Paul Timman draws out variations for a tattoo.
Phas inked the bodies of Angelina Jolie and Mark Wahlberg, coming face to skin with some of the top celebrities in the country while remaining unfazed.
The Toledo native turned Hollywood tattoo artist generally keeps it together in the face of stardom, but there was at least one time when he was overwhelmed by the jitters.
He was working on a rocker from the New York area, a guy covered in tattoos who wanted a name inked onto his neck, when Pamela Anderson walked in and asked for Timman. She had broken up with Tommy Lee and wanted some work done to obscure the “ring” she had tattooed on her finger to signify her love for the Motley Crue drummer.
Timman told her he’d get to her as soon as he finished his work on the New Yorker, so Anderson chilled out in the reception area of the Sunset Strip Tattoo parlor.
His client was impressed.
“The guy turns to me and he’s like, ‘Bro, this is my favorite tattoo,’” Timman said in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. “And I look at him and I kind of stop and go, ‘You’re covered in tattoos by people who are really great tattoo artists. I’m putting a name on the side of your neck, why is this thing your favorite tattoo?’
“And he looks at me and says, ‘Because you just made Pamela Anderson wait for me.’ I started laughing and it got me really nervous because, wow, I’m going to tattoo Pamela Anderson and this really is a big deal. So I got a little nervous and had to calm myself down and go, ‘She’s just another blonde with big boobs in Hollywood, California. That’s it. That’s all it is.’”
Timman returns to Toledo for a free Toledo Museum of Art Masters Series lecture at 6 p.m. today at the Peristyle. His work is widely respected in the world of tattooing and he has expanded his art to dinnerware through the Ink Dish company.
The 41-year-old son of Mary Lu Timman and the late Thomas Timman grew up in the Toledo area, living in Maumee and Perrysburg, but his family moved around a lot and he graduated from high school in Michigan.
He considers Toledo home and has fond memories of going to the museum when he was a young boy. The impetus for a lifetime in art was his visits to the Monroe Street museum.
“I live in Los Angeles now and obviously L.A. is still a booming city and a booming place and when I go back to Toledo I get depressed in the sense that the economy is like a lot of places where the big steel industry and automotive industry used to be booming and now it’s lackluster,” he said.
“It kind of bums me out with the shape of the city and things closing down, but you know what? The museum is amazing and absolutely flourishing and it’s better than ever.”
After high school he graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art with a degree in sculptured glass and he and his buddies began experimenting with tattooing, both as an individual form of expression on their own bodies and as art.
This coincided with a period when tattooing began morphing from the purview of rough-edged bikers and military veterans to something driven more by younger people and pop culture.
“In the early 1990s there was a group of either art students, or art school dropouts, or art school graduates that kind of started getting into tattooing and these people could really draw and were really excited about tattooing. It wasn’t just slapping a few images on the skin for a few bucks. It was, ‘Let me see if I can take this a little further,’” he said.
Timman worked at Toledo Tattoo at the time and noticed that new customers were increasingly from more mainstream cultural groups. At the same time, celebrities and athletes were getting inked, which spread the message that tattoos were acceptable.
He eventually made his way to Hollywood and began working at Sunset Strip Tattoo, cranking out full-body works, arm sleeves, and elaborate designs influenced by Japanese art and other styles. By virtue of the long hours he put in combined with the location of his studio, Timman began working on actors, musicians, and other celebrities.
“In my early years I was putting in anywhere between 60 to almost 70 hours of work there. I was working 12 hours a day six days a week and if you’re in the shop that often then obviously whenever a celebrity comes to the door they’re going to see you and going to get tattooed by you and start to know you and have a rapport with you and recommend you to their friends.”
He said he becomes almost like a therapist to clients because of the nature of the work and the fact that full-body pieces take years to complete.
“When you’re tattooing their whole body it’s very intimate. Not only are you tattooing next to their private areas, or they’re naked half the time you’re tattooing them, but you see these people for two to three hours a day once a month for six or seven years,” he said.
“You start to become friends and family and you start to learn about them and they watch your kids grow up and they watch you get married and then they watch you get divorced or vice versa.”
Timman began branching out into dinnerware as a way to push tattooing even further into mainstream culture. He began working with a company called Ink Dish that puts art on dishware and his pieces are inspired by tattoo designs.
“There are some people that say tattoos are not for me and they say they look great on you, but they’re not for me. And it’s sort of a back-handed compliment,” he said, noting that he also has his art on pens, key chains, and t-shirts.
“That art work that somebody might not have on their body is in their house or in their car or on their shirt and they see it everyday and they accept it a little more and they’re not so anti-tattoo,” he said.
Timman, who competes in triathlons and has two children ages 5 and 7, plans to talk in Toledo tonight about how inspiration comes to him from everything from museum exhibits like the current TMA show Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints to the patterns on a woman’s dress.
“Everything I guess goes full circle and that’s what I’m planning on talking about: how images inspire people and people inspire other people and that inspires art.”
Paul Timman will speak at 6 p.m. tonight in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle, 2445 Monroe St. His talk is free.
Contact Rod Lockwood firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6159.