First things first: Mike Demasi is famous for famous faces. And he does them very well. In his own words, he has “always been easily drawn towards realistic tattoos” and was heavily influenced by artists like Deno Cook, Jack Rudy, and his personal favorite, Mario Barth. He started in 1999, originally testing his skills on friends and family, but found himself on the crest of a wave of demand for color portraits, which he quickly showed a special talent for.
Some of his closest friends call him “Yoda”, and for intriguing reasons. For an artist whose work speaks so loudly and so colorfully, he himself is described as quiet, studious, and humble – and perhaps that serene Jedi attitude may account for how he made it as an artist despite some struggles in the early years.
Demasi’s first inking gig was at a local street shop, and he dropped out of college to dedicate his full time to his craft. While he describes his parents as very supportive of his decision, he himself began to second-guess it in that first year, after he had a falling out with the shop’s owner. He was dating another tattoo artist at the time, and moved to her shop – which fell under shortly after. But despite the troubles, he still loved his work, and things were about to take a better turn: he, his girlfriend Kirsten, associate Mario Roseno, and Mario’s wife opened their own studio, Art Junkies. Pooling their collective experience, they committed themselves to operating differently than the studio’s they had bad experiences at before, and in that environment Demasi has been able to really hone his style. The results speak for themselves:
A number of Demasi’s designs have been of movie characters, including this one of Hellboy and Abe Sapien from the Hellboy series of films and comics. Masterful attention to detail has created a virtually photographically realistic image. However, a photorealistic design doesn’t automatically translate to a great-looking tattoo, and here Demasi demonstrates some tricks of his trade. Abe Sapien’s neck, for instance, takes on a blurred tone at the lower edge of the design, allowing not only for some attractive play with color but also for the image to smoothly fade out. Hellboy, meanwhile, is framed against a blue-green backdrop, making the intense red of his skin stand out all the more. The end result is a striking image that feels more alive than most designs of the same type.
Emmett “Doc” Brown from the Back to the Future series, a classic character captured in a classic moment. Here, Demasi works more with the skin’s natural color for a more subtle effect, though once again he frames the portrait in a colorful splash, this time borrowing from the red of Doc’s scarf. Another thing that sets Demasi’s portraits apart from lesser work is that he is conscious of the physical area his portraits. A flat canvas and a human arm, for instance, are very different things. Some artists account for the curve and varying width of the arm poorly, and the result is a portrait that looks somehow warped or wrapped oddly around the limb. With this design, Demasi uses the width of the upper calf to provide plenty of space for both Doc and his hand, then tapers the design off with the scarf as the calf narrows. The technique is a natural and effective one.
On the heels of Chris Nolan’s Batman re-boots (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), there has been a renewed interest in portraits of the iconic villain The Joker. Post-The Dark Knight, the majority have been the version played by actor Heath Ledger, but this one features the Jack Nicholson-era Joker. Demasi has opted out of approaching this Joker portrait with an emphasis on the black and white facepaint that is so commonly associated with the character, instead utilizing a full palette of colors to accent a more stylized and less photographic design. The result is something close to manic, capturing the “crazy clown” aspect of the character.
Of course, not all of Demasi’s portraits are of famous figures. This portrait exhibits another of Demasi’s talents, using negative space in the image to let the customer’s natural skin color work as the person in the portrait’s skin tone. He goes on to frame the girl in flowers, her hands clasped as if in prayer, to produce a beautiful, angelic picture.Mike Demasi can be found working at Art Junkies in Hesperia, California.