Bryan Proteau is a 24-year-old illustrator and tattoo artist living the in the Bay Area. We met months ago after the show a band he has done illustrative work for and whose members are our mutual friends. Bryan’s mix of medieval imagery, alchemical references, and monochromatic palette have drawn attention and admiration from a many. As well as creating logos, T-shirt designs, and album artwork for various metal bands, Bryan co-owns a clothing line, Invirness Clothing, with friend and collaborator Cannon Dill. I asked Bryan to give me some details about his history, love life, and tattoo apprenticeship while he tattooed me.

Let’s start with how long you’ve been apprenticing.
I guess it’s been about two years. About a year of machine work and preparation before the actual tattooing.Did the machine work prepare you for tattooing or was that more to understand and respect the tradition of tattooing?
I don’t really know anything about machines or electrical work. It made me more eager, I just wanted to get started, but there is so much work to be done before I could even do my first tattoo. And it is expensive. I had to spend so much money just to get all the equipment together.So you went to art school.
For a little bit.

Why did you quit?
It was really expensive and I didn’t know what I wanted to say as an artist. There was too much financial pressure when I didn’t know what I wanted to say artistically. It was hard for me to concentrate on making art while worrying about whether or not I was getting my money’s worth.

Was tattooing a clear vision of the future?
Well, I came this city to become a tattoo artist, that’s why I went to art school, I wanted a solid background in art.

You have a very developed style. Did you do a lot of traditional tattoos or make more traditional tattoo images as part of your training? Or were you always allowed stylistic freedom? I’ve heard that complaint from other apprentices, that they have to conform to a style. Panthers and roses.

There’s no stipulation to the images I do. When I draw a tattoo design or make a flash page I try to make it more traditional. I strive for that bold, traditional look but I don’t know what happens. It never comes out that way. I wish I had a better understanding of traditional techniques and style because it always reads well and holds up well over time. I wouldn’t mind injecting that sort of flavor into the subject matter I work with.

Sometimes I find an artist that I really like and I get emotionally attached to their artwork. I call it a talent crush. Because I feel like I’m emotionally attached to them. Do you ever get that?
All the time.

Anyone currently?
Rafel Delalande and Phillip Yarnell are two tattoo artists that I’m really paying attention to. For illustration, Jacob Rolfe. He’s also a friend… He became a friend. He lives in Australia. I want him to be my best friend.

That’s amazing. So, how’s your love life?

Oh no!
A disaster.

Just a disaster. I won’t make you elaborate on that. Moving on. Do you collect anything?
Not anymore. I collected CDs, and then I got into vinyl, but I stopped doing all that.

It’s a lot of stuff to own. I used to buy vinyl, but I moved so many times and got rid of it all.
That’s exactly why I stopped buying it.

It’s hard to move it.
It’s heavy and takes up a lot of space. It’s great, as an object, to have all the artwork from an album, but it’s pretty impractical unless you own a house.

True. Can you talk about a specific time when your art had an impact on someone and their response had an impact on you, when it was expressed to you?
The first time someone got an image I made tattooed on them, before I tattooed. I was shocked an image I made had enough of an impact on someone that they wanted it on them forever.

I constantly have that fear. Have you created images for bands you don’t like?
Yes. I won’t name any names… It’s never as good a feeling to do something because you need money rather than because they are your friends or you really believe in the music they are making.

Have you met a lot of bands you admire through your artwork?
Yeah, it has definitely opened up a lot of possibilities for me. I made a lot of new friendships.

Do you have a vision for the future or a goal you are working on right now? 
Keep a steady course on what I’ve been doing. Get better at tattooing. Get better at black and grey. Improve my technique and do bigger pieces on bigger areas on the body. Draw when I can.

Are you reading any books right now?
I just finished the Morrissey biography two days ago.

Any Good?

Are you a big Morrissey fan or did you read it out of curiosity?
I love the Smiths, but the book didn’t have a huge, profound impact on me. I thought the music they made was genius and I wanted a first-person insight into that time period. There was a little. It wasn’t a bad book, but I definitely wouldn’t say it was good. I won’t read it ever again.

Do you read all your favorite books over again?
Favorite books. Yeah. I read Harry Potter over and over again.

Really? I want Harry Potter on bible thin paper in tiny letters so I can have it all in one place all the time. I’ve moved around a lot and those books are huge. There’s a lot of them.
That would be badass.

My friend Dan called me out on referencing what happens in Harry Potter the way some people talk about parables from the Bible. Like, using it as a metaphor for daily life. Alright. Thank you for answering my questions.
No problem.

So you work closely with a lot of bands. T shirt designs, album artwork. Do you play an instrument.
I play guitar. Not well. I’ve been playing since tenth grade, always self taught.

Was music ever a goal for you?
Playing music? Not a goal, but a fantasy or a dream. I still want to be in a band.

Have you ever struggled with whether you should focus on art or music.

It was a clear path?
Art was always something I felt I had to do. Music was more for fun.

Do you get the same emotional reaction from visual art that you do with music?
It’s the opposite. Playing music is cathartic. I always feel better after I play guitar. When I work on a drawing for hours I feel drained and sometimes upset.

There’s more riding on it. It’s not as much for enjoyment.
Also I don’t really know how to play guitar. I feel like I should always be advancing in art and if what I’m making isn’t a step forward it gets frustrating.

When you pick up a pen do you worry you won’t be able to create what you created in the past?
All the fucking time.

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