The artwork of artist Joshua Bowers

Where were you born and where are you from?
I was born in Virginia and moved around a lot as a kid. After Virginia, it was Guam on to San Diego and then finally to Council Bluffs, IA. I would say I'm from Iowa, since I have spent the most amount of my life here.

How did you get introduced to the tattoo culture?
I don't remember exactly what it was, I always seemed to be attracted to tattoos. I really enjoyed hanging around the shops and stuff. I got my first professional tattoo when I was 16, it was a cover-up of an ankle tattoo I did on myself when I was in high school. I didn't know anything about the industry, I liked how secretive it was and how it was its own culture. I didn't know I was going to make a career of it, I guess it just never left my life after that.

When did you get started?
I finally got the chance to apprentice when I was a senior at Iowa State in 2004. 

Do you remember the first tattoo that you did?
Yes, it was a tattoo machine on the inside of my left calf. The design is pretty whack, new school like almost everyone starts off with. I guess I wasn't too familiar with the parts of a tattoo machine, because it doesn't have springs or binding posts.

How would you describe your style of tattooing?
When I first started doing tattoos that had a cohesive look there was really only new school and old school, or traditional. Pictures of my tattoos would always be on blogs with a title like "is it new school or old school". That's when I started hearing the tern neo-traditional. I don't know if I still like that description. I want my tattoos to look like tattoos, clean line work, solid fills and smooth blends. I'm not too caught up into styles as long as the craft is good.

What were you doing before you got into the tattoo business, and what made you change?
I never had a job I called a career before tattooing. In high school I did night cleaning at a downtown building in Omaha. In college I delivered pizzas for Domino's.

What influences your artwork?
My clients definitely influence my tattoos. I just take their ideas and make good tattoos out of them. As far as my artwork it's a combination of things. I look at what other artists are doing and how it applies to my intentions. I'm also heavily influenced by Greek and Roman sculpture and architecture, one of my focuses in college.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get their first tattoo?
Don’t get caught up too much in the meaning. Think about what you want your tattoo to look like and find a tattooer who is capable of doing it. I believe aesthetics are more important than meaning, a good tattoo will develop meaning to you, a bad tattoo with a lot of meaning is still a bad tattoo.

Do you see yourself doing anything other than tattooing?
In addition to tattooing I currently build tattoo machines and run Acanthus Apparel with my wife. Acanthus is a clothing label, we do graphic tees, hoodies, skirts and dresses among other things. My hobbies always seem to turn into businesses, but no, I don't ever see myself not tattooing.

Do you have a favorite quote?
"I don't. I should."

What’s your biggest inspiration, what keeps you going?
Being able to achieve things that I previously thought impossible. Tattooing with a beautiful machine I made from scratch, or seeing my current t-shirt designs next to ones from a year ago. Or seeing a tattoo I did all healed up and admiring the palette or flow before I recognize it's mine. And seeing what other people are doing that just blows what I'm doing away, and figuring out how they do it.

What is one thing that life has taught you?
Work for what you want. When you think you've got nothing left to give, do more.

Where do you see the tattoo culture 10 years from now?             
I think the intense popularity will wane. I think the consumers will be left more knowledgeable about the craft, but not industry. I think more people in general will know what a good tattoo looks like. 

Anything else you would like to add?                                 Check out my website for travel dates, tattoos, tattoo machines and special merchandise.  

For cool Acanthus Apparel visit

If you’re in the Des Moines, IA area stop by Iron Heart. And don't forget to go to Vitae Design Collective in the East Village, a boutique my wife co-owns that sells clothing and accessories from tons of different local, and or independent designers.
Last photo credit: Katie Hilton