Season 5

Adam Horitennyo Talks Philosophy That Drives Him, Moving East to West, and If There’s a “Right Way” to Start Tattooing...

Patrick Coste
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Published Mar 25, 2022
Updated Mar 25, 2022
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Patrick Coste: Hey, hey Adam, what’s shakin’? Remember the time when I thought you were a tattooer?

Adam Horitennyo: Lol, yes!

PC: Let me backtrack a bit for the readers... So it was in 2015, when I bid on a cool dragon face - original painting. That was at Jamie Mckay’s auction back then. I really dug it, and it was nice to find a talented person I’d not yet met, who seemed to be a decent tattooer etc…

Little did I know, after looking a bit and trying to find where he was working at, Adam was an art student who really, really, REALLY dug tattoos…

Adam’s Original from 2015 at Jamie McKay’s Auction - from Patrick Coste’s Collection - ©Horitennyo

AH: So long ago. Oh my goodness, lol! It was at the time I’d dropped out of art school, I believe… lots of water under the bridge since. I'm really happy that you got that!

PC: I’m really cherishing it! Lots of water for you and I both, but really nice water that went right. In the end, you did become a tattooer :P, how did it happen?

AH: Thank you very much! You’ve always been a great support for real and well, thank you for that… and yes I did become a tattooer. I knew I wanted to become a tattoo artist, it was a clear vision. Took a few years but yes, here I am.

Full sleeve tattoo by Adam
Full sleeve tattoo by Adam - ©Horitennyo

I went to art school as an artist, but I didn't really know what I wanted to do and dropped out. I got tattoos when I’d just turned 18 and I started really getting into drawing old flash; all the cool stuff that was cool at the time. I really did a lot of black and grey, gory, grimy stuff.

I moved back to New Brunswick after dropping out of college and just kind of painted. Everyone kept telling me that I should tattoo and I never realized that it was an option until I looked into it more, and I kind of pursued it from there. It was kind of a natural curiosity from the start really.

PC: To me, your passion took you there and I would say in a pretty quick way too. You’re five years in the making… Some would say that’s nothing, give it five more and you’ll get there... but here you are! Your Japanese-inspired tattoos are stunning, some are funny and yet very respectful of the style. You still dabble in American Traditional and so you just found a new medium to draw on!

AH: Thank you! Yes, passion, with that it naturally happened, you know? As my interest grew, I started doing a lot more painting and getting more tattoos and talking to more people, and it kind of just grew from there. The painting was kind of just a prerequisite to tattooing because that's what you do until you get to use to a machine.

PC: I remember you didn’t want to touch a tattoo machine before you had an apprenticeship and everything. A lot of respected tattooers started in a scratchy way, but you didn’t. You learned and discovered tattooing the “old way”. That’s how you discovered tattooing basics and philosophies right?

AH: I was advised not to take the machine and start that way. I had a lot of people helping me at the time and giving me advice, and I knew that it would be best to just start the “right way”. I don't think there's a right way. I don't believe there are too many rigid rules, and there are always exceptions to them, but I did go the more classic route and it worked out well for me.

PC: With all that, it didn’t go “BAM” or anything, right?

AH: A lot of years of building up for sure, and getting tattoos, you know? You get so used to painting, and I was really really used to painting at that point. I was making a painting a day or something. You want it to translate as easily as it does to your new medium, and when that happens and it's not as easy as you think it should be, it can be kind of devastating initially. Like anything, it takes time. You kind of get over your nerves and get over whatever is going on in your brain and you just make an effort to do it and try your best. Eventually you get the hang of it and you're making good tattoos for people.

PC: You make it sound so simple…

Spider tattoo by Adam Horitennyo - ©Horitennyo

AH: I guess in the grand scheme of things it WAS simple, right? It was just a matter of relaxing and trusting that you know what to do and in practice and preparing, making sure everything is as it should be to make sure it's going to happen, and making sure you're using all the right equipment. It's a conscious effort, you know?

PC: What's the next step for you? You've been doing big pieces, small pieces… I know that you’re very methodical, do you have a tattoo plan? Like, where do you want to go with all that?

AH: My master plan would be to keep doing large pieces. I have a lot of sleeves on the go that are really exciting, and I really want to make more sleeves, backpieces, more leg sleeves and a full frontal. I wanna do a lot of really large connective background stuff.

I love doing all tattoos truthfully, but I can honestly say that I'm very happy to do what I do, no matter what!

PC: … And then you find another way to be happy right? LOL!

AH: Totally. You really refine it. When you dedicate yourself to one style, it really becomes beautiful as you get towards the end.

PC: You’re just starting your career, and you’ve got a great grasp of tattooing.

AH: Thank you... Well, I’d say that looking through the history of when I started, it was really a process of… just calming down and the commitment to tattooing is essential and was there. It seems like it was years ago though. It wasn't easy, it wasn't like it got it right the first time.

It's really easy to be in your head and I was quite an anxious person while getting into tattooing. I've done a lot of work in that area on myself and I'm in a fantastic place now, but it was very difficult initially. Just learning to trust yourself and to be calm and to know that you know what you're doing, and to believe that you're going to make something really great for someone because you really want to, if that's your motive. That you really want to give someone a great tattoo.

I believe that you have everything available to give it to them and I think it's kind of a process of watching yourself and really reflecting on your own techniques and habits and behaviours and seeing where you can improve. Really listening to criticism whether you think it's justified or not. There's some value in that maybe someone mentioned something that you could work on and not really taking that negatively, but using it as a way to grow to become better at tattooing. To give people better tattoos because that's the end goal. I think if you have that as your angle and you want to see what the best tattoos in the world can do, you should want to make it as good as that and I think you can, if that makes sense?

PC: Absolutely. At least nowadays you can know what’s good, you know, because the information and the visuals are available. If you want a Foo Dog, you Google it and make a rendition of it.

AH: That's the amazing thing about the internet. Yes we can! Everyone is progressing so fast and quickly. Like, tattoos are so good now by people who start after a year or so, and we know that to be true. You can easily see who does the best out there.

There's so much more variety now. People can really specialize in one really specific thing and people want it, you know? It’s become so accessible that people can kind of shop for this really specific thing. There are really specific artists and they can get a tattoo they really like, you know?

You can find anything… for sure, there's someone out there that does it, and I think that's what tattooing was always kind of meant to become. It was supposed to. There are so many beautiful tattoos in the world and now they’re available like, here. In Calgary you can get pretty much anything, I believe, and that's really cool. Even places like Montreal especially - Oh My God, even in the East Coast provinces; New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia, you know?

PC: Get inspired! Nothing behind there eh? This also reminds me of your love for American Traditional and now you kill it with Japanese-inspired tattoos. Something must’ve clicked for you eh?

AH: I think I wanted to make a traditional American dragon painting and I have the Tattoo Time reissued boxed set. I was looking through and remembered seeing dragons in there, and I saw this dragon backpiece by Horiyoshi III and I was blown away. Like I saw it for the first time REALLY, if I could use that kind of turn of phrase.

There’s something about it that’s super magical and I knew I needed to learn what it’s all about and understand what I'm looking at: Why is it? So, why do I like it so much? It’s just kind of been that way since then. It's just kind of snowballed, you know?

PC: Lol! Rabbit hole or epiphany…

AH: Yes absolutely! It was very exciting and I just remember being really excited the whole time. It was never disappointing and even though it took a while to get my apprenticeship for all the reasons at that time.

Sleeve by Adam Horitennyo
Tattoo sleeve by Adam Horitennyo - ©Horitennyo

Even though it took a while, the excitement never stopped because, you know, I could visualize it happening and I guess it has…

PC: It has! :) I truly believe that life takes care of you and when you see it clearly, you can achieve it!

AH: I think you gotta go with what excites you and that's what led me to the best decisions of my life. It’s following excitement versus the right thing to do, because if you have that passion for something, that's the energy that's going to get you to do it. Like, getting into tattooing is so hard, you really need to be really passionate to get into it. Maybe in some circumstances you don't…

PC: Quite the philosophical talk we’re having here, lol, love it! I’m sure our readers will enjoy this.

AH: Lol, you know, tattooers permanently mark skin and so you really need to care. You really have to want the client to have a good tattoo. It's extreme. It's a very dramatic alteration… Some wait years before their first tattoo, just to get a good tattoo, but for the tattooer you have to think of it as being sacred and there's no autopilot. There's a certain rhythm you get into where you're really vibing with the tattoo and then there are moments where you're kind of just lost in thought or you’re angry about something stupid and it's like, no, you need to be here right now. This person deserves the best you can do, and that's all that’s required. There's a certain freedom in that, you know? It's only the best you can do, but that's quite a bit you’ve got to do.

PC: Being “in the zone” is fantastic…

AH: Exactly, and by doing it “right” you can look back and, even when you think that you were doing so terrible, I know that I tried my hardest and that's what feels best to me. I will add that when you know you put the most effort into it, I think that's the most important thing.

PC: Tell me what kind of person you are with yourself? What kind of critic are you?

AH: I feel that when I look at older work, I feel bad for the clients, lol. I thought if I messed up, like when I first started, obviously I did and I wish I could change it. As far as being hard on myself, everyone has to make bad tattoos, every tattooer has made bad tattoos, I'm no exception.

Peony Sleeve by Adam Horitennyo
Peony sleeve by Adam Horitennyo - ©Horitennyo

I feel bad because I tried my best, but I think you really just have to make a conscious effort to notice what you do and try to improve. I think that's exciting. Like how good could every artist be on the earth if they all kind of pursued that? How good would the art be in the world versus people who’ve decided that they're good enough, you know?

PC: Thank you Adam, you’re the best for indulging in this kind of conversation! LOL!

AH: Lol!

PC: To go back to your travels.. Coming from the East Coast, moving to Alberta must’ve been something. I remember when I did, it was…

AH: It was definitely something different. My wife is from here. I went to college here. It was a natural choice. It's been really great, it's great clients and a great little community. Jenny and I have built great friendships and it's awesome. I love it.

Tattoo-wise it wasn't that bad… A bit of a struggle at first. A hard start for sure, but you’ve got to persevere.

PC: True that! Geez, I’m browsing your IG while we’re talking. I love everything I see, lol, sorry to be the groupie here. I find your work to be quite traditional. Would you consider yourself to be a traditional Japanese tattooer?

AH: No…

PC: That was quick… lol.

AH: Lol, the subject is, but I’m not “traditional”. Traditional would be like, all by hand. You make your own pigments, you know? I’d say it's traditional-inspired.

I'm really inspired by Japanese tattoos from the 1980s. I think that's just the era that speaks to me the most right now.

There's something really cool about the 80s style and everything that revolves around horror in that time period that really speaks to me and has kind of been my main inspiration. It's really all I look at for tattoos. I really try to stick close to the art style and try to make it as proper as I can, but I would never call it traditional.

PC: Adam, we could go on forever, lol, love it. Tell me what’s next for you? I mean, everything seems well... What can you hope for in the not so distant future?

AH: To keep doing good tattoos is all I hope for! Keep working beside my wife @babysteps_tattoos at our studio @wabisabitattoo_yyc Go check out Jenny’s IG ;P she’s doing so well! And really, to keep on giving a good experience to clients. That’s very important.

Keeping on making large pieces is fun. You get the time and the honour of having the client’s dedication.

PC: No small task here, THANK YOU so much Adam, it was great to catch up on a personal and professional level. It’s been way too long!!!

"Polite, methodical and very philosophical, Adam didn’t take any half measures to get to where he is.” - Patrick Coste

Patrick Coste: Hey, hey Adam, what’s shakin’? Remember the time when I thought you were a tattooer?

Adam Horitennyo: Lol, yes!

PC: Let me backtrack a bit for the readers... So it was in 2015, when I bid on a cool dragon face - original painting. That was at Jamie Mckay’s auction back then. I really dug it, and it was nice to find a talented person I’d not yet met, who seemed to be a decent tattooer etc…

Little did I know, after looking a bit and trying to find where he was working at, Adam was an art student who really, really, REALLY dug tattoos…

Adam’s Original from 2015 at Jamie McKay’s Auction - from Patrick Coste’s Collection - ©Horitennyo

AH: So long ago. Oh my goodness, lol! It was at the time I’d dropped out of art school, I believe… lots of water under the bridge since. I'm really happy that you got that!

PC: I’m really cherishing it! Lots of water for you and I both, but really nice water that went right. In the end, you did become a tattooer :P, how did it happen?

AH: Thank you very much! You’ve always been a great support for real and well, thank you for that… and yes I did become a tattooer. I knew I wanted to become a tattoo artist, it was a clear vision. Took a few years but yes, here I am.

Full sleeve tattoo by Adam
Full sleeve tattoo by Adam - ©Horitennyo

I went to art school as an artist, but I didn't really know what I wanted to do and dropped out. I got tattoos when I’d just turned 18 and I started really getting into drawing old flash; all the cool stuff that was cool at the time. I really did a lot of black and grey, gory, grimy stuff.

I moved back to New Brunswick after dropping out of college and just kind of painted. Everyone kept telling me that I should tattoo and I never realized that it was an option until I looked into it more, and I kind of pursued it from there. It was kind of a natural curiosity from the start really.

PC: To me, your passion took you there and I would say in a pretty quick way too. You’re five years in the making… Some would say that’s nothing, give it five more and you’ll get there... but here you are! Your Japanese-inspired tattoos are stunning, some are funny and yet very respectful of the style. You still dabble in American Traditional and so you just found a new medium to draw on!

AH: Thank you! Yes, passion, with that it naturally happened, you know? As my interest grew, I started doing a lot more painting and getting more tattoos and talking to more people, and it kind of just grew from there. The painting was kind of just a prerequisite to tattooing because that's what you do until you get to use to a machine.

PC: I remember you didn’t want to touch a tattoo machine before you had an apprenticeship and everything. A lot of respected tattooers started in a scratchy way, but you didn’t. You learned and discovered tattooing the “old way”. That’s how you discovered tattooing basics and philosophies right?

AH: I was advised not to take the machine and start that way. I had a lot of people helping me at the time and giving me advice, and I knew that it would be best to just start the “right way”. I don't think there's a right way. I don't believe there are too many rigid rules, and there are always exceptions to them, but I did go the more classic route and it worked out well for me.

PC: With all that, it didn’t go “BAM” or anything, right?

AH: A lot of years of building up for sure, and getting tattoos, you know? You get so used to painting, and I was really really used to painting at that point. I was making a painting a day or something. You want it to translate as easily as it does to your new medium, and when that happens and it's not as easy as you think it should be, it can be kind of devastating initially. Like anything, it takes time. You kind of get over your nerves and get over whatever is going on in your brain and you just make an effort to do it and try your best. Eventually you get the hang of it and you're making good tattoos for people.

PC: You make it sound so simple…

Spider tattoo by Adam Horitennyo - ©Horitennyo

AH: I guess in the grand scheme of things it WAS simple, right? It was just a matter of relaxing and trusting that you know what to do and in practice and preparing, making sure everything is as it should be to make sure it's going to happen, and making sure you're using all the right equipment. It's a conscious effort, you know?

PC: What's the next step for you? You've been doing big pieces, small pieces… I know that you’re very methodical, do you have a tattoo plan? Like, where do you want to go with all that?

AH: My master plan would be to keep doing large pieces. I have a lot of sleeves on the go that are really exciting, and I really want to make more sleeves, backpieces, more leg sleeves and a full frontal. I wanna do a lot of really large connective background stuff.

I love doing all tattoos truthfully, but I can honestly say that I'm very happy to do what I do, no matter what!

PC: … And then you find another way to be happy right? LOL!

AH: Totally. You really refine it. When you dedicate yourself to one style, it really becomes beautiful as you get towards the end.

PC: You’re just starting your career, and you’ve got a great grasp of tattooing.

AH: Thank you... Well, I’d say that looking through the history of when I started, it was really a process of… just calming down and the commitment to tattooing is essential and was there. It seems like it was years ago though. It wasn't easy, it wasn't like it got it right the first time.

It's really easy to be in your head and I was quite an anxious person while getting into tattooing. I've done a lot of work in that area on myself and I'm in a fantastic place now, but it was very difficult initially. Just learning to trust yourself and to be calm and to know that you know what you're doing, and to believe that you're going to make something really great for someone because you really want to, if that's your motive. That you really want to give someone a great tattoo.

I believe that you have everything available to give it to them and I think it's kind of a process of watching yourself and really reflecting on your own techniques and habits and behaviours and seeing where you can improve. Really listening to criticism whether you think it's justified or not. There's some value in that maybe someone mentioned something that you could work on and not really taking that negatively, but using it as a way to grow to become better at tattooing. To give people better tattoos because that's the end goal. I think if you have that as your angle and you want to see what the best tattoos in the world can do, you should want to make it as good as that and I think you can, if that makes sense?

PC: Absolutely. At least nowadays you can know what’s good, you know, because the information and the visuals are available. If you want a Foo Dog, you Google it and make a rendition of it.

AH: That's the amazing thing about the internet. Yes we can! Everyone is progressing so fast and quickly. Like, tattoos are so good now by people who start after a year or so, and we know that to be true. You can easily see who does the best out there.

There's so much more variety now. People can really specialize in one really specific thing and people want it, you know? It’s become so accessible that people can kind of shop for this really specific thing. There are really specific artists and they can get a tattoo they really like, you know?

You can find anything… for sure, there's someone out there that does it, and I think that's what tattooing was always kind of meant to become. It was supposed to. There are so many beautiful tattoos in the world and now they’re available like, here. In Calgary you can get pretty much anything, I believe, and that's really cool. Even places like Montreal especially - Oh My God, even in the East Coast provinces; New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia, you know?

PC: Get inspired! Nothing behind there eh? This also reminds me of your love for American Traditional and now you kill it with Japanese-inspired tattoos. Something must’ve clicked for you eh?

AH: I think I wanted to make a traditional American dragon painting and I have the Tattoo Time reissued boxed set. I was looking through and remembered seeing dragons in there, and I saw this dragon backpiece by Horiyoshi III and I was blown away. Like I saw it for the first time REALLY, if I could use that kind of turn of phrase.

There’s something about it that’s super magical and I knew I needed to learn what it’s all about and understand what I'm looking at: Why is it? So, why do I like it so much? It’s just kind of been that way since then. It's just kind of snowballed, you know?

PC: Lol! Rabbit hole or epiphany…

AH: Yes absolutely! It was very exciting and I just remember being really excited the whole time. It was never disappointing and even though it took a while to get my apprenticeship for all the reasons at that time.

Sleeve by Adam Horitennyo
Tattoo sleeve by Adam Horitennyo - ©Horitennyo

Even though it took a while, the excitement never stopped because, you know, I could visualize it happening and I guess it has…

PC: It has! :) I truly believe that life takes care of you and when you see it clearly, you can achieve it!

AH: I think you gotta go with what excites you and that's what led me to the best decisions of my life. It’s following excitement versus the right thing to do, because if you have that passion for something, that's the energy that's going to get you to do it. Like, getting into tattooing is so hard, you really need to be really passionate to get into it. Maybe in some circumstances you don't…

PC: Quite the philosophical talk we’re having here, lol, love it! I’m sure our readers will enjoy this.

AH: Lol, you know, tattooers permanently mark skin and so you really need to care. You really have to want the client to have a good tattoo. It's extreme. It's a very dramatic alteration… Some wait years before their first tattoo, just to get a good tattoo, but for the tattooer you have to think of it as being sacred and there's no autopilot. There's a certain rhythm you get into where you're really vibing with the tattoo and then there are moments where you're kind of just lost in thought or you’re angry about something stupid and it's like, no, you need to be here right now. This person deserves the best you can do, and that's all that’s required. There's a certain freedom in that, you know? It's only the best you can do, but that's quite a bit you’ve got to do.

PC: Being “in the zone” is fantastic…

AH: Exactly, and by doing it “right” you can look back and, even when you think that you were doing so terrible, I know that I tried my hardest and that's what feels best to me. I will add that when you know you put the most effort into it, I think that's the most important thing.

PC: Tell me what kind of person you are with yourself? What kind of critic are you?

AH: I feel that when I look at older work, I feel bad for the clients, lol. I thought if I messed up, like when I first started, obviously I did and I wish I could change it. As far as being hard on myself, everyone has to make bad tattoos, every tattooer has made bad tattoos, I'm no exception.

Peony Sleeve by Adam Horitennyo
Peony sleeve by Adam Horitennyo - ©Horitennyo

I feel bad because I tried my best, but I think you really just have to make a conscious effort to notice what you do and try to improve. I think that's exciting. Like how good could every artist be on the earth if they all kind of pursued that? How good would the art be in the world versus people who’ve decided that they're good enough, you know?

PC: Thank you Adam, you’re the best for indulging in this kind of conversation! LOL!

AH: Lol!

PC: To go back to your travels.. Coming from the East Coast, moving to Alberta must’ve been something. I remember when I did, it was…

AH: It was definitely something different. My wife is from here. I went to college here. It was a natural choice. It's been really great, it's great clients and a great little community. Jenny and I have built great friendships and it's awesome. I love it.

Tattoo-wise it wasn't that bad… A bit of a struggle at first. A hard start for sure, but you’ve got to persevere.

PC: True that! Geez, I’m browsing your IG while we’re talking. I love everything I see, lol, sorry to be the groupie here. I find your work to be quite traditional. Would you consider yourself to be a traditional Japanese tattooer?

AH: No…

PC: That was quick… lol.

AH: Lol, the subject is, but I’m not “traditional”. Traditional would be like, all by hand. You make your own pigments, you know? I’d say it's traditional-inspired.

I'm really inspired by Japanese tattoos from the 1980s. I think that's just the era that speaks to me the most right now.

There's something really cool about the 80s style and everything that revolves around horror in that time period that really speaks to me and has kind of been my main inspiration. It's really all I look at for tattoos. I really try to stick close to the art style and try to make it as proper as I can, but I would never call it traditional.

PC: Adam, we could go on forever, lol, love it. Tell me what’s next for you? I mean, everything seems well... What can you hope for in the not so distant future?

AH: To keep doing good tattoos is all I hope for! Keep working beside my wife @babysteps_tattoos at our studio @wabisabitattoo_yyc Go check out Jenny’s IG ;P she’s doing so well! And really, to keep on giving a good experience to clients. That’s very important.

Keeping on making large pieces is fun. You get the time and the honour of having the client’s dedication.

PC: No small task here, THANK YOU so much Adam, it was great to catch up on a personal and professional level. It’s been way too long!!!

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