Some words about me
Can you draw this?
One of my first memories of drawing ...
was of my mother showing me how to draw the profile of a woman's face from a "can-you-draw-this" correspondence ad for an art school. I also remember re-drawing the back of matchbook on an erasable tablet with a plastic nib--you just had to lift the cover sheet of carbon and acetate and draw again.

My biggest childhood influence however, cam from a man by the name of Jon Gnagy. Gnagy was a pioneer of instruction shows on TV in the 50's and hosted the art show "Even You Can Draw." I found the remnants of a Jon Gnagy drawing set that my uncle had left with my grandmother before heading off to join the Air Force. I can still remember drawing a profile of a Great Dane and a covered bridge over a stream, complete with trees as well as other examples from the instructional book. I made it a point to watch his show whenever I could.

Then came comic books. I liked anything dinosaur. I have always had a fascination with reptiles (I have a pet blood python that's 15 years old), monsters, hot rods and everything Big Daddy Roth. I would draw weirdos on t-shirts for friends, hot rods and dragsters (I loved to draw chrome and eyeballs). When I was 13, my mother bought me a set of oils and set me up with a few lessons from a lady in Petersburg. I did my first still life and found a calling. Then came the underground comics, coffee table books (I prized a big one by Salvador Dali) and album cover art of the 70's with artists like Abdul Mati Klarwein. Today I get most of my inspiration from tattoo artists whose work I admire, especially the masters of realism and portraiture (I know how hard it is to attempt), and a number of fantasy artists.

I consider myself an illustrator and in retrospect, although I had grand dreams of being a fine artist, illustration is all I ever wanted to do. I have an associates degree in art and have done some independent study, with the most influential being a tenure with a Mexican based Californian portrait artist, Don Stewart, at his studio La Academia de Pintura in my favorite town, San Miguel De Allende. In 1978 I met and married my beautiful wife Brenda and resolved to put the art world on hold and make a living in a tough economy.

Fast forward to 1992. After being laid off in yet another recession from the last of my factory jobs (where I worked mostly in quality control or assurance), I decided to take a leap of faith and start a new profession as an artist. In the late 80's there weren't any tattoo magazines, but I would pick up on features in Iron Horse and Easy Rider, one of which was about West Coast portraiture and Brian Everett. Until then I had only seen examples of what tattoos the guys at work were getting, or my dad's devil dog or my grandfather's collection of WW2 designs (he had been in both the army and the navy), but none impressed me with artistic interpretation or technique. Yet, here were guys like Jack Rudy, who were producing drawings on skin that looked like they were rendered on paper. I began to study up on tattooing. There wasn't much available, but I found a shop who was looking for an experienced artist and although I did not think I qualified, I met with the owner of Southern Rose Tattoo in Waynseboro, Virginia. After seeing my portfolio, he agreed to let me help him out in the shop and get behind the scenes. I owe a special debt to Lantz Fisk for allowing me to watch his expertise with a single needle, inspiring me to get some of my own equipment (the Huck Spalding kit) and begin torturing grapefruits.

I will always be grateful to those guys for giving me a leg up. However, I owe the greatest debt to the late Gary Childress, owner of Creative Design (one of the oldest shops in Richmond) and USA Tattoo (the first shop in Petersburg) for giving a 40 year old man (Bob Tyrell was 34 when he began tattooing) a start in a business that is tough to get into.

I wish I had had an apprenticeship and learned the "right" way (the learning curve would not have been so hard) but things happen for a reason. I don't know if I had started in 1978 (when I would have liked to) if I would be the same artist that I am now. I feel very blessed to be tattooing in such a great time for the craft and while the bar for quality is being raised. Tattooing has allowed me to do what I always wanted to do.

As I have stated, I am an illustrator. I love other mediums such as oil on panel and love to play with an airbrush (I did a lot of that in the 70's), but graphite is my standby (it's always there) and tattooing is my passion. I do any style but love to do realism and portraits, especially those with fantasy themes.

When I opened Mystic Art in April 2001, I did so knowing that having a custom shop meant more work and pressure to actually create designs rather than just use flash. I had done flash for years and would just as soon quit the business than continue the same repetitive flash designs that seemed to represent 10 percent of an entire shop collection. It wasn't making me a better artist. As far as inspiration, I have to say the magazines keep me challenged. I am blown away by some of the work being done now, and occasionally seeing masters like Shane O'Neil and Bob Tyrell work (among others) at a convention.

At Mystic Art, quality is my mission in every tattoo I do, no matter what the style. Brenda (who has a degree to teach art and is an excellent artist herself) is usually the first face you will see when you visit us. She has an amazing ability to make you feel comfortable and can gel ideas and do sketches to help us give you the design that you really want. Getting a tattoo is a potentially life-altering experience. Together we feel that we can provide the best service and quality of any shop in the area. We are a small custom operation, not a street shop and don't do much flash (although walk-ins are available when time permits). However, the Internet is a treasure trove for those who want to download a design and bring it in. We like for our customers to think outside the box. So when you want a standard tattoo that is a notch above the rest, or a custom illustration for your body, come visit us. We are ready to take your request and make your tattoo a "mystic" experience.
Sincerely, Tom Milhoan