I’m not scared of needles. I’ve had more piercings and tattoos than I can count. For a while I looked like Jody from PULP FICTION. “The one with all that shit in her face?” Yeah, that was me.
As far as tattoos are concerned, it’s something about that rush of adrenaline you get while you’re being stabbed repeatedly by needlepoint over and over again. When you’ve survived the pain — or pleasure, depending on who you are — you have a piece of artwork that will be on your skin forever. Unless it’s crappy. You could always get it covered up or removed, but if you’re on a peanut budget like me, that gets a laugh. That’s why I choose my tattoo artists very carefully.
But who can you trust to do the job if you want something horror-themed and, more importantly, realistic looking? Enter Paul Acker, horror color realism tattoo artist. Located in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, he owns a seriously rad tattoo shop called The Séance Tattoo Parlor.
I had the awesome opportunity to interview him about his work and the horror scene. Check it out below!
BLUMHOUSE.COM: For those that don’t know about you, can you give them a little background on how you became a tattoo artist?
PAUL ACKER: I started tattooing in 2000 soon after I graduated high school. I worked a few terrible jobs and basically spent all my money at the local tattoo shop. I always brought in my own designs that I drew which seemed to impress them so they offered me an apprenticeship, which I immediately accepted. I wanted to tattoo since I was about 13 but it wasn’t something that was super easy to get into back then. Apprenticeships weren’t easy to come by. After that I spent the next couple years cleaning the shop and paying my dues, etc. I would go in early in the morning to tattoo and practice my horror stuff on my friends and then do flash and walk-ins the rest of the day. From there I began hitting the convention circuit pretty heavy and traveling around getting my name out there. There weren’t really too many people doing the horror stuff back then so my goal was to be one of the guys you went to for it. I was determined to not suck at it, haha.
BH: Why did you choose tattooing over other mediums of art? (You’d probably be an awesome gaffer.)
PA: Tattooing has always been appealing to me since I was pretty young. I got my first tattoo when I was 13 and never looked back. Before that I always thought I would be a special effects artist and idolized people like Rob Bottin and Tom Savini. I still have a huge love for that but I just got my hands on tattooing first. I loved the artistic freedom tattooing had over most other art careers and the challenge of it, and believe it or not it was still very underground at the time so it seemed so punk rock to me.
BH: When did your relationship with horror begin? How has it shaped you as an artist?
PA: I’ve loved horror and drawing ever since I can remember. I still remember walking into my living room and seeing the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and just being mesmerized by it. After that I turned every winter glove I had into a Freddy glove with a few pencils and scotch tape until I got the HALLOWEEN costume a few years later. As an artist I was always drawn to portraits and faces in particular so it wasn’t long before horror characters started transitioning into my artwork as a young child.
BH: What was the horror scene like growing up in Philly?
PA: I spent a lot of my childhood staring at VHS box art in the horror section of the local video store. My mom was super rad and let me watch pretty much whatever so I was kind of like the local authority on all the horror characters and movies. When HALLOWEEN rolled around all the neighborhood kids would call me up to bring over some crazy horror movie I probably taped off MONSTERVISION, but that was the extent of my popularity. Being super into horror wasn’t necessarily a cool thing back then. You were kinda the weird kid but I didn’t really mind.
BH: What is it about horror that inspires/speaks to you the most?
PA: Well I think most people are initially drawn to horror because we’re all afraid of something or another. I think there’s a natural fascination with death and the darker side of life. I always really connected with the monsters in horror movies and realized they were usually more human than the human characters usually were. I find there to be more truth and expression in horror. Films like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE are a greater reflection of the time than other movies during that era because they were made out of rebellion. That has always had an impact on me. Horror and Science Fiction are the only genres of movies that have a whole culture behind it, because I think they really do speak to people and inspire them. It’s the most real in a lot of ways.
BH: What are some of your favorite horror movies? Why?
PA: I’m an eighties baby so I love all the slashers and splatter movies of that era. Some of my all time favorites are HALLOWEEN, EVIL DEAD 2, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER, THE THING, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Recently I’ve been enjoying a lot of the newer films that are paying homage to the older stuff like: IT FOLLOWS, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, and THE GUEST. I also really love all of the French stuff that came out a few years back like MARTYRS, INSIDE and HIGH TENSION. Great stuff!
BH: Why do you focus on color vs. grayscale for your tattoos?
PA: One of my biggest influences growing up was Famous Monsters cover artist Basil Gogos and the way he used beautiful colors and those extreme light sources. I always appreciated how it made the monsters seem like beautiful works of fine art, so that translated into my tattoos pretty early on. I also always loved how masters like Dario Argento, Stuart Gordon, and Carpenter used such vibrant color and dramatic lighting in their films. That was something I wanted to recreate in tattoo form. Color really helps me create the right atmosphere and sense of realism in my tattoos, but I still have a strong love for black and grey. I just have more fun with a broader pallet.
BH: What is one tattoo piece that you’re most proud of and why?
PA: I’m usually most proud of the larger projects after I complete them: sleeves, back pieces, etc. It takes a lot of dedication and time from both the artist and client to finish something like that so it feels so much more satisfying in the end. Sleeves could take up to a year to complete, working on them every few weeks so it’s a very big commitment on both ends. Recently I finished a pair of John Carpenter leg sleeves that I’m pretty proud of.
BH: How can you compare your tattooing techniques to the way movies are made?
PA: I have an immense respect for directors and filmmakers of any kind because of how extremely hard their craft is. To be able to accomplish a percentage of their original vision must be extremely difficult while collaborating with so many people on a project. Luckily, for me, tattooing is only a collaboration between one artist and one client so I have a much easier time accomplishing my vision. But they both are still visual mediums so I try and carry a lot of film techniques over into my tattoos — lighting, composition, focus, etc.
BH: You left Deep Six and started Séance. Why?
PA: I was just 23 when I opened Deep Six and had a business partner there. We didn’t always see eye to eye so it made it hard to progress the shop in the creative direction I wanted it to go in. Tattooing also evolves fairly quickly these days so I thought it was time to start fresh and reinvent the shop as a new beginning. I had a clear vision for what I wanted so I just decided to go out on my own and do it. Opening The Séance Tattoo Parlor last year was one of the hardest things I ever had to do but also the most fulfilling. I couldn’t be more proud of it and imagine anything different now.
BH: Your tattoo parlor is rad. Why did you decide to make it séance themed?
PA: Thank you!! I wanted to create an extremely professional yet comfortable environment for both artist and client with enough gothic elements to make the average horror fan right at home while also still being pretty cozy to everyone else. I always thought there was a lot of beauty and poetry in those old-timey Séance photos so I started to run with the idea and noticed no one has really done that much with it, so it just made sense. I wanted the shop to have a slight haunted mansion vibe anyway so it just fit perfectly. It’s a work in progress. I think the shop will keep evolving and grow stranger and darker perhaps. We’ll see…
BH: You’ve made a name for yourself in the tattooing industry. How do you think you’ve shaped the horror tattooing scene?
PA: I always tried to not pay much attention to trends in tattooing and always just do my thing and what I like. There definitely has been an influx of horror tattoos since I started 16 years ago but to say how much of that was inspired by me is hard to say. I feel like I’m still learning everyday so it’s strange to think about. My goal when I started was only to be able to do a horror tattoo every single day and be able to survive so I’m more than grateful for where I am and what tattooing has given to me. I can only hope I am giving something back to it and inspiring the next guy.
BH: How do you choose which tattoos you want to work on?
PA: I usually choose pieces based on how much I connect with the idea and how serious the client is. I like tattooing people who have a strong passion for the subject matter and who live and breath it as much as I do. I think people appreciate the fact that I’m super into horror and seek me out based on that so it makes it pretty easy for me. Horror nerds can always smell their own, haha.
If you like his work and want to make an appointment with him, go to www.seancetattoo.com and fill out their form. I’ll be getting a half sleeve from Paul next month!