The Uncut CKD Interview

(Original blog post July 13, 2012 – 160 views)

I was recently honored with a 5-page spread in Car Kulture Deluxe magazine (issue 53, August 2012)!


They got the info and quotes via an interview, which they sent to me and I answered. But they only used a small fraction of what I said! I talked about struggling through my early days tattooing, my opinions on lowbrow art and art education, and even my record collection.

So, as far as I know, this won’t get me in any trouble, but I thought it’d be fun to share the whole interview, as it was presented to me and I answered it. Enjoy!

Car Kulture Deluxe Magazine-Q&A-ARTISTS PROFILE

Name TJ Rappel
Date  6/21/11
Contact Info:

CKD: Tell us where you’re from and how you got started?
I’ve lived in Appleton, Wisconsin my entire life, and have been drawing the whole time. There’s definitely an artist gene that runs in my family. I liked coloring books until I realized I could draw my own stuff, and never stopped.

CKD: What images did you draw as a child?
Superheroes, movie monsters, and KISS. There was a lot of Superman, Spider-Man, Frankenstein, King Kong, and Gene Simmons being drawn on any blank paper I could find.

CKD: What influences/inspires your work?
Everything — classic animation, comics and cartoons, old movies, album covers, vintage graphic design, and of course, other artists throughout history. Although my work is ostensibly just about leggy busty cartoon girls and the occasional monster, I do try to pull inspiration and techniques from anywhere and anything. Oh, and pretty girls like my wife, too. She’s my main muse.

CKD: What made you decide to become an artist/ make art your career?
Art is the only thing I’ve ever been any good at. I was an average student, but I knew I wasn’t going to work with math or science or be an engineer. I kind of had to be an artist because the idea of doing anything else for the rest of my life was pretty depressing.

CKD: what do you consider your technique?
I usually have a pretty clear idea in my head, then I wrestle with my drawing and painting utensils until it looks like what I was thinking of.

CKD: What equipment do you use?
For drawing, I like hard to medium-soft pencil (6H to HB), Zig ink pens (I know everybody likes the Microns, but I prefer Zigs) and Faber-Castell brush pens, and Bristol board. For painting, pre-stretched canvases or Arches illustration board. For tattooing, I’ve been using an Eikon Green Monster liner and a custom built shader, Kurosumi black lining ink and Eternal colors.

CKD: Did you have  a mentor?
 or did you apprentice?
How did they influence you?
I really never had anyone I’d consider a mentor in art, although it would‘ve been nice. It was hard figuring it all out myself. I’m still doing it, always studying and analyzing things I like. With the exception of one or two, my art teachers and professors throughout school were not really supportive types. Most of them were either just doing their job, or were too self-absorbed. When I started tattooing, of course I went through an apprenticeship, but I still ended up figuring most of it out myself. I was given the ball, but I realized pretty quickly that it was up to me to run with it.

CKD:  Which mediums do you use (oil, acrylic, oneshot, photography,etc)?
I paint primarily with gouache and acrylic. Occasionally I’ll use black Kurosumi tattoo ink in my paintings as well. Some smaller work is done in watercolor, too. I draw with regular graphite pencils and ink pens. I also do some digital work in Photoshop.

CKD: How did you become interested in this material?
Girls? Geez, I’ve been interested in them since I was 10 years old.

I always liked classic pinup girl art, and even though I can draw in various styles, I always favored cartoons. I’d absorbed comic and cartoon drawings since I was little. When I was working for a local alternative paper, I used to do illustrations and cartoons to accompany some of the more humorous content, and for one issue I did a drawing of a busty girl with that Tex Avery/Red Hot Riding Hood look to her, and I really liked the way it came out. You can probably trace my whole pinup cartoon thing back to that one drawing. So I continued playing around with that style, using pinup models and lingerie catalog models for reference, and turning them into cartoons. Looking back, they were kind of  wonky in that prototypical way, but it allowed me to work out the kinks and get the style dialed in. Eventually I just started doing cartoon pinup and monster drawings one after another and putting them on my website, and making t-shirts and stuff for my online shop.

CKD: Which piece of your work if any, is your personal favorite & Why?
Some of my favorites would include “Teeth,” “In Control,” and the Halloween-themed piece I did for Naked Girls Reading. I felt those all had some strong inspiration behind them and lately I’ve been using those pieces to represent my work overall.

CKD: What obstacles have you overcome, or not, in pursuit of your passion?
My art professors in college flat-out told us, in no uncertain terms, that doing popular/comic/fantasy art was not going to get us anywhere in the art world and that wasn’t the type of stuff we should be doing. Apparently we were supposed to spend our lives painting fruit. It was very discouraging. I’m happy I didn’t listen.

The first tattoo shop I worked at was not very busy, and I was making barely enough to live — especially while I was apprenticing. I had just left my graphic design job, and I wasn’t tattooing full-time yet, so I depleted my savings just paying my rent and eating. For a few years after that, I scraped by and would often take home as little as 25 bucks a day. Or nothing. It wasn’t until I got up the nerve to talk to the folks at a new shop with some well-known talent — which I didn’t think I was good enough for, but they proved me wrong by hiring me on the spot! — that I moved to a better, busier environment, which allowed me to grow as an artist and live comfortably and happily.

The only other obstacle I’ve really struggled with is my own self-confidence. I’m pretty hard on myself and hold myself to a high standard, and rarely meet it. I pick apart everything I do and see all the flaws, but I consider that discipline, and I try to learn from it and constantly improve.

Nowadays, my only other obstacle is the fact that there aren’t more hours in a day and I don’t have the time to do everything I want!

CKD: Did you ever have any formal schooling in art? Where? When? Degree?
Of course I took all the art classes I could throughout school until I graduated high school in 1992. I majored in art in the University system for a while, and somehow jumped through enough hoops to end up with a general associate of arts and sciences degree in 1995. Then I attended a technical college and got a degree in printing and publishing in early 1998. I kind of  combined those two into a graphic design career for six years until I started tattooing and got my focus back on making actual art.

CKD: what’s your opinion of the lowbrow art movement?
I’ve been a big fan of it for a lot of years, and there are a lot of artists in that scene that I really admire, but it seems to be getting to the point where the lowbrow movement is becoming pretty highbrow. Now it’s just modern art. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, because on one hand it’s great that these artists and their work are getting higher-profile exposure, but on the other hand, it sort of loses its identity as an underground art movement. It feels less accessible to me.

CKD: would you ever teach art?
I don’t think I’d teach art itself, but I’ve never understood why there wasn’t a course that taught students how to make a career out of their art. They’ll teach you to draw and paint and sculpt, but they don’t teach you how to make money with those skills. At least in my experience, they’d turn their noses up at commercial artists and illustrators, as if what they do somehow isn’t real art, or “fine“ art; but then, nobody gives you tips on putting together a portfolio, or teaches you how the gallery system works. I’d teach something like that, and tell my students that it’s okay to use your skills to make money. Artistic integrity is great and all, but it doesn’t pay the mortgage.

CKD: Tell us a career high point:
My “Knockout!” solo show in 2008 was pretty memorable, as was selling work at the Dirty Show; but honestly, I’m just getting started and the best is yet to come. I have much higher high points planned!

CKD: any art awards or gallery exhibits, shows etc?
I’ve been very fortunate to take part in a number of group exhibits over the years, including four times in the Dirty Show in Detroit. I had a solo show back in 2008, and I’m hoping to put together another one in the next few years. I somehow manage to sneak my stuff into 2-3 shows a year. Of course I’m always looking for more opportunities.

CKD tell us a quick funny story related to your career:
One Saturday morning, I was up early, working on a painting of a particularly sexy pinup girl who was wearing a corset and stockings. I had not based this particular pinup’s design on anyone in particular, it was just a character off the top of my head. Our little girl, who was 7 years old at the time, had woken up for the morning and came downstairs in her jammies, and came up to me and asked “whatcha doing?” I answered, “painting a picture.” She said “cool,” and watched me for about a minute. Then she said “Looks like Mom,” and walked out.

CKD: What subject matter do your fans desire the most from you?
People seem to react best to my pieces that incorporate elements of fantasy: girls with robots, girls with monsters, girls with ridiculous costumes in impossible situations. I guess that’s the kind of stuff cartoons are made for!

CKD: What special projects, vendors, or celebrities have you worked with?
Mostly in the burlesque scene. You can find my cartoons in every issue of Bachelor Pad Magazine. I do a lot of artwork for the original, Chicago-based Naked Girls Reading, run by burlesque superstar and Miss Exotic World 2005, Michelle L’amour. One of the pieces I did recently for them was for their annual “Naked Girls Rock” event, when I totally re-created the cover of the KISS album “Destroyer,” but with naked girls. I even made a pop-up cake topper for their second birthday bash earlier this year. And I just helped out with the new logo for the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. I’m always up for a fun project.

CKD:  Any t-shirts, fine art, covers, music, film or merchandise? What?
Art prints, sketchbooks, pins, and tattoo flash are available on my website. I have a few limited-edition t-shirts on there too. I did have a ton of different t-shirts available on my site for a long time, but have since retired the line because it was just getting old. I’m hoping to do a new line someday soon. I actually just did  my first album cover right now for a friend’s record label, and it’ll be pressed on vinyl, so I’m pretty excited about that.

CKD: Where can readers get your work or merch?
There’s lots of stuff available to order right on my website at I usually set up shop at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend every June in Las Vegas too, and I’d like to do more burlesque, comic or tattoo conventions too.

CKD: What do you feel sets your work apart from other artists/peers in your field?
I guess I try to have a style that looks classic, but is somehow something you haven‘t seen before. People have told me that my stuff is unique because it’s cute and cartoony, but still sexy and sensual at the same time, and that it could have come out of a ’50s men’s magazine. Which is great, because that’s what I’m going for.

CKD: Favorite bands? What’s in your stereo?
I seriously have the most eclectic musical tastes ever. My record collection has everything from Dean Martin to Devo to Dimmu Borgir. I’m primarily a metalhead, but I like old blues like Big Bill Broonzy and Leadbelly, swing/lounge stuff like Frank and Dean and Sammy, old jazz like Charlie Parker and Sidney Bechet, classic rock and metal like KISS, Black Sabbath, and Queen, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, rockabilly, ‘80s metal, death and black metal. I never really know what I’ll be in the mood for at any given moment so I’ve got a little of almost everything.

CKD: What do you do for fun?
Watch old movies and cartoons, collect and play videogames (everything from Pong to PS3, consoles and full-size arcade machines), and I love to travel with my wife. We visit New Orleans 2-3 times a year, and try to get to someplace new every year too.

CKD whose art do you collect?
I like to collect my friends’ art, actually, but I really want to get more into buying original art. I’d love an original Shag, and something from tattoo artist Jeff Gogue, just off the top of my head. It’d be cool to get some original Jack Kirby comic art, or something drawn by Chuck Jones or Tex Avery or John Kricfalusi, and I think I’d drop dead where I stand for an original C.C. Beck drawing of Captain Marvel from the ‘40s. I also love vintage movie posters, and have a few of them on the walls at home.

CKD: what’s your favorite color? Why?
Black, of course — it goes with everything, right?

Optional: (Remember we are a retro car culture magazine too)
CKD: Favorite old skool car or motorcycle?
Do you have one?
My wife and I would love to get a classic car or two, but we don’t have one yet. She really wants a Nash Metropolitan, and a Bel Air — especially since our street address is 59 Bellaire, so we need a ‘59 Bel Air to go with the house!

CKD: Words of Wisdom or inspiration for upcoming/young artists or art students?
Just stick with what you love and eventually you’ll get what you’re looking for out of it. And never, ever stop studying and learning.

CKD: Your motto or philosophy?
See directly above!

CKD: What’s the secret to your happiness?
I’m just happy when I can lose myself in my work, and I’m really firing on all cylinders, and the end result makes other people happy. Also, bacon cheeseburgers.

CKD Future plans?
I have a ridiculous amount of things I want to do in addition to making art: I’d love to do films, animation, book and magazine publishing, a new line of t-shirts, vinyl figures, live events, festivals, all of it. I love the idea of expanding my company, Krushervision Art Industries, into other areas. I wanna be the Richard Branson of girlie cartoons.

Unrelated to pinups, I’ve also been working on a kids’ book on and off for about six years, and have ideas for one or two more. I should probably get around to finishing that.

CKD: Famous Last Words in one sentence:
I will, in all likelihood, die by getting stepped on by Godzilla, so my last words will probably be “YEEAAARRRGGHH!!”

CKD your website info:

CKD Any special thanks to be listed?
My wife Christina for keeping me in line and being not only my inspiration but also my biggest fan, everyone who I’ve worked with on projects, my coworkers at Oshkosh Tattoo, everyone who likes my stuff, and obviously you guys at Ol’ Skool Rodz/Car Kulture Deluxe magazine for giving me some space!