Tattoo Flash for the Digital Age: An Interview with CryptoFlash
Old school tattoos have been a staple of Americana for almost 100 years. Now, a new artist is taking traditional flash and injecting it with 21st-century bravado, animation and a hearty dose of Web3 tech, giving new life to old art.
What do tattoos evoke for you?
Sailors? Bikers? Rockers?
They can send a message. They can mark special moments. They can signal togetherness. Anger. Fear. Love. Or, they could just be cool.
This once derided and defiant art form is now widely celebrated and admired – but it’s yet to make the most of the modern world it now lives in.
One artist is setting out to change that. His name is CryptoFlash.
Combining old school tattoo flash with computing and blockchain technology, CryptoFlash is forging an all-new existence for this cherished art style – and he may just ignite the rebirth of retro cool altogether.
Head to the end of the interview for our free CryptoFlash Interview Card, dropping soon!
Pssst… there’s three claim links hidden within this article. Happy hunting!
Hydro: Hey! Could you tell me a bit about yourself, your background and how you got into NFTs?
CryptoFlash: Hi! I grew up in Venice, California – a walking distance from the beach. If you’ve ever been down to Venice Beach, you know it’s a crazy place with street performers, drum circles, skate parks and, of course, tattoo parlours.
I got my first professional tattoo at Venice Beach – my first actual tattoo was given to me in high school from a friend who turned an electric toothbrush into a tattoo machine!
As far as getting into NFTs, I work as an Editor during the day so I sort of live on my computer. Anything pushing art and technology forward I’m willing to try out, but NFTs have REALLY clicked with me.
How did you come up with the idea for animated tattoo flash?
I’d been drawing tattoo flash for a few years and tattooing friends for about two when the pandemic hit. This brought the people I could tattoo to zero, so I just kept on drawing flash.
When I heard about NFTs, I wanted to give it a shot. I had pages and pages of stuff that I could’ve just scanned and uploaded but I thought it was a waste of the potential of the medium, so I started asking myself what I could do with NFTs that I couldn’t do on paper. Animation was the obvious choice.
You’ve recently hit your 1-year anniversary as an artist on WAX! What have the past 12 months been like for you and your collection, and are there any particular highlights from this past year?
It’s been a wild year!
The craziest day would probably have been my collab with CryptoStache. I was still really new to the NFT space, and he allowed me design a collab that was featured on his NFT Beat show. It sold out super-fast, and the price on secondary rose higher and higher.
Being minted in Stache’s collection, it was also stakeable on R-Planet. I figured that was driving most of the demand but I checked my market listings an hour or so later and literally everything I had listed had been sold.
Since that day I think there’s only been one or two drops that haven’t sold out. There was even a person who got the ‘Stache collab tattooed in exchange for donations to charity!
Every piece you create is limited to a rather low number of total mints. What was the thinking behind this decision for your collection?
The low mint number comes from my printmaking background.
I started out doing silkscreened shirts for a band I was in and went all-in on printmaking during my college years. Because of that, I’ve dabbled in most forms of printmaking – silkscreen, monotypes, lithography, copper etching, woodcut, linocut, wood engraving, typeset, you name it.
One thing you learn a lot about in printmaking is editioning your art. For example, you always print more than required so that you can toss any messed-up prints – only the ones you sign and number are “valuable”. It’s a lot like NFTs, and I think that is why I’ve taken to the medium so much – it’s just digital printmaking.
I continued printmaking post-college and would never really go above 20 copies. When I started my NFT collection, I doubled that number because of the worldwide audience of NFTs, and I figured there’d be at least 40 people in the world who would collect this kind of stuff.
You have a 1-of-1 piece currently up for auction, celebrating your 1-year anniversary on WAX. Could you tell us a bit about that?
Last summer, I was working on a collab and really enjoyed getting to spend a little more time with a piece.
I started playing around with the concept of a 1-of-1 piece I’d sell at the end of each year. I wanted to make this piece stand out, so I came up with a few concepts that would make this 1-of-1 a bit more substantial than my usual work.
The first thing you’ll notice is the aspect ratio. I usually work in a square 1×1 frame, but I figured I would give you literally more picture with this NFT. This allows me to experiment with certain compositions that I can’t do in a square form. The shape I used for this is very reminiscent of the shape you would use for a back piece, which is the ultimate tattoo you can give.
In addition to the shape, I wanted to give the NFT some utility, so I decided I would airdrop one of each of my NFTs for the next year to whomever owns it.
I feel the need to help establish a higher-end art space on WAX. I show my work to creators and collectors from other blockchains all the time and the general consensus is “WAX is nice if you want to sell stuff for cheap”. By doing this 1-of-1, I can have something to show those people that WAX can be a home for high-end art just as much as any other chain.
You’ve been experimenting with physical merch for a while. What has that process been like so far, and what can we expect from you regarding real-world items in future?
I want physical things to be a big part of this project.
My main focus is on the prints, but first, I figured I would make a shirt for all those who’ve been supporters of the collection over the past year, and give them out for free.
The shirts are taking longer than I anticipated, but that’s because I’m screening each and every one myself.
Silk-screening is slow, but I’ve been using a new printmaking method for the artwork prints that involves a tattoo stencil printer. I love this because it helps to tie the 3 mediums I use together (NFTs, prints and tattoos) but it also drastically speeds-up my process. I can crank out a whole batch of a multi-layered prints in a single day now – something that use to take me months.
Doing the shirts first also lets me see what the experience of shipping merch will be like. I don’t plan on making much money with this project, but I need to make sure it isn’t losing money!
I’ve had to slightly scale back my plans just to make things a little more financially viable. Post-shirts, collectors will have to pay for their own shipping to receive merch, and I’ll also be reducing the number of prints I’m producing from 20 down to 10.
Part of that is I because each print has an augmented reality feature built into it, which of course has an associated cost. It’s not much, but it can balloon rather quickly the more prints I make.
The plan is to airdrop an INK token to every collector for each full-set of CryptoFlash they own. Once I make a print of a design, a blend will go live which will enable you to blend the INK token with the corresponding NFT to receive a vIRL NFT that can be cashed in at any time for the physical print.
Who are your favourite artists, both inside and outside the blockchain space?
I’m blown away by Robert Bohn. His collection, like mine, is hand-drawn frame-by-frame animation, so I have a huge amount of respect for the amount of work that goes into his NFTs.
Outside of NFTs, I’ve really gotten into Audubon’s Birds of America and Viviparous Quadrupeds. Albrecht Durer is another big one for me. Some of his stuff is the source of a lot of classic tattoo designs, like the “Praying Hands”.
On the tattoo side, Joe Lieber and Rosie Camanga are my favourites.
Last summer, you walked us through the design process for one of your NFTs. Have there been any changes or refinements since then, or new techniques that you’ve incorporated?
I used After Effects in the 1-of-1 that’s up for auction to add the floating effect. Up to this point, the most I’ve done on the computer for my pieces so far is to stitch together a few chunks of animation from Procreate.
There’s been some more innovation, but it’s on something that’s not out just yet. I’ve been working on a short animated film in this style, which involves a lot more compositing. It’s turning out super cool, but I won’t be releasing it ‘til around November/December this year.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned in your first year as an NFT artist?
NFTs have given me deadlines that I personally feel I have to hit. It’s forced me to be more productive than I think I’ve ever been in my life, which I think has led me to improve my work a lot!
In particular, I’ve definitely become more comfortable with more complex animations – something that is still kind of a new skill for me.
What are your goals and aspirations for the year ahead?
My goals for this year are super clear; finish the short film, work on the physical prints, and continue to create sets of kick-ass NFTs.
The prints are my big focus right now and are a huge part of why I’m doing this. I love making prints of things. It’s legitimately a magical process. Now that I can use AR to connect the animations I’ve made to a physical object, it’s even more magical.
This collection makes it viable for me to buy the materials to do this, and I really want to share the fruits of the labour with everyone.
What is your favourite NFT that you’ve designed so far?
This question would have been much harder up until recently – my 1-of-1 takes the cake! I spent 3 months casually chipping away at it, and I’m pretty sure I can see it burned into the back of my eyelids now. I’m really stoked with how it came out.
What have you enjoyed the most about working on your NFT collection?
I didn’t really do much frame-by-frame animation before this collection. It’s been an amazing world to dive into. There’s definitely some tips and tricks, but it’s mostly just hard work – and you can feel the passion for the medium radiating from anyone that does it.
You have to really want something to exist in the world to take the time to animate it.
Is there anything you’d like to add? Anything you’d like to say to the reader?
I just want to thank all the people who have helped the project in any way. You don’t have to buy my NFTs to help either! If you can spare the WAX then by all means scoop up some stuff you like, but even just sharing and talking about the project is a big help.
Also, to everyone that’s bidding on the 1-of-1, I’m incredibly grateful that you see the value in what I’m working on. I’d keep going regardless because this is something that I really enjoy doing, but having other people feel so strongly about it too means the world to me.
You can invite three people, real or fictional, to dinner. Who do you choose and why?
That’s tough! How about David Bowie, Stephen Hawking and Elvis – but it’s gotta be on January 8th ‘cause that’s all of our birthdays!
What is your purpose in life?
To make cool stuff.
How can we follow you and your work?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – there’s nothing out there, on-chain or off-chain, that’s quite like what CryptoFlash is producing on WAX.
Breathing a new lease of life into this iconic slice of counter-culture Americana, CryptoFlash is forging a new path, one where traditional art, NFTs and modern technology can stand in harmony with one another, and we are all privileged to bare witness to it – and even more to own part of it.
Now, who’s getting the first verified-ownership augmented reality NFT tattoo?
To celebrate this interview, we have our free CryptoFlash Interview Card, dropping soon!