F*ck Covid-19, lets talk tattooing. Yayo interviews the astounding Mason Flippin
We live in interesting times. Across the world Covid-19 has locked down the tattoo industry. As a writer what I love most about my job is travelling to interview people. Now I am confined to my house and stuck in front of a laptop. As I drink my hundredth cup of tea of the day an email drops into my inbox; its Yayo main man Mason Flippin writing to me all the way from the good old U.S of A. Within 5 minutes we are chatting on messenger.
I start by asking him how he got into tattooing.
“Hey there I'm Mason Flippin and I'm from Central Fl. Well not originally, see I was born in North Central Arkansas but I grew up in East Orlando Florida, USA!”
“I was honestly kind of got talked into tattooing. My pops began collecting a bit more tattoos when I was in my early twenties and he kind of befriended one of the artists he was collecting from. My dad invited him and his wife over to my parent’s house for dinner; I guess that mutual friendship thing people experience throughout their lives. Growing up I kind of spent more of my time creating in different mediums music, paint, graffiti, drafting to name a few and my parents had collected a few of my larger works over the years. I kind of left them at their house and they hung em up. Or maybe I created a few pieces for my Mama Dukes for her birthdays or holidays because I was a broke, punk ass kid. Either way, the artist my pops invited over asked about the paintings, and then wanted to meet me sometime.”
“A bit later I had the opportunity to meet Jonathan "Jono" Betancourt at the studio he was working in at the time called Red Hanya. I had collected a few tattoos from some artists in the area so I wasn't completely new to the tattoo world, so I figured Jono wanted to meet me in hopes of tattooing me, or having me create a piece or two for his home.”
“Man, I genuinely still love the process of tattooing."
“I still dunno his intentions then completely, but for some reason, he seemed to enjoy me as a human because he convinced me to consider pursuing tattooing as career. When he first asked if I was interesting in tattooing, my first response was “I can't do that, I've honestly never given it any thought". I enjoyed tattoos, I enjoyed collecting tattoos, and, I really enjoyed creating art, so I guess in hindsight it makes sense. But I was still hesitant to fully pursue a career in tattooing, and Jono could see that, so he asked if I would come shadow himself and a few artists in that studio, to get a better understanding of the trade. And I absolutely fell in love with the culture, respect, diligence, and process of the craft.”
“So one week after I turned 22, I accepted my apprenticeship for everything it had to offer, and allowed tattooing to change the course of my life. I am eternally grateful Jono reached out when he did, and saw something within me that I didn't. My apprenticeship was about a year and a half long, and I have been tattooing for close to nine years now. I'm currently tattooing at a studio called Trinity Tattoo in Longwood Florida. Been here for three years, and still genuinely love the crew.”
My next question is, what do you love most about tattooing and has that love changed over the years?
“Man, I genuinely still love the process of tattooing. From meeting new clients, to hearing and seeing their ideas, discussing options, and then my all time favourite thing in the world (next to spending time with my pups of course) is drafting. I'm still very much in love with drawing and drafting. I still rock n roll with pencil n paper, I know many of my peers have moved on to the digital world and I own and work with an Ipad from time to time, mostly to design mandalas. I've tried to draw/design/draft on there but I just love the process of working with paper, pencils, pen, markers, and then onto skin. So I'm that asshole that still travels around with a backpack full of paper and pencils, books, stuff and junk.”
"Kinda awesome to see the tattoo community become conscious of its impact on the environment."
I’d wanted to ask Mason about tattoo tourism but it seems an odd interview approach when the tourist industry is on hold. I ask it anyway as I prepared the questions before Covid-19 took over the world. My life has been compromised by the virus; I don’t want my writing to be effected in the same way.
“You know man, people get tattooed for so many reasons, occasions, life markers, mistakes, whatever they deem appropriate at that point in their life. I encourage all collectors to collect from the artists that genuinely interest them for which ever project they have in mind. If you have an idea for a piece to commemorate something important in your life, and you thoroughly enjoy someone’s work and style and desire them to create for you; reach out to them. They may end up in your area in the near future, or travel out to them. Not only will you end up with a beautiful piece to your collection, but you'll acquire a story to go along with it. Or if yah just dig someone’s work and want to wear something they've created, make it happen.”
“As far as a carbon footprint, as a human on this planet, I agree we should pay attention to how we utilize our resources, and do what we can to accommodate the use of resources and our impact on the environment. Tattooists do produce a lot of plastic waste while creating, that is very true. Recently I have seen a few companies keeping this in mind with their products by offering biodegradable supplies. I'd like to say BlackClaw is keeping this mind with their packaging, then there is a newer company called Green House Tattoo Supplies that's making the effort to only sell biodegradable products to the tattoo world. Man I wanna say even True Tattoo Supply is offering paper ink caps now. Kinda awesome to see the tattoo community become conscious of its impact on the environment, and do what it can to improve its standards. Part of why I dig Yayo so much man. Not only are the products stellar and fun to create with, but they're vegan friendly and 100% natural!”
“Yayo Candy is the most gangsta ass smelly good deliciousness ever created for stencils."
To focus on a positive I switch the interview to aftercare; specifically why Yayo is so god damn good.
“I use a lot of Yayo products honestly. I really enjoy Yayo prime as a process butter/cream to work with, and as an aftercare. I did work with their Autumn version recently and hella hella enjoyed that stuff as well. If I'm working a larger project, I'll usually throw my client a 50ml pot for after care. This way I know what they're using is correct and we haven't introduced too much to their skin; just the Yayo process butter the entire way through baby.”
“I work with their green soaps, all scents. Sometimes I feel like a wizard and mix a couple together! So far Yayo Spook mixed with Yayo Juice has been the crazy goodness. I use Yayo Guard on certain projects, where willing, and Yayo Grip Tape on disposable tubes, or on stylus machines when rocking with those. I tend to flip flop between coils, rotaries, and stylus styled machines, depending on the project.
“Yayo Candy is the most gangsta ass smelly good deliciousness ever created for stencils, I, Fucking, Love, That, Stuff! And then cleansing foams, water solidifiers, and I got a chance to use Yayo Chill on some lazer removal stuff a few months back. Even gave some to my buds out at Pigment Tattoo in Austin Texas while I was there a few months ago as they offer lazer removal at their studio. I really dig what Yayo brings to the table for aftercare, not only because they're products are a fucking blast to create with, but because what they offer has consistently been top notch. Vegan friendly products, and they're hella ultra smelly good. Not to mention, big MacDaddy Kirk Diggler is ridiculously, ridiculously, good looking...”
Cover ups seem to be big business and Mason agrees. I ask how, in this day and age, many of us still end up with a tattoo we regret.
“I'm fortunate to create for and with some amazing humans that will allow me to explore the limitations of myself as an artist, and on occasion, they will present me with a project that requires a massive undertaking of covering something up. The stories that usually go along with a cover up are buck wild; always a fun experience, always a challenge. Sometimes people just get unlucky with their artists, or don't research the quality of their work. Sometimes they will seek the lowest bidder, or just don't care who's tattooing them. Or maybe they'll get something they may regret later on down the road. Names, something trendy at the time, or friendship tattoos they're no longer attached to. Life happens, I get it. I do enjoy the process of creating a cover up tattoo for people. Taking something they are no longer proud of and doing what I can with it, or over it, so they can be proud of what they're wearing again. Always a challenge, always a good time.”
"The stories that usually go along with a cover up are buck wild."
As I write my daughter bounces on the trampoline in the back garden, chatting to her friend Grace via WhatsApp. Life feels so disjointed and disparate. I ask Mason if he thinks art and tattooing has the power to bring people together.
“Absolutely man; I believe the world has always been, and will always be a crazy place honestly. But I also believe we have been tattooing each other for a millennia, through all of it, for every reason you can imagine, and will continue to do so. I am positive art and tattoos have and will continue to bring people together. From tribes continuously marking themselves through rights of passage for centuries, to the average homie digging what you're rocking on your arm in line at the coffee shop. Art and tattoos are generally forms of self expression. Whether they be serious, silly, sad, funny, ceremonial, sacred, whatever. If it resonates within yah to adorn yourself a certain way, I'm certain someone somewhere will feel similar, and if they don't, hopefully they respect themselves enough to respect you and your points of view as well. Or at least respect the craft. Tattoos and art are fucking awesome son!
I normally end an interview asking what the artist is planning for the upcoming year but as we are all on Covid-19 lockdown I instead ask how Mason is coping in these unprecedented times.
“Man, I’ve been very fortunate in my career, between tattooing wonderful humans and working with wonderful humans. This ordeal, although feeling very surreal when I do get out to grab supplies, has made me feel very grateful for my life, my coworkers, my family, and of course my pups. I typically book 6-12 weeks out so I have had to reschedule/ move around quite a few appointments, but my clients understand. Plus yah know, the US government told us not to so I’ve been attempting to utilize my time constructively; exercise, paint, draw. I am currently in the middle of closing on a house during all of this, so we have been cleaning and packing a bit as well. Odd timing all around, but hell man I doubt any time would have been a good time for something like this. It is rad to see some unity come up amongst people. Respecting each other, helping each other where yah can; just such a wild time to experience.”
"I believe the world has always been, and will always be a crazy place honestly."
I thank Mason for his time and log off Facebook. Its bath time and my daughter heads upstairs with my wife. I open a beer, flick on Spotify and crank up Slayer; Covid-19 ain’t going to ruin my Saturday night.
A final thought from the author: "It's time for the tattoo industry to come together. Tattooing may be mothballed for the foreseeable future but when the time is right it will be back and stronger than ever. Now is not the time for solace, sympathy or remorse; now is a time to fight. Yayo will be leading the resurrection of tattooing once this wretched disease called Covid-19 has been defeated. Let us come together through the power of the internet to share our love for each other and our love of tattooing. The Yayo team would like to extend our thanks and support to those key workers out there on the front line, keeping us all safe and keeping society moving."
Yayo... its a family thing.