An interview with Lone Wolf tattoo artist Teddy Butler

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Tattoo artist Teddy Butler is a well-known tattoo artist in Nashville, now Franklin, and he’s served many LGBT clients over the years, myself included. Teddy started tattooing for money back in September 2010, but his interest started much earlier than that. As a teenager, he met a tattoo artist who got him interested in working in the industry: he was “frequently sneaking into tattoo shops, and annoying artists and piercers before I was 18.”

Teddy has done other things, but tattooing was what he loved. “I worked some regular jobs: restaurants were more fun, factory jobs paid better, but neither kept my interest. I knew I wanted to work hands on and with people. Academics did not interest me: I couldn't find the romance in any college career. I knew I would never love those types of jobs.”

What other jobs lacked was the creative outlet he sought. “I always knew I was creative, and I had drawn since I was a young man. Everyone told me as an adolescent, if I wanted to make good money, to go to college, but I didn't care about making a lot of money. I wanted to have fun.”

In tattooing he found something different, something that could keep his interest and offered a creative outlet. “Tattoo shops were fun. It was creative; it was a whole different kind of work place. It was a place for the freaks and geeks, at the time, and that was definitely me.”

Now, twelve years after delving into the scene, Teddy is the senior artist at Lone Wolf in Franklin, Tennessee. “Keeping my eyes on the prize really paid off for me,” he said. “One of my mentors once said, ‘A good tattooer, can do any tattoo.’ Now, that does not mean that he could do every single possible style but, instead, is versatile enough, to satisfy any custom request with one of the styles that he can do. I do solid tattoos, that are built to last.”

“As an artist, I do not get to choose who I am,” Teddy added. “I do what I do, I like what I like, and my influences are my influences. I have my own opinions and biases about art that make me who I am. I can work to better myself and learn new techniques over time, but we don't have much choice in who we are as an artist. It can be hard for some people to understand.”

Probably one of the most common misconceptions among clients, Teddy explained, arises from not understanding this, from thinking that you can get whatever tattoo you want from whatever artists you can get. “I feel that the most common misconception is that you can walk into any shop with a picture and get it done by anybody available. It couldn't be further from the truth. You can try, but results may vary.”

So how should you go about finding the artist best for you? Understand the styles of various artists, and find one suited to your vision. “I wouldn't go to an old school guy for new school, and vice versa,” Teddy explained. “So you should hunt for the tattooer whose style best suits what you are looking for. Once you have found the artist you like, it is best to let them do their thing. Just look at portfolios in shops or online, and, when you find the artist, ask for them by name. I never try to convince people that I am their guy, I tell them what I can do and ask them to look at my work. If they like what I do, then I can do it for them too.”

In his time as an artist, Teddy has worked extensively with members of the LGBT community, which he says makes up about 20% of his business. “Many are repeat customers, and some of them book some of the larger and more involved projects have done. I have gotten to do some of my favorite designs on LGBT persons, and I get lots of referrals from my clients in the community. I have made a lot of money, and a lot of friends, as a result.”

A good example of some traditional-yet-different work Teddy has done for an LGBT client involved a riff on the classic pin-up concept: the client wanted pin-up tattoos, but with a twist: “I did a pair of realistic, practically nude soldiers on a guy.” This openness to the combination of classic style and modern realities is part of what LGBT clients love about working with Teddy.

But then there are the strange ones. Sexuality, LGBT or otherwise, and edgy concepts have brought Teddy some of his more challenging—or at least taste challenging—designs. While as an artist he identifies himself with more typical designs, like flowers or animals, he has done some crazy stuff. “I was once requested to do ‘five cents a ride’ for a young lady, but she settled for the word ‘smash’ in script above her lady parts. It seemed classier. I have done a piñata wearing a leather fetish gimp suit, holding a crop in its mouth, with a speech bubble that said ‘Hit me.’ I did a saltine cracker on a guy, because that was his rap name. I did a satanic Kool-Aid guy the other day. I did Bob Marley with ‘the flying spaghetti monster’ as his hair.”

“For some reason, the sexually deviant or completely random stuff sticks out,” Teddy said, reflecting on his most memorable designs. “I could go on with a list like that: every day could be completely ridiculous. We have no clue what crazy idea or person is about to walk in. I get a kick out of it, tattoos should be fun, they don't have to be so serious all the time.”

If you think Teddy is the right artist for you, you can check out his work on Instagram (@teddymonstar1) or stop by the Lone Wolf Franklin shop!