day. I still clean everyday and draw/paint everyday. I find it good practice to maintain that apprentice frame of mind that I have 10-12 hrs to achieve “x” tasks before going home and they need to be done, period, and no exceptions. God bless my mentor J-Bone. I don’t even have the words for what that man has given me. Not just in tattooing, but in every aspect of my life. It’s weird because I still, to this day, feel his presence over my shoulder and, at times, I can even hear his voice of approval or disapproval. The fact that I carry him with me, always, is a testament to him as a mentor.


Do you have a favorite style of tattoo?
I prefer more realistic heavy texture black and grey work. I love doing portraits and animals, but I will pretty much tattoo anything and everything. To me, the true art is in the application, not the subject matter.


Do you have a favorite tattoo you have done?
Several different tattoos from different stages in my career and ones that have connected me with specific people that have, in turn, had major impacts on my life. Of course, some of my favorite tattoos I’ve done are the ones that have won awards. The portrait I did of Vincent Price won Artist Choice, Best Portrait, that year at Nationals. There were a lot of big-name portrait artists that I look up to in the same category in which my portrait had been submitted. I figured I didn’t have a chance. When they announced my name, I was completely shocked. On top of winning, the piece was published several times. To see that other tattooers have tried to copy it really floors me.


What’s your favorite color tattoo?
Marshall’s two sleeves. His Musashi sleeve reminds me of my mentor, and there is something about his phoenix tattoo, and the eye in the flames.  The way it’s positioned on his arm…I get obsessed just looking at it. Not really sure why, yet, artistically and visually; the way it conforms to his arm–it intrigues the shit out of me! I find myself staring at it randomly all the time when he’s around.


Who does your tattoo’s?
I have had multiple tattoo artists work on me. Some local, some not, mostly it’s more about the friendships that I have with those artists. The tattoo is a part of them that I will always carry with me, whether it was done by an apprentice or a master.


What’s the thought process behind Denver Tattoo Collective?
Denver Tattoo Collective is a collective of artists that I have met throughout my career. They all stem from Denver and whether they are still here or not, they are always a part of the artistic collective. We work together, learn together,  share and grow together. It’s my goal to use the studio to connect every one I can with all those amazing people.


Why Tattoo Masquerade?
To reclaim something amazing that the industry has lost over the years. The event will unite us all on a common ground of creativity and remind us all that we do what we do every day because we love the shit out of it and it’s fun.


Anything else people should know about you?
I will never stop pushing my limits. I will push until I can’t push anymore, and then, I will probably lean very heavily into them until I push the limits more.


Check out some of Willy’s work on Instagram.