Artist of the Week: Tee Jay Hernandez

Tee Jay  Hernandez works on a tattoo at his shop on Main Street in downtown Martinez. Hernandez, a renowned artist,  services a nation-wide clientele. (HANNAH HATCH / Martinez Tribune)
Tee Jay Hernandez works on a tattoo at his shop on Main Street in downtown Martinez. Hernandez, a renowned artist, services a nation-wide clientele. (HANNAH HATCH / Martinez Tribune)

Martinez Tribune

Meet Tee Jay Hernandez, Tattooer and owner of Future Primitive Tattoo and Art Studio, 516 Main St., Martinez. On Thursday, Feb. 25, I was able to get the chance of observing Hernandez work on a custom phoenix piece for “Jennifer” who flew in from Salt Lake City, Utah, for a booked weekend of tattooing. From Houston to Amsterdam, check out the journey that led Hernandez, world wide tattooer, to the small town of Martinez.

Hernandez has been tattooing now for 24 years. Originally from Houston, Texas, he started tailoring his artistic craft making t-shirt designs for friends’ bands and concert posters for local shows using bold graphic illustration that would eventually transfer over into his tattooing. Hernandez basically became a tattooer on “accident.”

“It wasn’t until someone asked me, ‘Hey man, can you draw me a tattoo design?’ I had no tattoos or any knowledge of the tattoo world,” Hernandez said. I thought it was peculiar though, if I am not the tattooer why would you have me draw your tattoo? That just doesn’t make any sense. I drew designs I would give to my friends and they would come back with tattoos that were just horrific, just terrible. Being artistically inclined, doing all sorts of stuff prior, I looked into it and thought I could do this — clueless on what I was getting myself into. I started drawing and then one thing led me into another, I’m giving you the short version of a very long adventure.”

The decorative storefront of Future Primitive Tattoo and Art Studio, 516 Main St., Martinez. (HANNAH HATCH / Martinez Tribune)
The decorative storefront of Future Primitive Tattoo and Art Studio, 516 Main St., Martinez. (HANNAH HATCH / Martinez Tribune)

Hernandez started learning and developing his skills in Houston. Since there was not exactly a college path to take for tattooing, he acquired some equipment and practiced tattooing his friends, which he said was, of course, “a very bad idea.” Hernandez would hang out at a local tattoo shop with his punk rock friends. One day the old guy who worked there took Hernandez to the side, being his wise mentor and leading him to the path he was about to pursue.

“He was like, ‘I’ve seen these tattoos you’re doing and I think you have the potential to do something, but this is not a hobby, you need to take this serious or don’t do it,” Hernandez said.

It was not until 1993 that Hernandez started his career as a tattooer. His interest led him to many more adventures, tattooing all over the world. When I asked Hernandez what travel moment stood out the most to him, he mentioned the exclusive International Tattoo Convention in Amsterdam that he was invited to a few years ago. Located in Amsterdam is the World Tattoo Museum, which is put together by tattooers from all over the planet and curated by Henk Schiffmacher.

“It was really cool. Inside the museum they have this private tattoo studio there with super famous artists from all over the world. From Japan, Thailand, all over America and Europe. I actually tattooed and got tattooed there. In my business, to get invited to something like this would be like getting invited as a member on the All Star team in NBA. Its a big thing,” Hernandez said.

He still travels frequently for work. In March, he is traveling back to his home town of Houston, for a Tattoo Convention.

“Since I am from there, I’ve got family and friends from back in high school. Some of those people want to get tattooed by me. It should be pretty fun. We knew each other when we were 15. Now I’m going to meet their kids who are 15.”

Hernandez is a big promoter of the arts and his fellow artists. Right now one of his favorite social media tools is Instagram. Instagram allows users to stream a series of photographed pictures with their “followers.” Many artists have been using Instagram to self promote, and to be able to see what other artists are bringing to the table.

“You get to experience things because it’s just all visual. You don’t have to hear people’s political opinions. You see all kinds of craziness – painters, sculptors, musicians, performers. … I follow a lot of other artists, predominantly non-tattooers, just to kind of see what people are making. It’s just so insane,” Hernandez said.

“It gives you this ability to stay in contact with the visual artistic world and to see and experience so many different things. It really gives you a chance to stay in tune. It’s kind of like working in the world’s largest tattoo collective. I’m as much of a fan of all of these artist’s works, as anybody who is interested in my art would be of mine. There is a sculptor named Colin Christian (, who’s just unbelievable. Theres a graffiti artist named Nychos too (@nychos, on instagram).”

Instagram is Hernandez’s and Future Primitive Studio’s big go-to. Now the artists do not keep portfolios because they are so hard to maintain. The shop uses Instagram (@fptattoostudio) to post every piece of work they complete.

The studio’s followers are able to instantly see and experience work pieces as soon as a piece is finished and uploaded.

When asked which artists influenced him most, Hernandez responded with artist Alphonse Mucha, Czech Art Nouveau painter and decorative artist, known best for his distinct style, and Robert Williams, American painter, cartoonist, and founder of Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine.

“When I became aware of Williams’ paintings, that’s when I was like, “Yep, I’m going to make art work. This person is a crazy person and he makes really neat stuff and he’s actually a super nice amazing guy. It was sort of blowing my mind,” he said.

Hernandez ranges in tattoo styles, and ultimately just wants his customers to be satisfied.

“My focus is more on what is technically proficient. Clean, bold lines, solid color, soft radiations of colors. I think the most important thing when having a style, is first off having a good technical foundation. Then you can execute any style you want to go after. I do all styles for the most part. I don’t usually make a preference on whether I like or dislike a particular concept. I definitely want it to be artistic and interesting but ultimately it’s yours, not mine. You have to get the thing that makes you happy.”

Hernandez used to own two shops located in San Francisco, the tattoo capitol of the world. Many of his customers lived in the East Bay and it was a pain for them to get out to the city, so they asked him what his thoughts were of heading out closer to them. Hernandez looked around and eventually landed a space in Martinez that would work well for his customers and himself.

“I see Martinez as being a really up-and-coming town with a really good future. I want to be a part of that,” Hernandez said. “I looked in a lot of areas. I don’t live in this area, but it was worth the commute for me to be here. The city was really good to me, welcoming and really very accommodating. They helped me get this moving along, which is tough for any small business. I think it’s a little bit harder for my type of business just because socially there could be a bit of a stigma, and some preconceived notions attached to the business that I do.”

Future Primitive is a tattoo studio, but just as much of an art studio. Hernandez and his team do all kinds of other artwork there, including illustration and graphic design. They have created designs for clothing companies, skateboard and snowboard companies, and music companies. Future Primitive sells garments as well as prints of the artist’s works. A big picture for the shop is to incorporate people becoming aware of the other things they do and sell.

“We have big plans for the future of what this shop is. We have plans for something that is even bigger and better than what we already have going. I can’t really let too much of the cat out of the bag,” he said.

I asked Hernandez what advice he would give someone for the planning stages of getting a tattoo.

“If a tattoo means something that’s wonderful, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s how tattoos began in society. They were marks on us that symbolized events and accomplishments in your life. However, every tattoo does not have to represent the most personal moments of your life experiences. It is perfectly acceptable to get a tattoo just because you like it, it makes you happy and you enjoy it.
That’s enough. This is one of the most personal things you are ever going to do. It’s something you don’t purchase, you invest. That’s why it’s important to invest wisely. Take the time and the expense to get something that lasts your lifetime.

“Is it cheap? Nope its not cheap. Good tattoos aren’t cheap; cheap tattoos aren’t good. That’s a well known fact. Just get a good tattoo. It doesn’t have to be by me. Take your time, shop around and then leave and go somewhere else. Do some homework and you’ll know who’s really doing it well. It’s easier to get a good tattoo if you just put a little work in. It’s easier to get a good tattoo in the Bay Area than anywhere else in the world, but that doesn’t mean there’s still a lot of terrible tattooers. So, you have to shop around and find something that works well for you.”

Visit Tee Jay Hernandez and his partners at Future Primitive Studio, “No Minors, No Whiners, No Punks, No Drunks,” 516 Main St., Martinez. Hours of operation are noon to 8 p.m.; closed Wednesdays. Contact Tee Jay at (925) 387-5577.


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