Noah Kilsdonk - Artist Study
This is part of an ongoing series on the how, where, and why behind some people making and doing awesome things in the Midwest.
Noah Kilsdonk is a Fargo-Moorhead native and co-founder of No Coast Tattoo. He's been tattooing for over ten years. He also has an amazing beard.
Zach: Tell me who you are and what you do.
Noah: I’m Noah Kilsdonk. I tattoo professional. I’m a co-owner and operator at No Coast Tattoo.
Zach: How did you become a tattoo artist?
Noah: I guess I was asked to be a tattoo artist at one point and that didn’t quite pan out, but then I was intrigued more or less. I started drawing tattoos when I was younger for people, but I never thought about becoming a tattoo artist. I had people coming more and more to me and eventually I was asked. I searched for an apprenticeship and found one.
Zach: How long have you been doing it for?
Noah: A little over ten years.
Zach: Did you study art?
Noah: I did. I went to MSUM for an drawing major with an emphasis in illustration.
Zach: Have you tried many other mediums of art?
Noah: Oh yeah, yeah. I’ve done painting and acrylic. I haven’t done much oil but I’ve played with it a little bit. Watercolor, illustration, graphite I enjoy chalk pastels a lot. I’m not a charcoal kind of guy. I’m a messy person and I don’t need to be even more messy because of it.
Zach: Did you grow up in a creative home?
Noah: Ummm, I guess as creative as it possibly could be. My mom and dad were always encouraging to a certain degree but it wasn’t like my mom was a painter or illustrator. My dad did photography a little bit and he is a cabinet maker. I was born into a carpentry to be honest, so I guess in the artistic sense in that.
Zach: Do you feel like your work has changed since you started?
Noah: Oh yeah, hugely! Tattooing, the industry, has changed immensely. That’s the thing. I guess in this area, we’re so far behind the times, that a lot of styles were coming in when I first started tattooing. It was like New School or sort of bright, bold colors with high contrast highlights, so I did that when I first started, but that wasn’t really my niche. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, but it was as pleasurable. I’ve always liked the history of tattooing, that kind of old tradition. That’s what I was more drawn to. My second year as an apprentice, I got drawn more into traditional tattooing and I’ve pretty much been doing American Traditional style ever since. And kind of Japanese Traditional with an American flair would be the best way to describe it.
Zach: Walk me through a typical tattoo from start to finish.
Noah: It depends on what it is. If you’re going for your little, tiny fifteen minute jobbers, it’s literally come in and tell me what you want. Either I’ll sketch it out quick or if you brought in some lettering I’ll make a quick stencil and get it over with. Or we have you come in for a consultation and I’ll pick some aspects of what you like and I kind of put my own flair on it and draw something custom for a particular person. It can be anything from something relatively simple as a little traditional rose to a full-on half-sleeve geisha, like what I just did on her. It can very because each person is so different. It’s kind of neat that humanity is not so cut and dry and this is what I want.
Zach: Why do you think you are you an artist?
Noah: I’ve always liked drawing. I don’t know, it was just something in me. I remember when I was a kid I used to love drawing. I won a couple competitions when I was younger. Even today though, I don’t think I’m that amazing by any stretch of the imagination, you know, but I guess your worst critique is yourself. You always admire other people’s work too and look at what you could have done differently in your work.
Zach: What are you inspired and influenced by?
Noah: I guess a lot of American Traditional work, those old timers, Sailor Jerry, Cap Coleman, Paul Rodgers. A lot of people influence me in so many ways, a lot of artists out there. Just that real bold contrast of a thick line, and it’s almost simplistic in that. An old timer said one time, “if you can tell what it is from the outline alone, you did a good job on the design.” And that stands real true to itself, because it you can’t tell what it is from the outline, what did you just do?
Zach: Describe where we are, your workplace.
Noah: Chaos. Haha! A big wide open space with a giant narwhal on the wall. A lot of paintings and art, what we would typically call flash designs, and also large scale prints. A lot of artist we admire and some of our own art as well.
Zach: What is the last good book you’ve read?
Noah: Ummm, it’s about a tattoo artist, The Life and Work of Amund Dietzel. It’s a biography about his history and life. Very interesting.
Zach: What’s on your playlist right now?
Noah: Two Gallants lately. And Heartless Bastards a little bit. Black Flag, I always listen to Black Flag, to stick to my roots. NPR, haha, a lot of NPR.
Zach: What advice would you give for someone pursuing a career in the arts?
Noah: I guess what I know now is find that best person that suits your needs that you want to learn underneath if you’re getting into this career. For any artistic career, prepare to be broke, because the starving artist is no joke, that is a true statement. And prepare to die doing your work. I don’t have a retirement plan. There’s no endgame here, it’s go until you can go no more.