Encouraged at a young age by artistic family members, Mike McMahon does not remember a time when he was not interested in art and knew tattooing would be a long time pursuit. Using life experiences that push him constantly, he takes inspiration from moments like the birth of his daughter. “Every day she seems to personify the beauty and artfulness of life that occurs in all things.” Mike continues to use his daughter, family, friends, and “the beautiful woman I love” as a constant source of joy and inspiration.
How Mike gained an apprenticeship is truly one of uniqueness. In 2002, he answered an ad for counter help in a “skeezy biker shop.” The owner at the shop told him, “We aren’t giving away free apprenticeships so if that’s what you’re thinking then just get out now!” Expressing his full understanding of the situation, he explained the desire to be near the industry so he was told to report to her husband in a different location. Showing up the next day, Mike came into contact with an angry biker who glared at him in confusion, “Who the #@!* are you!?” Thinking on his feet Mike replied, “I’m the new apprentice.” From there he was tattooing within six months until he left after not gaining the amount of knowledge he desired, where upon he gained a more formal apprenticeship under Brandon Bond in his studio All or Nothing. The crew there consisted of renowned artists and pushed Mike to new artistic heights, where an incredible collection of clients visited from all over the country and world, sharing wild ideas and stories lending Mike an unending source of inspiration and imagination.
Through Mike’s experiences he has gained a great affection for many different types of tattooing, but realism and surrealism come more naturally to him. Through different ideas and inspirations from clients, Mike’s thoughts and emotions on each piece vary with each situation and client. He also believes that all pieces should be subjective and that what pieces can be considered strange by some are debatable by others. “Plenty of people look at what we do as strange. I’ve tattooed everything from politicians, celebrities, to stay at home moms. A small tattoo is weird to me.”
Everyone and anyone that has been within the walls of tattoo studios know that shops and artists are extremely competitive. The most inspiring complement Mike has received came from fellow artist and influence, Dave Tedder, who upon seeing a completed tattoo of Mike’s replied, “F#@k You!!!” Creating inspiring work requires the use of great equipment, and Mike did not want to reveal his secret arsenal of inks and machines. “There are many very reliable professional products to choose from but a guy has to keep some of his secrets.”
As we all know, times are tough, and charity work is extremely necessary and helpful. The crew at All or Nothing work closely with Friends to the Forlorn and Mike regularly donates gift certificates to a number of local schools as well as charities and fund raisers, a matter which surely adds to his life experiences.
Most artists will tell anyone who wants to apprentice that it is much harder than it looks. This may lead to failure to the less than dedicated individuals who believe that just because they have some talent, they can pick up that machine and make permanent art. Mike’s advice to those who believe they have what it takes is this: “If you have the passion and are willing to put in the work then you just may have a rewarding career ahead of you that will change everything in your life. If you don’t have those things, step aside, make room for those who do.”
See more of Mike's work here.
Written By: Heather Martini