Interview: Lucas Ruggieri - Three Kings Tattoo - Durham, NC

Posted by Olivia Huntley on

Lucas Ruggieri is a freelance illustrator and printmaker from Brooklyn, NY, who has been making artwork for the past 13 years. Ruggieri has done illustration work for a number of creative projects and has worked with bands like Dragged into Sunlight, Assimilation, Wolfbrigade, Exhumed, Dimmu Borgir, Ghoul, Demiser, and many more.

Amidst a successful illustration career, Lucas is now working as a tattooer at Three Kings Tattoo in Durham, NC. We recently added an original drawing from Ruggieri to our gallery (pictured above) and got to talk with him about his illustration career, collaborative projects, artistic influences, and his transition into tattooing. 

Vulcan: You’ve been making illustration work for a long time. What’s your artistic background so far? 

Lucas Ruggieri: I went to Savannah College of Art & Design and took illustration classes there. I’ve been fortunate enough to go to art school since middle school growing up in New York. My parents found a middle school where I could take art classes and essentially have a major. Then I went to a high school that was the same way, so it was like no matter what, everyday you were taking art classes. A lot of art school for years and years and years... 

V: Wow, yeah. You knew what you wanted to do pretty early on.

LR: Oh yeah, it was very apparent. When my parents asked me what I wanted to do as a little kid I was just like, “Art.” That was my answer. I knew I wanted to make art. I do feel very lucky to have known that for so long, and that definitely gave me an advantage, just having so much training going into illustration and tattooing… 

V: Yeah, totally. In addition to craft and skill, just having that time to develop your own style and find the imagery that you’re interested in…

LR: Yeah, absolutely. Not that it translates 100% well to tattooing, how I illustrate, and I’m totally aware of that being somebody who has tattoos that are heavily detailed that I got when I was 18 and the artist was like, “Hey, just so you know, this is how everything is going to heal up.”

So as I translate my illustration work into tattooing, I want to be super mindful and make sure that I execute this kind of style that has a lot of detail in a way that’s going to age and heal well and not turn into mush in a few years. You draw on paper and it doesn’t really change over time…

No, but honestly, it’s very interesting and rewarding to learn and study that translation and I think it’s only going to make my illustration work better as well. 

V: What drew you to exploring tattooing as a medium?

LR: I had always been really interested in it since I was kid and knew that I wanted tattoos. I think I had been slightly discouraged at certain times, like before I went to school for art, by certain people, just about getting into the industry. So after I went to school, there were times where I tried to get jobs at certain shops in Savannah while I was at SCAD, and for whatever reason it never really worked out.

I tried to do that when I moved back to Brooklyn about 10 years ago. Shops didn’t need work or whatever, it didn’t line up. Then with the pandemic totally changing my plans, well changing everyone’s plans, but I had sat around the house for so long that I was like, “You know what? I can teach myself how to do this worse case. I’m going to reach out to some people and if nothing comes of it, I’ve seen friends of mine do this, I’ve seen people teach themselves… I’ve wanted to make this happen for so long, now’s the time to make it happen.”

V: What kind of imagery are you most interested in? 

LR: When I was growing up, I had an older brother who was really into fantasy imagery. He played Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons with his friends, and I think those two things in general were super influential to me in terms of showing me everything I knew I wanted to draw. Those were the main things that got me into fantasy art and dark imagery when I was really little. Then when I was in high school, I got really into Northern Renaissance woodcut type imagery and engravings and stuff.

One of my teachers and then one of my friends who I met in college showed me Bernie Wrighton’s Frankenstein. After I saw that I was like, “Okay, this is the same theme I want to do.” The perfect combination of a more modern comic book inking style combined with an older woodcut or engraving style, or kind of like Gustave Doré’s wood engravings. I’ve just tried my best to make a style that feels like that but looks like my own but is also depicting imagery that is definitely more fantasy-based or fantasy-driven.

Illustration in Frankenstein by Bernie Wrightson

Illustration from Frankenstein illustrated by Bernie Wrightson

The nice thing about illustration is clients want weird stuff sometimes. It’s like, “Alright, well. You have to figure out how to translate that.” Part of that problem-solving aspect of that is generally, usually, a fun challenge and that also translates into being really helpful in tattooing as well. 

V: With fantasy and dark arts in particular, there’s so much imagination involved because you have to be super imaginative bringing people’s ideas to life. 

LR: Absolutely. I’m not sure how factual it is, but one of my illustration professors told me, “Oh yeah, most or 90% of Frank Frazetta’s imagery was just in his head and he wasn’t using references for most of that stuff.” And that’s kind of absurd and ridiculous to even think about. That, and all those old Magic cards from the 90’s that were all completely hand-painted and even had some abstract art on there that still fit in the fantasy realm. I was definitely exposed to a lot of cool work, thankfully for me, at a very young age.

V: You mentioned a couple of them, but I wanted to ask about more of your artistic influences for your illustration work, if you have more in mind.

LR: Two big ones are Albrecht Dürer and Bernie Wrightson. There’s a Mannerist printmaker named Hendrick Goltzius who was pretty influential to me. Gustave Doré, of course, just the amount of detail and excess he puts into everything. Frank Frazetta. Those are a few of the big name, main influences on my illustration work.

Paradiso, Canto XXXI, Gustave Doré

Paradiso, Canto XXXI, Gustave Doré

V: What are some of your favorite collaborative projects or bands you’ve worked with?

LR: I’m pretty fortunate that most of the people who have asked me for illustration work music-wise I at least enjoy their music if not appreciate that it’s them doing whatever that is well. But I think personally, getting to work with Exhumed was really cool. Getting to work with Wolfbrigade, that was a really cool surprise. Getting to work for a band that you’ve been listening to since you were 15 years old is always super rewarding and cool. I think every artist has a bucket list of dream clients that they’d like to work for, especially when you see them working with parallel artists.

I saw Wolfbrigade hired Marald van Haasteren and Karmazid and I was like, “Oh that’s so awesome.” I really appreciate bands I love and have loved for a long time branching out and hiring really cool artists that I think are awesome and really respect. Then them hitting me up like, “Hey. Can we get this design from you?” It was so cool.

Ghoul was a really cool one. It wasn’t technically a commission because I came to them with a comic I had illustrated, and they came back to me and were like, “Hey! Can we put this in the vinyl eventually?” That process took a long time and I had even illustrated another one by the time it got published, but that was also a really big deal to me because that was like my favorite band and still is one of my favorite bands, but that’s pretty much all I cared about for awhile, anything related to Ghoul for a very long time.

There’s a lot of projects I’m forgetting but another one of the big ones for me was definitely Dimmu Borgir. When they reached out to contact me about some artwork, that was a super cool thing. Same thing - a band that I’ve enjoyed listening to for a really, really long time. Reaching out is always super cool and they were fun to work with for sure.

V: It’s so cool you’ve been able to work with so many other artists up to this point and I feel like now you’re in such a cool place exploring a new medium. I don’t know, I consider all of these groups a community that all feeds off each other -  music, metal, illustration, printmaking, tattooing… It’s all kind of linked together.

LR: 100%. You realize quite how small these worlds are by getting more involved in it. I couldn’t agree more.

V: Who are some of the tattooers who have inspired you as you’re developing your tattooing style?

LR: There’s been a lot of people who are inspirational, but I’m also just trying to figure out my own style. There’s always artists whose work I see, maybe not necessarily style-wise, but looking at the intricacy or concepts that go into the work are really cool.

A few that I can think of… I really love Alexander Grim’s work. I also really enjoy James McKenna - he does these ridiculous mashups. It’s like a backpiece that’s a lady’s head but the lady’s head is made up of 50 panther heads or something ridiculous like that. Mike Moses’ work has always been really impressive. Jef Whitehead comes to mind - his stuff is so easily recognizable as his. You can’t mistake it for anybody else’s work really. Brandon Holt.

I’m staying at this apartment right now that has a bunch of Eddy Deutsche flash, so I’m looking at his work pretty constantly. I did get to meet him the other day, which although brief, was a good experience. When I first started at the shop in Brooklyn, he was doing a guest spot there like a month after I had started. I was actually out of town on a trip the whole time he was there and that happened the next time he guest spotted, so both times I was supposed to be apprenticing while he was there and missed it, so it was nice to finally get to see him work. Getting to see somebody do something so crazy so quickly and efficiently was a very nice lesson in itself.

V: You touched on this a bit earlier about translating your illustration work to tattooing… You may not know the answer to this yet, but do you have an idea about what kind of tattooing you want to do? Do you think it’ll just happen naturally or do you know what direction you’re wanting to go in?

LR: It is kind of a combination of all of those things. It’s kind of happening organically. Things are also happening that I wouldn’t expect or realize, like how tattooing has affected my illustration work. I’m having to be a little bit more mindful when I draw. I’m used to it not being so permanent. The stakes aren’t as high when you’re drawing on paper.

My teachers and mentors asked me, “Do you want to just translate your work into tattooing or do you want to learn other styles?” In art school, I always really enjoyed doing master copies and trying to replicate styles. Even though I really like the style that I work in and I have tattoos like that, I also have traditional tattoos and appreciate those styles just as much, so my teachers were excited to hear me say that because they were like, “That’s going to make you a better tattooer, that’s going to make you a better artist, and that’s going to make the tattoos you do in your style stronger because you’re following the same logic and rules as to what makes tattoos last a lifetime but applying it to your work.” 

Tattooing has been very rewarding so far - seeing people be really happy with the tattoos you give them. I think that’s always something I appreciate a lot. You get to see someone’s face after you make something. You don’t get to see someone’s face after you make an illustration. There’s a rewarding aspect to being more face-to-face with your clients. I’m just trying to take it as seriously as it should be taken as somebody who has been getting tattooed for a long time. I want to give people something they’re happy with, something I’m happy with, and make something that’s going to look good decades down the line.

V: Hell yeah. Thanks for talking Lucas! 

You can check out more of Lucas’ illustration & tattoo work at the links below:





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