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A Not-So-Starving Artist Interview

Brenton Schmidt talks tattoos, painting, and getting by.

By Arts & Culture

Photo by Haley McCarthy.

Brenton Schmidt is a Chicago-based multidisciplinary artist. You may have passed his work on the street without even realizing it. Instead of gallery walls, his work is mostly proudly displayed on the skin of loyal clients — myself included. 

Haley McCarthy: Let’s start off by talking about what kind of art you make.

Brenton Schmidt: I’m a tattoo artist and also an impressionist painter, I would say.

HM: What do you consider yourself primarily?

BS: A creative individual. Tattooing is what pays the bills and everything, while painting is still growing. But I’m just an artist of many different kinds, I would say. I’m always looking to create different things and I’m not just focusing on one project. I’m not trying to just tattoo or just paint. I’m looking to do many things. I don’t know, whatever presents itself: designing clothes, mural work, painting a house, landscaping. It’s all art.

Photo by Haley McCarthy.

HM: Did you always come back to the idea of creating things no matter what other job you had?

BS: I mean, I always did art, I always drew on the sides of things and whatnot, but I wanted to be an engineer for a long time growing up. Kind of along the sorts of building things. I wanted to build spaceships and rockets and things to go to space and then when I was a junior in high school I didn’t want to do that anymore. I got an internship straight out of high school doing IT and then I graduated college with marketing and IT degrees and I randomly got asked by my tattoo artist if I wanted to tattoo and it went from there. So I guess I went back to art, finally.

HM: What other jobs have you had?

BS: I went to business school. I was a steak chef for 4 years. I was a dishwasher at a restaurant. I pollinated. I de-rogued. I baled hay. I used to clean chimneys. I worked at the feed store. I’ve worked on farms. I coached basketball. I am on the church committee. I worked at the wndr museum. I’ve worked a lot of things, not all at once, but I only do art now.

HM: Do you do any research?

BS: Yeah, often, all the time. For every client. Whether it be researching a design idea that they want like if its a type of plant, like what does it look like, what do the leaves look like, what’s natural about it, but then also just wherever the tattoo is taking place [on the body]. If I already know how to do something it doesn’t hurt to watch a video of how someone else might do it before I do it, just so I have an understanding of how to work with different types of people. Research could also just be going around and finding things to draw, looking for inspiration everywhere I go, and taking pictures.

HM: Your mind never shuts off.

BS: No, I don’t think so.

HM: Do you have a favorite tattoo that you’ve done on yourself?

BS: I really like the clock tower on my finger. I was bored. It’s not very meaningful, just a spur of the moment. It’s my most recent one. It’s my time of birth. I drew it on with a Sharpie when I was sitting on the couch, then I went and tattooed it. Tattooing yourself is a little difficult because you also have to stretch the skin.

HM: Do you feel better after you make something? 

BS: Like a release? No. If it’s good, obviously you know when you’ve done something well and that’s satisfying, but then it’s always “What’s the next thing?” You can always get better, especially with tattoos. But with painting there’s often a sigh of relief since it’s been many hours of staring at the same painting. But you can always create something different or better and you move on to the next thing. A painting is never finished, I would say. It’s just about whenever you’re willing to let it go.

HM: What memorable responses have you gotten towards your work?

BS: I mean, people crying. You tattoo someone and then tears are shed — it’s very memorable. For example, there was a mom that recently came with her daughter to get a tattoo and afterwards she just started crying a little bit. She felt bad, but it obviously wasn’t a problem and it’s beautiful to be able to impact someone that much. My dad said he doesn’t like what I do, but he can understand why I enjoy it, which was a very memorable response because my dad hates tattoos. But just seeing people enjoying their tattoo in general is a good response and returning clients is a good response. There are many of those — being able to see them and know that they come back because they enjoyed the first experience is very rewarding.

HM: What advice would you give little you?

BS: Don’t try to be what the parents want you to be. Just relax a little and enjoy the finer things, young man. [Laughing] I think I was pretty good at that anyway. I had an enjoyable childhood. You know the fun thing about all these young interviews…

HM: What does that mean, “young interviews”?

BS: I don’t know, like, these are young in my interviews. This is only my second interview I’ve ever done.

HM: [Laughing] Oh my God, you expect to do so many more interviews that this is considered young?

BS: Yeah, I think it would be fun to do lots of interviews.

HM: I think I like you less and less. Why do you expect to do so many more interviews?

BS: [Laughing] I mean, I think my art is very young and it’s only going to mature and help more people and develop.

HM: Okay, touché, that’s a good answer. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

BS: My grandma said, “We’ll all be outcasts and have our own thoughts and we should just be genuine.” 

HM: Thus…

BS: Thus I tattooed “genuine outcast” across my chest, yes.

HM: Where do you see, or hope to see, yourself in 5 or 10 years from now?

BS: Mmm, that’s a tough one. I’d say, have my own tattoo studio and painting studio just so that I have the space to create the art that I foresee myself doing. Since I want to do more than tattooing and painting—like sculpture — I’d want to just have a nice studio space that I could create my art in, that’s personal.

Photo by Haley McCarthy.

HM: Do you have any goals for the remainder of 2020?

BS: I’m moving in the next few months so just to have my space fully developed, my website up and running. You know, sort some things out by the end of the year, organize it a little more. I’m not looking to make any drastic changes to my art at this time.

HM: So you’re satisfied with where you are artistically right now?

BS: Sure. That’s my favorite word. I think it’s a good answer for everything.

HM: What? “Satisfied”?

BS: No, “sure.”

HM:That says more about you than any of these questions.

BS: Sure.

Check out more of Brenton’s work on instagram: @artbybrenton

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