Tattoo artist Keith “Bang Bang” McCurdy has inked the likes of Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Adele, Justin Bieber, and Selena Gomez — and Gigi Hadid is probably joining the club soon, too, he told Refinery29 while chatting about his first book. Bang Bang: My Life in Ink, hits shelves today, after he worked hard and fast to make it happen. “I cold-called Harper Collins a year and a half ago, saying ‘Hey, I’m Bang Bang, that tattoo artist — I want to write a book.’” McCurdy said. “That got me an email address; I spent a night writing an email, and that email got me a book deal. Then, I spent a year actually writing the book.”
Though McCurdy has worked with an array of big names, don’t expect him to remember them all. “I’m so under a rock; I don’t know who most of the celebrities I work with are until I meet them,” He goes on to add: “I don’t know who’s dating who; I’m six months late to everything. I just started listening to The Weeknd, like, a month ago.” He might be a bit oblivious about the tabloid-y minutiae surrounding some of his biggest clients, but once they get inked, McCurdy remains in close contact: “I stay in touch with everybody; 90% of my clients are in my phone, and I text them on a regular basis.”
That's how he connects with prospective clients, too. “I’m looking forward to working on Gigi Hadid — we’ve been texting for a year straight about it! I’m not sure what we’re going to do design-wise, but at some point, that’s going to happen.” Granted, it could be quite a bit longer until the model is fully ready to commit: “Every time I think about getting a tattoo, I draw it on myself for a month and by the end I'm usually over it,” Hadid told blog Friend of a Friend back in May, noting that if she does finally decide on a piece, it’ll likely be “something with a lot of meaning and very small.”
Since he's known for crafting intricate, small-scale designs, McCurdy is just the guy for the gig, “It’s hard to find a great tattoo artist who’s eager to do a small tattoo. Most want to do the most difficult work possible, and they feel ‘above’ certain tattoos,” McCurdy says. His dream fashion client is Yohji Yamamoto — “I go into Y-3 and buy everything, all the time” — and, posthumously, Alexander McQueen. “If I could flash back in time, I would’ve loved to tattoo [McQueen]; he’s my favorite fashion designer, ever.”
In My Life In Ink, McCurdy addresses the commonalities between tattoo artists and fashion designers (and, in the excerpt below, makes a case for his gig being the harder of the two). “The goal is to complement a person’s body — you want to decorate but not overwhelm. Sometimes, I design the tattoo to the shape of the body; sometimes it begins with the design, which then gets fitted to the body, finding the right curve,” McCurdy says. Besides pinpointing the perfect bodily topography for his work, McCurdy considers how a tattoo’s placement will work for the most frequently photographed bodies around. “When I was putting guns on Rihanna, we decided against her shoulders and instead put them on her ribs, because we didn’t want to draw attention away from her face.”
McCurdy isn’t afraid to be frank with clients about why a certain design or placement isn’t going to work: “I often will ‘dead’ peoples’ ideas, because I just know it’s not going to work. Ask anyone who’s been tattooed by me — they’ll say that they came in with a completely different idea than what they got. That’s why they come to me! That’s my job; I lead clients in the right direction. My gut really speaks to me from a design standpoint, and I trust it.”
After a dozen years in the business, McCurdy knows (and expects) perfection from his work, he says, so the giddy reactions from clients are his main motivation nowadays. “I remember Cara Delevingne jumping up and down in the mirror when she saw the lion tattoo on her finger, Rita Ora busting out into a dance because she felt so good about her tattoo, and Justin Bieber full-on singing and nearly moonwalking because he was feelin’ himself so hard,” McCurdy recalls.
Check out an exclusive excerpt from the book below, and grab a copy here.
"There are some incredible tattoo artists doing cutting-edge work in the world, yet they’re not as revered as fashion designers. And with all due respect to the fashion industry, there’s something wrong with that. Think about it: Fashion designers have teams of workers executing their designs; from conception to execution, tattoo artists do it all themselves. And we have to get everything right the first time around — there are no alterations.
"And fit is important, whether it’s tweeds or ink. Any artist worth your time knows how important it is to design to complement the client’s body. Clothing is generally made for one body type and then sized up and down from there. With a tattoo, the artist has to customize their work to one unique body type. A tattoo that looks great on a professional wrestler is not going to look right on a suburban mom. We need to make sure the tattoo complements your shape and fits the curves, contours, and natural angles of the body.
"Colors aren’t one size fits all, either. A shade that looks great on pale skin with pinkish tones will look like mud on someone with more golden tones, and vice versa. Some tattoo artists don’t take that into account, but a good one will. As I said before, where you place the piece is just as important as the design of the tattoo. A beautifully rendered piece is a waste of time and energy if it’s in a spot that doesn’t accentuate its full potential."