Famed tattoo artist Jon Mesa strikes a balance between new tattoos and cover ups because many clients are seeking to modify or transform an existing design. He does his magic at No Idols Tattoo in New York City, which he co-owns, located in Chinatown on the Bowery. With a staff of eight fantastic artists, No Idols draws clients from all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, and beyond. Jon is also a celebrity tattoo artist, but we’ll get to that in more detail in a moment! We talked with him about the special considerations an artist needs to think about when doing a cover up and how this affects the vibrant designs he typically creates.
How would you describe your style?
This talented NYC tattoo artist specializes in tattoos with Japanese themes, though he’s also done some neo-traditional tattoo work and black and gray realism. The Japanese style uses dark lines and accents, much like an ink drawing, focusing heavily on contrast. You’ll also notice a beautiful sense of flow throughout a Japanese tattoo, as well as natural features like flowers and waves.
The Japanese style can depict various mythical beings like dragons, as well as supernatural figures like Tengu and Daruma, which have an important place in the culture. Other subjects include traditional masks, koi fish, snakes, and kitsune (a fox character that appears in Japanese folklore), all of which have long-standing roles in Japanese culture.
What does the artist have to think about when doing a cover up?
Each cover up tattoo is unique because the style is guided by the original tattoo, Jon explains. The original determines what type of cover up will actually work. Getting it lasered provides more flexibility in terms of both style and content. “It will give your artist more freedom,” Jon says.
Negative space is a critical element in a tattoo, he continues. The negative space is the skin that isn’t actually covered by the tattoo, which heightens the contrast and makes the tattoo pop. “Negative space is extremely important on a tattoo so that it can breathe,” he says. “When you’re doing a cover up, you really don’t have that much negative space. Definitely, lasering a tattoo first will give you the opportunity to have that balance.”
Laser removal allowed Jon to redo a poorly executed Buddha tattoo on a client. In the original, the face had been done at an odd angle, creating a warped effect. He restructured the face and then added a Japanese landscape with cherry blossoms, creating a more surrealistic and captivating theme.
What celebrities have you tattooed?
One of his most notable recent clients is Pete Davidson of Saturday Night Live. He and Ariana Grande had gotten matching tattoos on the back of the neck, saying “Mille Tendresse” (meaning a thousand tendernesses, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s). Davidson had his covered up by Mesa to say “Cursed” instead, after the celebrity couple split. Mesa has given Davidson numerous other tattoos as well. In 2018, he gave Davidson a small portrait tattoo of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Mesa’s clientele also includes Jake Paul and Ariana Grande herself.
Have you ever had one of your own tattoos removed or covered up?
Jon used to have a full sleeve tattoo that he’d gotten years ago before he understood what to look for in a good tattoo shop. It no longer fit his personal aesthetic. He wanted to cover it with a white tiger, so we used a laser to remove it. Jon is thrilled with the end result, as laser tattoo removal gave him a fresh canvas to work on.
If you’re wondering whether laser removal could give you a fresh start, too, book a consultation with the Removery. We’ll be happy to answer your questions about what the process involves and how to begin your removal journey.