A man wearing a black and white Reaper tee in a tattoo shop.

The Tattoo Series: Meet Jeff Saunders

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The Tattoo Series

At Death Wish Coffee Company, tattoos are a huge part of our culture and our community. Whether you’re tattooed or not, I think we can all agree that the talent and creativity of tattoo artists far and wide is something we all look up to. After all, putting something permanent on someone's body is no easy feat! We decided to take this curiosity and our love for ink to the next level by collaborating with a wide range of tattoo artists from around the country—all hailing from different backgrounds, different styles and different coffee preferences to bring you the tattoo series. 

A man with tattoos wearing a t-shirt with a Grim Reaper drinking coffee sitting on a couch.

What is the Tattoo Series? 

This highly caffeinated collaboration shows our undying love of tattoos and the culture that surrounds them. Nine supremely talented tattoo artists from across the country share their flashes of genius—all inspired by coffee—the bold and ever-bountiful elixir of life. The art-inspired merch directly supported the local artists who designed them. 

Meet the Artist: Jeff Saunders 

Hailing from the city of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, Jeff Saunders shares his flashes of genius with us—always fueled by strong coffee. His design brings to life—and death—the Grim Reaper, as he pours the elixir of life directly into his deep, dark, deathly soul.  

Are you a coffee drinker? If so, what’s your favorite roast, and how do you take your coffee?

I wouldn’t say I’m a hardcore coffee drinker. I really don’t know much about the different roasts and all that jazz. But a cup of black coffee—no cream, no sugar—on my way to work is always good for some extra pep in my step. Probably tattoo a little faster too. Haha. 

Do you have a favorite coffee shop in your town?

Not particularly. I haven’t really gotten into the coffee scene enough to have a go-to place. A quick grab from a coffee shop on my way to work is good for me. I’ve wanted to try Grindcore House here in Philly just for the aesthetic, but I haven’t made it yet. I’ll tell you what though, if you’re ever here at the shop getting tattooed and want to grab some coffee, don’t go to the gas station across the street. It’s gray and nasty—and you’ll pour it down the sink real quick! 

What inspired you to become a tattoo artist? Did you always know it was your calling?

I honestly had no idea I’d be tattooing. That wasn’t really a thought in my mind. I’ve always been into art and wanted to do something with that talent but never knew what. It was actually all my dad’s idea. He’s the one who suggested it to me. I had a few tattoos at the time but never thought of it as a career path. I was in a local tattoo shop less than a week later asking about an apprenticeship. 

What was your initial exposure to the tattoo world, and when did you first add your own piece of ink to your skin?

When I was in high school, a few friends and I tried tattooing each other one night with a sewing needle and Indian ink. We were stick-‘n-poking before it was cool. They definitely didn’t stay. When I first tried tattooing myself with a machine, I tried doing a freehand Hannibal Lecter mask on my ankle and f*cked it up bad, so I blacked it in and have been wanting to cover it ever since. Most of the tattoos I’ve done on myself since then were done during my apprenticeship, and they’re all equally stupid and terrible. 

A man holding a tattoo series mug and wearing a tattoo series tee.

When did you know that you wanted to be a tattoo artist? How did you get started in the industry?

Like I said, I never really knew this was what I definitely wanted to do. I credit this whole career of mine to my dad. I always thought tattoos were rad, and after my dad said I should get into it, it just seemed like it could be fun. I had no idea what to expect getting into it; I just got an apprenticeship and went along for the ride—figured I’d see where it took me. But once I started, I knew this was it. Being pretty all right at it and being able to make a living off of it is definitely an added bonus, because I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing right now if I wasn’t tattooing. 

How long have you been tattooing?

I’m probably going on 15 years now since I started my apprenticeship.

How would you describe your tattoo style and how you got to it?

I guess my style is kind of neotraditional, dark, maybe with a bit of realism here and there. 

Has your style changed over the years?

I feel like it’s taken me years just to even develop a style. It’s still something I’m working on. Coming up in a street shop with hundreds of pages of flash on the walls, I pretty much had to do whatever walked in the door—and that kinda makes it difficult to find your niche and settle into it. But at the same time, it did help me to become a more well-rounded artist, so I won’t complain. But I feel like I’m most known around here for doing darker themes, pop culture and brighter colorwork.  

Can you tell us about your own tattoos?

My own tattoos? Yeesh. They suck—hahahaha—except for my arm that Craig’s doing. That’s all sweet. But everything else I want to blast over. 

How many tattoos do you have?

Not enough! 

What inspires your work?

Probably my biggest inspiration in art, in my young life at least, was Todd McFarlane. I wasn’t really super into comics when I was a kid, but I was familiar with enough characters to think “that looks cool, somebody drew that, I want to try and draw that too.” An old friend of mine who also drew introduced me to a lot of that. We’d be sitting in class seeing who could draw the best Venom, while the teacher was up there teaching. I didn’t know shit about Venom, but I could draw him with my eyes closed. Haha. But it’s definitely that graphic novel, high-contrast style of art that got me into drawing and still inspires me today. That—and my friends I work with. When your buddies are sitting 10 feet away from you killing it every day, it’s hard not to be inspired by them! 

What does the process behind your tattoos entail?

When I’m drawing for a tattoo, I always want to know first and foremost where it’s going and how much room I have. After that I’ll figure out a loose sketch of what works where, and then just refine it from there. Sometimes my brain might crap out and I won’t know what the hell I’m doing or how I’ll want something to look, but by the time of the appointment, it always gets there. 

What do you like to tattoo, and what would you like to do more of?

I really have a lot of fun with pop culture tattoos, horror tattoos, lady heads and skulls. Give me more of all of that. 

What does a typical day at the shop look like for you?

Usually hilarious. I work with some real jokesters, so more often than not, I’ll have to stop tattooing at some point because I’m laughing too much. Some days are more low-key than others, but every day involves getting drawings ready, stations prepped and trying to figure out what we’re gonna eat for lunch because I can’t call it! 

What do you like to do outside of the shop? When I’m not tattooing, I like to spend time with my fiancé, my friends, my family, get my dog out of the house. I have a ‘70 Nova that I’m always doing something to. I’d like to add “draw for myself” to that list, but I spend so much time drawing for appointments that I don’t always find the time. I need another lockdown. 

What’s your biggest pet peeve (personally and in the shop)?

Messes, for sure. Luckily, we don’t let the shop get messy, so I just have that at home—hahahaha (sorry, B). 

What’s the strangest tattoo you’ve ever done?

Oof, there are a few. An older guy had me tattoo a devil sitting on a throne and pointing at a little redheaded child on the whole side of his leg. Strange guy. There was a kid who wanted me to do one of those lipstick tattoos on the side of his neck—but of his mom’s lips. I could probably think up strange tattoos all day, but I feel like I’ve tattooed more strange people than strange tattoos. 

What is your favorite thing about being a tattoo artist?

Being able to be creative every day is probably the best part. This job really brings some interesting people into your life, too! Also, being your own boss is a pretty nice plus. 

What is the tattoo scene like in your area?

Philly’s crushing it right now. There are SO many talented artists in Philly and its surrounding neighborhoods, not to mention the tri-state area as a whole. Being successful in an area with so much awesome creativity is truly humbling. There are some straight-up killers here. 

What moment in your career are you the most proud of?

This one! But no, seriously—any time my art is recognized and sought after outside of tattooing—be it album artwork, magazine interviews, logos or a design for a coffee company—it’s a pretty cool thing. 

Drink of Choice: A cup of black coffee—no cream, no sugar. 

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