We had the good fortune of connecting with Ray Corson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ray, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
There seems to be a culture of overworking in tattooing. Our industry is flooded with the unsaid idea that if you aren’t pushing yourself past your limits, you aren’t working hard enough. Established artists will advise you to find balance and not overwork. Meanwhile, at the studio and on social media, we feel an obscure pressure to be the hardest working to the detriment of our own health. Many of us crave recognition from our peers for being a “workhorse” and feel undeserving if we take time to recharge. The same artists who advise you to find work life balance, got to that point in their career by ignoring balance. Depending on the career you want, an imbalance of work and life seems to be unavoidable. How can we maintain balance when we feel shamed for taking time away from work? How can we achieve our goals if it requires more than the balance permits? It is so easy to get distracted when you have a passion for growth. I think we often forget that connecting with yourself is just as important as being open to the influence of others. Balance is relative. I think a mistake many people make is turning to the standard idea of balance instead of determining what the correct proportion of work-life elements is in their own life. The advice of our idols seems to contradict the pressure from peers. When I first started in the tattoo industry as an apprentice, I was willfully a slave to tattooing. There was zero balance. Once I started tattooing, I was able to make a small shift towards better balance. 3 years later I have the freedom to try different points on the work life balance bar. I decided to take the time to be thoughtful about the issue and learn what works best for me. In 2018, I was very lucky to attend the L.A. Explorer Tattoo Conference. It was truly a life changing experience. There were 2 speakers that really affected me, Jeff Gogue (@gogueart) and Gunnar (@artofgunnar), and I still review my notes when I need to center myself. Their seminars forced me to think about what I want, my goals, how to plan, and what I was willing to sacrifice. Their stories of finding work life balance helped me to be honest with myself about what I wanted from life. Their challenging questions are louder now that I am revisiting my goals and making updates to my career plan. After experimenting with different points on the work life balance scale, I have realized I get immense joy from my work. I have tried a 50/50 balance and it isn’t the right fit for me. While it might be more taxing, and I will miss out on some things that many consider essential, I am happier with more work. I think the true key to work life balance is being honest about areas where you can compromise and what you refuse to live without. At least for now, I am happy with my work life balance.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My ability to put a piece of my client and myself into the custom artwork I create is one thing that makes me special. Many artists put themselves into their work, but one of the things I enjoy about tattooing is connecting with others through art. Art can be a self indulgent wonderland and has helped me through the darkest times of my life. Tattooing is so magical because now I can give that experience to others, as well as myself. I am also thankful for what my clients give to me. Every day is an exchange of new perspectives, positive affirmations, encouraging stories, and care for each other. I have the most incredible clients and peers. I think the common denominator across all humans is the desire for genuine human connection and this career allows me to contribute and receive in that respect. I am most proud of the bonds I have formed with others thanks to this job. I am proud of myself for opening up to others and putting in effort with people as well as my art. Once it’s safe, I am excited to travel. I don’t have a crystal clear idea of what I want from my life and career, and I think traveling will expose me to options I didn’t know I had. There is a special kind of growth, connection to others, and self discovery you get from traveling. I was lucky to find my passion for tattooing at 12 years old and have since had a single-minded focus on becoming a professional tattoo artist. I don’t remember the exact moment I decided, but I knew this was my destiny. After earning a B.L.A. from the University of Texas at Austin I apprenticed under David Mushaney at Rebel Muse Tattoo in Lewisville, TX. The training and advice I acquired from the artists I encountered during that time helped to push me forward at a rate that surprised me. When I graduated from college I thought it would take years to get a portfolio that would be worthy of an apprenticeship. I started apprenticing within months of graduation. I thought it would take me years and years to be worthy of working at a studio like Rebel Muse but within a year I was there. While I had a passion that fueled myself, I let self doubt stunt my goals. My parents, friends, and partner challenged my ideas of what was possible. Their love and gentle pushes helped me focus my determination on the right goals. My parents especially gave me the tools to succeed. Comparatively speaking, I know so many others whose coming-up stories were ground shaking. Relatively speaking, getting here was the most difficult, and rewarding, thing I have ever done. My Dad always says, “You make your own luck.” which, I am a champion of, but it is hard not to feel lucky when I look back at the opportunities that have presented themselves. It is important to set your goals high, and to believe in yourself. If I had let opportunities pass and not take chances, I wouldn’t be here. Fear is inevitable, as is failure. It truly is about what you do with the two. Successful people aren’t afraid of falling, they jump anyway. My family always told me that ‘Courage’ is my middle name and I try to live true to that. I think what sets me apart from others is my ability to refocus and frame everything with a positive outlook. If I could pass along a nugget of advice to anyone, it would be to nurture your sense of adventure. If you do, it will speak louder than your fears and propel you forward with joy and excitement. That energy is contagious and will pour into others as well.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Welcome to Dallas! LET’S GET ARTSY Rainbow Vomit – This interactive art exhibit is a ton of fun. My friends and I look forward to the changing immersive exhibits! Dallas Museum of Art – The DMA is one of the largest art museums in America and never disappoints! Perot Museum – With 11 permanent exhibit halls in the heart of Dallas, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science provides an unforgettable experience for guests of all ages. You could spend a week here so try to plan your visit ahead of time! Nasher Sculpture Center – This is a fun museum with lots of sensory experiences! NATURE NERDS Dallas Arboretum – Fresh air and beautiful scenery. If you’re a tattoo artist, this is a great opportunity to get custom floral reference images. Don’t forget to go paddling at White Rock Lake! Northshore Trail at Twin Coves Park – This Park has 200+ miles of trails so specifically check out the area around Northshore. Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve – This nature preserve has 9 miles of hiking trails through 600 acres of hill country habitat. DRINKS Bishop Cidercade – Gotta love a crisp Tigers Blood Cider while playing Arcade games. They have all the classics from pinball to skee-ball and more! Kung Fu Tea – My favorite is the Grapefruit Green Tea! The juices are freshly squeezed and they make fresh bubbles every 2 hours! Atwater Alley – This fun speakeasy is a hidden gem inside Henry’s Majestic, a tavern off McKinney Ave! EATS Mama’s Daughters’ Dinner – The best french toast around! Classic southern cooking with a taste that makes you think of Mama. Original Market Diner – A classic Dallas Diner with delicious comfort food and yummy pies! Brunch at SMITHY – This is a brunch must! Do yourself a favor and get the pancakes. Tei Tei Robata Bar – Sushi, Tokyo-style robata & sake, along with other Japanese goodies. This is by far the best sushi in Dallas. It can be as inexpensive or indulgent as you want. Velvet Taco – This funky fast-casual taco spot is absolutely scrummy! I love the #7, #18, elote corn, and decadent red velvet cake.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have so many people and opportunities to thank for their role in my story! I could go on and on. I am notorious for novel-length sappy cards and notes so I will do my best to keep it short and simple. I owe a huge ‘thank you’ to my mentor, David Mushaney (@davidmushaneytattoos), and the other co-owners of Rebel Muse Tattoo, Ellen Mushaney; Liz Cook (@lizcooktattoo); and Cookie. Y’all gave me a huge opportunity and the best guidance this industry has to offer. I am also thankful for the influence of many others at Rebel Muse. My friend and unofficial mentor, Danny Elliott (@dannyelliott_ink) who co-owns Rebel Muse Tattoo in Denver, Co. My friends Michael (@michaelbalesart) and Taylor Bales (@trueleafstudio). My dear friend Adam (@adammirart) who now tattoos at ‘Til Death in Denver, CO. My close friend Sam Holbert (@_samborghini) who now apprentices at Pristine Ink in Dallas, TX. Eric Cantu (@cantutattoo) and Joe Tricomi (@jtricomi) are some day 1 homies there for my entire apprenticeship experience. I am so thankful for my incredibly supportive family and friends. Especially my Dad, Larry Corson; Mom, Clarissa Corson; and Step-Mom, Michelle Corson. Y’all have believed in me, encouraged me, and loved me wholeheartedly from the beginning. Every art class, every pep talk, every hug. I wouldn’t be here without y’all and your guidance. I truly couldn’t ask for better parents. I dedicate all of my achievements to them. The following books also helped. The Art Spirit by Robert Henri; The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene; #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso; and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. I also have to give a shout out to therapy and chocolate cake. Never underestimate the two!
Susan Shay Abbey Groom