On the darker side.

That’s how tattoo artist Mike Zimmer likes to work.

At H&H Las Vegas, he specializes in neotraditional, black work, and black-and-grey tattoos. But that hasn’t always been the case.

Growing up in small-town Wyoming, he picked up his passion for art from his grandmother. She was big into painting and always had an art room set up at home. He’d spend time there splashing color onto everything from paper to canvases to gourds. Southwestern style.

Outside of the box, imaginative stuff.

But it wasn’t until he started taking art classes in high school that he truly started to find his own beat, reinventing stuff he saw in tattoo magazines by artists he admired. He was most drawn to Japanese-style art back then.

It’s just so free-flowing on the body, simplistic yet impactful, and so much tradition goes along with it. That’s what had the most impact on me.

It’s just so free-flowing on the body, simplistic yet impactful, and so much tradition goes along with it. That’s what had the most impact on me.

Mike got his first tattoo at a shop in Arizona right when he turned 18. It started with one small one, then an entire half-sleeve. He found himself at the shop a lot, and it wasn’t long until the guys there encouraged him to get an apprenticeship.

It felt like I was catching a break, the stars were aligned.

His mentor was a Hells Angel who ragged on him a lot, but also gave him a truly traditional crash course in tattoo artistry.

He gave me a hard time, made me work my way up in a military “break-you-down-to-build-you-up” kind of way. But I credit that to building character and an honor for the tradition. That experience helped me grow both as a person and an artist.

Now Mike has the tough skin and level of confidence all tattoo artists should have.

This is a job where people constantly question your abilities and you’ve got to have no problem saying – and believing – “no, I AM this good, and I have no problem proving it.”

He hopes to impart this type of confidence to the next gen. of tattooers.

It’s all about respect for the art form: the honor and tradition that goes along with tattooing, respecting other tattooers and previous generations of artists, knowing where the craft started, how it’s evolved. Being grateful that we’re in a position to continue it.

At H&H, Mike is working on leaving his own legacy, but with plenty of humility.

I’m not into the whole fame and fortune thing. I don’t do this to win awards or anything like that. Just having respect from family, friends, and peers in the industry is all I really want.

Since his start, his style has evolved from different influences both in the shop and out in the world. But one thing that never changes is his work ethic and unwavering passion. He designs pieces that both make an impact and withstand the test of time.

People shouldn’t walk around with tattoos they hate. I don’t want to put something on somebody that I know won’t work out well. I’ve had people ask for some really unrealistic things. I could sit here and take their money, and their tattoo will be a blob in five years, but that’s not what I’m about. This thing should last forever. It’s got to be a tattoo that looks good 10 to 15 years from now, not just over the next few months. You’ve got to think longevity in this game.

For Mike, a blank canvas is exciting, but one that’s already been worked on is better.

The best feeling I get comes from fixing people’s tattoos, or covering up tattoos they hate or are ashamed of – That reaction where someone goes from “I can’t believe I wore a long-sleeve shirt because I didn’t want people to see it” to making it into something they love and are proud to show off.

This guy’s got heart. And so does his art. Each tattoo Mike’s responsible for is striking and dynamic, with impenetrable blacks and gradient whites.

I want my tattoos to convey certain feelings – not necessarily dark and morbid – but something you don’t typically see from the outside.

It’s this type of freethinking and dedication to the craft that allows him to feel right at home at H&H.

Before working here, I owned my own shop in Wyoming for 8 or 9 years. Then I moved to Vegas, got a gig at H&H and haven’t looked back since. There are days where I’ll do seven or eight smaller walk-ins and others where I work on one or two bigger custom pieces, things I’ve dreamt up myself. This shop gives me great support and good balance.

And for Mike, that’s really what it’s all about. Balance, perseverance, passion.

I’m trying to set a good example for my kids. It’s not necessarily about being the greatest or most famous. Whatever you choose to do, do it well. Put your all into it and do it right.