When you want some beautifully drawn art etched permanently onto your body, you go see a man who knows about such things. When you are a world-class athlete or tattoo aficionado in the know—such as the Denver Broncos' Von Miller—you go see Phillip Spearman.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Spearman, who is a world-famous tattoo artist who owns InkWorks Tattoo, based in Los Angeles.
Spearman is more than a tattoo artist and winner of various awards—including awards from the Rites of Passage Festival and the 2010 Needle Art Tattoo Convention—he is a friend and confidant to some familiar faces around the sports world.
Something that piqued our own interest is how athletes and tattoo artist meet for more than mere masterfully etched ink but a budding friendship that lasts long after they leave the chair.
In Spearman's case, he has tattooed the likes of Derek Wolfe, Austin Pettis, Marqise Lee, Cassius Marsh, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Cyrus Gray, Damontre Moore, Jeremy Bonderman, Terrance Knighton, Matt Prater and, of course, Miller, who remains one of Spearman's dear friends.
Spearman's clientele ranges from all walks of life, but the world-famous tattoo artist meandered into the sports world by chance: "Early on in my career, I tattooed a couple of athletes but really wasn't aware of it, because my main focus was building my craft and getting better and building a name."
Spearman continues that his desire to further his craft took him all over the world, leading him to find new ways to challenge himself:
"So I started looking elsewhere, seeing where I could put my attention to, and I started thinking about athletes, because I used to play sports before...and I got introduced to Von Miller, and from there it just exploded."
As for Spearman and Miller, they are great friends.
"Von Miller is cool. He's one of the most down-to-earth, realest person I've met. A lot of people don't understand him because, for him, he's about going all out in everything he does. That's why he is in the position he is in. I did a tattoo on him of a cowboy riding a bull, because he's from Texas. And on the side of that tattoo, on the fence, it says, 'Life.'
"It's like him riding life like a bull. That's not finished yet, but I think that's going to be the best piece I did on him. Well, most influential piece I did on him."
Now before we get back to the land of men hired to hit other men extremely hard, we'd like to take a break for an interesting anecdote offered by this well-traveled artist.
It centers around the renowned Billy Eason, who passed in 2011, and it typifies the kind of dedication Spearman has for his craft as well as the kind of opportunity that can come when you least expect it.
When asked what a favorite tattoo of his might be, Spearman offered, "I think it would be my portrait of Billy Eason."
"I didn't even know who he was; he's this famous tattoo artist on the east coast in Virginia, and he did all the big shows. I was on my way to a show in Baltimore and I saw something online that he needed help. Some of his guys had left in the middle of the night and left his shop with no artists....I went over there, tattooed at his shop; and all the money I made I gave it to him, because I came there to help, not make money—not realizing who he was.
"And I was testing out a new machine and didn't know what to tattoo. I took a picture of him and did it on (another volunteer). That guy helped me after that, launched me into the tattoo industry, because he knew all the artists. And then after he passed away, that tattoo picture has been in almost every tattoo publication in the world. And he still continues to help me after he passed."
And that, friends, is how amazing life stories are made.
As for names sports fan might be familiar with, Spearman continues to cover them all, from pro skaters to Broncos kickers.
Prater sports a fine red-tailed falcon, an homage to his heritage. Wolfe enjoys a rather wonderful wolf to go along with his menacing surname.
And then there is Pettis, a receiver who now sports a tattoo that is best seen rather than described. Here is a glimpse at that ink:
Spearman adds that when life demands an O.C. tattoo, you go out and cut an orange—or something like that.
"He's from Orange County, so we did one of those tattoos where it says 'O.C.' for Orange County, but we used an orange. And I saw the pictures online, and it wasn't really good enough or the position that I wanted. So we just went out, got an orange and sliced it and took a photo of it. And set it in a position to look like 'O.C.' I did a couple of tattoos on him actually, but that was the coolest one."
It's amazing that something as simple and trivial as an orange can become so significant the moment it goes from Spearman's pen to an athlete's skin. But that's what he loves to do: provide a lasting image for what matters most to his clients.
Although, clients might be too harsh a word, not fully encompassing the relationship. When asked whether a budding friendship helps the art placed on these athletes' skin, Spearman maintained, "It really does (help). It makes me wanna go that much more, because now it's like a friend. There's an actual bond there. It's not about money anymore."
Coming from anybody else, such a claim would be met with gentle eye rolling, but not here. This is the same tattoo artist who picked up and traveled the world for seven years, honing his craft and winning awards, only to return when it felt right.
For some, that decision was ridiculous, losing out on being the best. But life isn't about staying static, according to Spearman: "My vision, I want it to be bigger than famous in Artesia, I want to be on an international playing field...that was the best decision I ever made."
In speaking with Spearman, we were reminded that tattoo artists and clients are two terms that don't quite fit this relationship, because there is something more there.
"All of my athletes' relationships have been outside the chair. We'll go to clubs or we eat dinner. I'll stay at Von Miller's house. Now I'm real cool and close with Von Miller's mom and dad. His mom calls my daughter and they're planning trips to Dallas to their house, and my daughter's calling me telling me, 'Dad, we're going to Dallas to Von's mom's house.'"
While this might be the same for some of you with ink, there is something we nearly missed in all of Spearman's tales.
At first glance, you have a man who pals around with elite professionals and offers his services as an amazing and accomplished artist.
Underneath, and more importantly, there is a person who decided he was going to do what he loved and do it in a manner he felt was right, something easily gleaned from his Twitter description that reads, "I am a perfectionist."
It's a statement that plays out nicely across his Instagram feed as well:
Perhaps that sentiment stems from the initial throes of his professional journey. Spearman said that when he was 21, he decided he was going to become a tattoo artist and told his mother.
Rather than express caution, Spearman's mother endowed a heaping dose of wisdom that has paid off to this day. She told her son, "I don't care what you do, son. Just, whatever it is you want to do, don't kid yourself. Try to be good at what you do and you'll be fine."
It sounds simple, but it's tragically difficult for so many. Spearman is the rare person who discovered exactly what he was passionate about and had the confidence to chase after it.
Now he is tattooing his art on some amazing athletes who are just as dedicated to their craft. There is a lesson to be learned there, if you are willing to find it.
Hit me up on Twitter: Follow @gabezal.
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