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Josh Lord Exclusive: Celebrity Tattooer, Hollywood Hero, and Covert Artist During NYC’s Illegal Tattoo Scene

Photograph by Peter Roessler

Tattoo Artist Josh Lord tells INKED about working through the NYC tattoo ban, tattooing—and getting tattooed—by the Avengers; in addition to his fake tattoos behind manufacturing units like Sisters, Blindspot, The Final Airbender, and HBO’s True Detective.

East Aspect Ink proprietor, Joshua Lord, is the tattoo artist behind many celebrities’ tattoos, together with, Daniel Day Lewis; Aerosmith’s Joe Perry; Dee Dee Ramone; and most lately, the Avengers forged.

Earlier than these blessings, as Lord calls them, he needed to present his tooth by way of New York Metropolis’s unlawful tattooing scene.

Photograph by Peter Roessler

Photograph by Peter Roessler

Josh Lord displays on his 20-year tattooing profession, with INKED.

Earlier than studying to tattoo from a store in St. Marks Place—which was one of many many who regularly paid the NYPD to show the opposite means throughout New York Metropolis’s unlawful tattooing scene within the late ‘90s—Josh Lord had incessantly moved round from his birthplace in New Mexico, since childhood.

“The best way I usually describe my early days to people is that I went to more schools than I did grades,” Lord stated. “My earliest childhood memories are of the house that my parents built themselves. We had no electricity or running water, so that sets the mood.”

Josh Lord after tattooing Joe Perry

Josh Lord after tattooing Joe Perry

After settling into Rochester, New York for highschool, Lord knew he needed to go away his wait-staff job for one thing that he “could build on or show some kind of progress.”

“It was just a lot of short term conversations with a lot of people,” Lord stated. 

“Little did I know that it was going to be tattooing, but that led me on a search of all the things that I might want to do.”

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Tattoo by Josh Lord

His two choices that he was selecting between, was both: an apprenticeship with Albert Paley, a Rochester ironworker that has lovely work everywhere in the metropolis; or a suggestion to work at a tattoo store within the deep ghetto of Rochester—regardless of not understanding the right way to tattoo.

“It was a very low standard shop. The owner had gotten out of jail and started tattooing instantly, without any real knowledge of what they were doing,” Lord stated. “Instead of working with this phenomenal, amazingly talented ironworker, I chose the tattoo shop… mostly because I didn’t want to get up at six in the morning every day.”

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Leaving the meals business for the tattoo business made sense, as a result of the 2 worlds are so intertwined. He additionally leaned that approach, as “a big middle finger in the air.”

Lord quickly realized that the tattooers within the store “had no idea what they were doing.”

“This is just stuff that they learned in jail without actual machines,” he added.

Prison Tattoo Gun, Posted on Casey Neistat's Vimeo

Jail Tattoo Gun, Posted on Casey Neistat’s Vimeo

A mixture of Lord’s slight slant of the reality about his earlier tattoo expertise, and the store having such low requirements, Lord had began working there as a tattoo artist from “the very first day.”

“I can’t emphasize how low the standards were. People would come in every day and bargain for tattoos that cost $15, because that was too much money for them,” he stated. “It was just the kind of horrible place that I hope nobody ever has to set foot in to get a tattoo… but they always will exist.”

Though the store would by no means present the skilled development Lord had sought out, it did assist him understand how a lot he beloved the artwork type.

This new love, had additionally made him understand he had a whole lot of work to place in.

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Tattoo by Josh Lord

“It was so much more difficult than I thought it would be,” Lord stated. “It really seemed like a skill you could fake, which technically, I guess I did, but as any tattooer knows, sometimes it takes a year just to be able to do a straight line before you get down the subtleties.”

Lord’s subsequent step can be to “tackle it for real,” by throwing himself into New York Metropolis. With very restricted gear and six months of “actual tattooing experience,” he figured if he didn’t give himself some other selection, there can be no backing out.

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Tattoo by Josh Lord

“I had a really terrible, simplistic portfolio; $600 bucks in my pocket; and no job and nowhere to stay,” Lord stated. “And that was my introduction to New York.”

Little did he know, he would quickly be affiliated with envelope-payoffs to the mob.

It was nonetheless unlawful to tattoo when Lord arrived, and though the town was beginning to loosen the strict guidelines at that time, Lord “got a little taste of that world,” working at a store owned by Jonathan Shaw on St. Marks, till 4 within the morning.

“While tattoos were still technically illegal, they were kind of tolerated. The shop I worked at had a big banner out front that said ‘cappuccino… and tattoos,’” he stated. “But we didn’t actually serve cappuccinos.”

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Whereas Lord needs he didn’t miss the period of secret codes and door knocks, or the busses that might take you proper outdoors of the town line to get your ink, in his period of tattoos turning into extra “tolerated,” he nonetheless witnessed the common bribery envelopes.

“There was an envelope for the motorcycle gang that watched out for us—whose name I will not mention—and there was an envelope for the boys in blue who left us alone, and also got free tattoos,” Lord stated. “Then there was a bigger envelope for the mob, and that was our regular way of doing business.”

Lord notes that, whereas he had nothing to do with the “brain work in the bribery system,” his major position was being a “tattoo slave,” working 12-hour days, seven days every week.

He would sleep within the store and open it up once more at midday, “repeating the whole day for years.”

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Nevertheless, Lord equally wanted and needed the apply.

“I needed to get my chops down and catch up to all the great artists that were around the city,” he stated. “It would force me to do the kind of work that you can really only do in your early twenties. No way I could keep up with that pace now.”

Lord took what he discovered from the gritty tattoo scene that New York provided to proceed mastering his craft.

Though, “for many years,” his mom had informed folks that he was a dentist.

“I pretty much learned tattooing just out of stubbornness more than any kind of guidance at that point,” Lord stated. “Until I went on to my next shop, East Side Ink, where I had wonderful artists around me to learn from.”

Installation view of Tattooed New York at the New-York Historical Society

Set up view of Tattooed New York on the New-York Historic Society

Earlier than proudly owning East Aspect Ink, which Lord applauds as being “arguably the first shop in the city,” when it first opened, he credit studying from the masters on the store.

Artists together with, however not restricted to: Andrea Elston, the primary opener of East Aspect Ink, and the artists who labored there, Patrick Conlon and Nalla Smith.

“Those are the three people that I absolutely idolized and wanted to be more like, and put all my efforts into being, at least, good enough to work with these guys who were already kind of famous long before I even started tattooing,” Lord stated. “So while it was a struggle, it was a beautiful and wonderful chapter of my New York memories.”

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Tattoo by Josh Lord

With the service business nonetheless very a lot ingrained in Lord’s work ethic, his objective was to convey a few of it to the New York tattooing scene.

Via East Aspect Ink, Lord needed to ship some key elements he appreciated from his time bartending and ready tables.

The primary, being, “actual customer service.”

“Being nice to people doesn’t sound like a big deal now, because there is a lot of competition now and people are nice, but it wasn’t really the case in my memory,” Lord stated.

Lord remembers most of the outlets being standoffish, radiating the power that “you were lucky to be there, not that they were lucky to have you there.”

The opposite integration Lord needed to include was the thought of the open kitchen.

East Side Ink

East Aspect Ink

“So many restaurants that I worked at had an open kitchen so you could see what was going on,” Lord stated. “And every tattoo shop back then had a red front-room full of art, and then a grumpy person in a tiny window, who would take you into the back in separate rooms, and put you with somebody scary.”

“It was a very different mood. And now I’d like to say that almost all the shops kind of follow that open kitchen system,” Lord continued. “Pretty sure that we were the first, so I’m proud of that. I definitely am grateful for my time in the service industry.”

Lord’s commendation to his time working within the meals service had come full circle, when he and some associates opened a restaurant, referred to as VBar St. Marks, simply down the road from the St. Marks store he first labored at, eight years in the past.

Tattoo by Josh Lord

Tattoo by Josh Lord

“I didn’t do the running of the restaurant, I just did the aesthetics and the design. But it was where I had my first drink to celebrate my first job in the city,” Lord stated.

VBar St. Marks had “made it for almost 10 years” earlier than closing, however had ultimately became what’s now Ready on A Good friend.

VBar St. Marks

VBar St. Marks

By means of his skilled journey, Lord had all the time used his OCD to his benefit, to grasp the components that each one tattoos are made up of: line work, shading, and strong fill in.

“For years all I worked on was consistently getting any quality of line to look good; a subtle shading, from one gradient to the next; and the fill,” Lord stated. “Being OCD is a great characteristic for tattooers. Not for every job, but definitely for that one.”

Quickly after, Hollywood celebrities have been quickly sporting Lord’s detail-oriented work on and off the digital camera.

Most just lately, Lord tattooed the forged of the Avengers: Infinity Conflict.

From left to right: Robert Downey Jr., Jeremy Renner, Josh Lord, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson

From left to proper: Robert Downey Jr., Jeremy Renner, Josh Lord, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson

Lord had beforehand inked “longest-running celebrity customer and dear friend” Scarlett Johansson, who had introduced up the thought to incorporate Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and Chris Evans, in on the enjoyable.

The toughest a part of creating the Avengers’ tattoo, was getting “the six biggest actors on the planet to agree on one design.”

Lord stated, “Although the design is relatively simple, it had to be masculine enough for some and feminine enough for others. It incorporated each of their symbols and all of their initials, but still be a simple design that all of them would actually get.”

Josh Lord tattooing Chris Evans

Josh Lord tattooing Chris Evans

This easy design took months, and pages and pages of choices.

In fact, the ultimate product was universally liked by all members. Lord shares that though the tattoo itself “was an incredible honor,” the tattoo artist was additionally honored by being “in on the secret.”

Josh Lord after tattooing RDJ

Josh Lord after tattooing RDJ

“Robert Downey Jr specifically swore us all to secrecy, so no one would talk about the tattoo,” Lord stated. “And then, the next day at the premier, it was like the first thing he said. He pointed at us in the audience and gave us a little wink, and blew us a kiss, it was really cute.”

Whereas Mark Ruffalo had “personal reasons for backing out,” Downey Jr, Hemsworth, Evans, and Johansson, returned the favor by tattooing Lord’s “junk leg.”

Jeremy Renner after tattooing Josh Lord

Jeremy Renner after tattooing Josh Lord

“With respect to the one that my wife did on me, of course, that’s pretty much my favorite tattoo,” Lord stated. “It was just a phenomenally hilarious experience all around. I was really lucky to witness it as a fan, and as an old school, comic book nerd.”

“Everyone’s personality really came out in the lines, and everyone took it seriously. I’d say the people who really did the best were Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans,” Lord stated. “Those guys really showed off a little bit.”

Avengers: Infinity War matching tattoo

Avengers: Infinity Conflict matching tattoo

Lord added, “Chris Hemsworth really hurt me a lot he dug in right to my bone I think. I think he was getting revenge for his ribs.” Laughing, Lord stated, “He is very strong.”

Nevertheless, Hollywood isn’t solely graced by Josh Lord’s work, for his tattoos on celebrities.

Lord is the designer behind the fake tattoos you see in Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s Sisters, NBC’s collection Blindspot, M. Night time Shyamalan’s The Final Airbender, the primary season of HBO’s True Detective, and assisted the extremely badass chest-piece on Keanu Reeves in The Personal Lives of Pippa Lee.



“When I’m lucky, I get the scripts, the storyline and a lot of communication between everybody involved in the decision making process,” Lord stated. “I want the tattoos to really look real and done in the style that they should be done for the era.”

Whereas Lord does take pleasure in with the ability to take his time, and let his OCD roam free, he does design fake tattoos “on the fly” for a manufacturing, like he did with NBC’s upcoming present, The Village.

“They needed full sleeves and neck pieces for various characters, all designed and tested within two days,” Lord stated. “That’s something I’m happy to do because it’s fun to be a part of things, but I always love it when I have more time and an input.”

The Last Airbender

The Final Airbender

From doing this work and collaborating on so many units, Josh’s new pet peeve is seeing fake tattoos on display that look actually pretend.

He laughed, “It totally ruins shows for me because I just fixate on them.”

Lord’s first on-set fake-tattoo switch was for Keanu Reeves. Aiding Patrick Conlon, who designed Reeves’ large, full chest-piece, required drawing the piece on his chest by hand.

Lord explains that it’s because lower-budget films don’t name for the “fancy, expensive stickers” that productions like The Final Airbender necessitates, the place there are a variety of “[tattoo] scenes, actors, stunt doubles, and stand ins.”

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

The Personal Lives of Pippa Lee

“The drawing took about three hours for every time he was shirtless,” Lord stated. “While this was my introduction to faux tattoos, the highpoint of my fake-tattoo career was getting called in by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the genius, brilliant director behind True Detective’s fame.”

“That was a set where they gave me a good six months to work on that,” Lord stated. “We went back and forth trying hundreds of different designs before settling on the specific designs for the main characters, the biker gangs, the nazi pedophiles, etcetera.”

True Detective

True Detective

Lord stated he’s “very, very proud of these tattoos,” as a result of every part behind them, together with the artwork in making the tattoos look pale because the characters age, had been crafted with care.

“The director’s view was so brilliant, and all the people involved had brilliant things to say and everyone cared, you know?” Lord stated. “No one was going to settle for anything but perfection on that.”



Lord has even had a hand in persuading actors to get an actual ink, after they have been so keen on their fake tattoo.

Blindspot’s Jaimie Alexander had ultimately went beneath the tattoo needle after Lord’s assist for, what he thinks is, “the most fake-tattooed show, I think ever.”

I used to be fortunate sufficient to work together with her for fairly some time, with numerous tattoo purposes for her and different forged members on Blindspot. We talked rather a lot about all of the potential tattoos that she may’ve needed. Lastly, she received an superior beetle on her hip,” he stated.

Photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

Photograph by Jimmy Hubbard

As Lord has had a hand in serving to the tattoo scene—from the old-fashioned, gritty New York Metropolis, to at this time’s Hollywood heroes—INKED requested Josh Lord how he would need to depart the tattoo business, not solely higher than when he discovered it, however even after serving to push it to what it’s immediately.

“We kind of stand on the shoulders of the giants before us,” he stated. “When I started there weren’t a lot of really highly, detailed-focused artists. It just was a different world of tough guys. Especially in New York.”

“To a lot of people, surviving at four in the morning on Saint Marks was more important than tattoos being perfect.”

That is why his focus was all the time, and will all the time, be with excessive consideration to element.

“If you work hard on the details that no one sees, then everything that they do notice will have to be good,” Lord stated. “If I do have any legacy, I hope it would be for not only creating a tattoo a client is happy to look at, but one that gives them joy, with their memories associated with the tattoo experience.”

“I always tried to make sure that every person’s tattoo was taken absolutely seriously. And there’s no really small tattoos to me,” he continued. “They’re all just equally as important to the person getting it. That’s what I want people to leave with, a really positive experience.”

Lord stated that even with out his highlight on consideration to element, and for extending the enjoyment and appreciation of tattooing as an artwork type past the bikers; gangbangers; and “tough guys,” the “next generation of artists were already so much more different and more impressive in their skills than the ones that were around prior.”

He humbly added, “So I can’t say that I really influenced that too much, I was just lucky enough to be a part of that wave.”

“Everybody you’ve touched, it should make their life a little bit better,” he continued. “Not a little bit worse.”

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