A chat with Hayden Strong, of Manus Lux Tattoo

You know when you meet someone, even just briefly, a friend of a friend, and you’re left thinking damn, that person – they leave you feeling curious, happy, interested, a mixture of all these things, about your own life as well as themselves. That’s what it was like meeting Hayden, 26 year old SF based tattoo artist with an attitude towards life so relaxingly positive that I got thinking about why we feel almost surprised when we hear people saying how happy they are with where they are in their lives in any given moment – no complaints, entirely content. Why is that unusual? It shouldn’t be, because it’s what we all thrive for. Anyways, that’s a vain for another post.

Before parting ways (glass of wine at my favourite wine bar, Fools Errand, finished), I asked Hayden if I could have a chat with him some time, do an interview for the blog, and he agreed. So I visited Hayden at the studio, Manus Lux, which means ‘light hand’, beautiful name, yesterday, and not only did I get to sit down for a chat with Hayden, I got a tattoo – myself and Hayden designed it together, and Hayden drew it up in a matter of a few minutes (no easy task, as the design included two of the hardest things to draw – straight lines and a hand). It was exhilarating, deciding on, designing and getting a tattoo all within a few hours, and while some would argue that it’s irrational and impulsive, it didn’t feel like it. It isn’t a random design, it very much means something to me – a floating violin bow over an open palm hand – and it is clear from his work that nothing about Hayden’s art is rushed.


Why tattooing?

“I’ve always been an artist – painting, drawing, traditional art. I went to art school for a little bit but it’s just so expensive, it didn’t work out, so I left that. That was in New York City, I was living there, learning traditional art, but I saw the writing on the wall with money, it’s so hard to make a living in this country as an artist, at least a traditional artist. So I saw tattooing as a good way to support myself – it’s a good job, it’s pretty cush, pretty plush y’know – it’s hard in a lot of ways, like taxing mentally, but physically it’s pretty good. I don’t have to break my back all day to make a living.”


You get to make a living from doing what you love.

“Exactly, and it means so much to the people getting the tattoos – it’s cool dealing with that interaction all day. Most jobs you’re dealing with such a minimal interaction, like thirty seconds, ‘hey how are you doing’, and that’s it – but even if it’s just a little tattoo, we’re getting beyond that, I at least get to know a little nugget of their life. I really appreciate that part of it and the impact it has on people.”

And I imagine it isn’t a nine to five job, you make it work around what suits you?

“I’m pretty flexible. What’s cool about my shop is I just pay rent, whereas in a lot of tattoo shops it is more strict, like you have to be there at exact particular times. I still do like to hold hours, to be there and be available for people if they wanna come in and talk, but yeah, if I really need to take a day off it’s not an issue at all. I definitely don’t like waking up early too, so it’s good because I can sleep in until eleven everyday if I wanted. I don’t start work till noon – I’m never going to be in before that.”


Have you ever tattooed yourself?

“I have. I have what I call a junk leg, it’s just experimental, like my first tattoo I did on there, and I’ve just been layering like crazy abstract black shit all over it – it’s fun to have a leg that you’re not as attached to, like a lot of my other work is really nice and refined but this leg is just like crazy experimental stuff.”

Have you ever regretted a tattoo?

“Not really. I’ve blacked out some stuff, so I have stuff covered up with just intense black, but I don’t regret anything. Every moment has led up to right now, so I can’t live with regret.”

Every moment has led up to right now, so I can’t live with regret.


You just turned 26, happy birthday, and you were telling me that you feel the mid to late 20’s are the best years – why, and how so?

“I would say 25, 26, 27, like those are the best years. I wouldn’t say 23.”

How do you know, if you’re not done them yet?

“I just get a feeling – you get these blips of self awareness, like there was one very hard at 23, I got this blip of reflection, like a separation from my own ego and self – you realise something about your life and where you’re at. I got a lot of that at 23. When you’re 23 you develop this sense of respect for all the adults around you, and you’re old enough where you’re not like 18, when you can’t and are too young to relate to 30 year olds, but at 25, 26, 27 you’re in that nice golden period where you have enough experience with your job where you’re not clueless but you’re also still very young – and you’re still getting better looking everyday, you’re not yet on the decline.”

Have you longer-term plans or goals, are are you totally and completely content with where you’re at and are heading right now?


“I think tattooing is good for now, for where I’m at in my life. I mean, long term I definitely want to keep pushing other artistic projects – I’m not single-facetted. Tattooing isn’t the only way I express myself. I wouldn’t say it’s how I express myself at all; it is a big part of my art but I have so many other projects.”

What are they?

“Basically I use all of my artistic skills for whatever project I’m working on and that could be any scale of painting, what people would call traditional art making, but it also translates to building stuff, so furniture and woodwork. Beyond that, bigger design projects on any scale – it’s limitless, it could be anything.”


Do you think doing some kind of design course is on the cards, or are you not considering going back down the education route at all?

“I might consider it some day, but I’m a little cynical about the art school industrial complex in the US – it’s a little bit of a money scam. I’d have to get a crazy scholarship to the best school ever. I would totally consider it, though – I’m keeping an open mind. I’m concentrating on the present and not tripping out about what’s down the line. I’m a multi-facetted artist – I’m not like ‘tattooing is everything’ – it’s a good medium to work in but it’s not the end-all for me.”

Any general life advice?

“Find the right mentor. Listen to them, and be open to the process. Find something that’s going to work for you. Try and get over your fantasies as quickly as possible. Be ambitious, but be realistic too. There are a lot of fantasies pushed on kids by their parents, parents trying to live vicariously through their children, but you need to find something that’s going to work for you.”

Be ambitious, but be realistic too.


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