In Douglas Billian’s world there are two kinds of tattoo artists: the rock stars and the non-rock stars. You can find Billian in the latter category, but this is a good thing. He doesn’t have a huge ego; he respects his lady; he’s super humble … and he’s only been in the tattoo business for two years.
“In this industry, a lot of people bring this rock-star attitude to the table when, really, if you just bring respect to the table, then that’s going further than trying be a badass,” says Billian.
The irony of it all is that Billian is the sole San Antonio tattoo artist invited to participate in Kat Von D’s Musink tattoo and music festival being held this weekend in California, where 200 of the industry’s finest will showcase their work. Von D, no stranger to big egos — evident during her short stint on Miami Ink, which catapulted her to fame and stardom on LA Ink — is blending the worlds of rock and
tattoo art to create an event that is sure to outlast her last ink job.
Since taking inspiration from David Bollt of the website TattooJohnny.com, Billian’s life has been a whirlwind, working 10-plus hours at his shop Divine Line Tat2, participating in tattoo conventions, raising two children, and finding balance. He admits that tattooing is hard on families, but that hasn’t deterred Billian from accomplishing what he’s set out to do.
Billian was always artistically inclined, but that part of him took a backseat when he joined the military. He was medically discharged from the Army and went on to nursing school. But in his mind tattoo images danced, waiting to be inked onto skin. When tattoo artists urged him to get into a shop, he started searching for an apprenticeship and was rejected … repeatedly. With one semester left in nursing school, an investor put money behind him and he opened up his current shop with lead artist Roy Barrera.
Although notoriety followed swiftly, Billian credits his military attitude with keeping him grounded. Within six months, he was making the tattoo-convention circuit. After his first convention earned him first- and second-place awards, it finally occurred to him that maybe tattooing was his destiny.
His military ties also came in handy.
Billian served as a police officer at Lackland Air Force Base while his best friend was a doctor at Wilford Hall — when he opened shop he brought in clients from the military that wanted to support one of their own.
But Billian’s main focus is the locals. As word gets out, more San Antonians are coming in that don’t have personal ties to Billian, and it’s these people that he’s most excited to work on — as well as the occasional local tattoo artist. When he tattooed San Antonio inkman Chris from Lion’s Den tattoo, it was possibly one of the most nerve-wracking moments in his life. Billian tattooed a skull piece on his face. Thankfully, Chris dug it. “It’s nice to know your fellow artists like what you’re doing,” Billian says.
David Rangel, a former apprentice at Billian’s shop, has nothing but kind words for his former boss. He says that the work Billian is doing is unparalled and that he also appreciated the fun working environment (a sentiment echoed by current staffers of Divine Line Tat2 when I visited the ultra-laid-back shop last week). Rangel made sure to mention how Billian treats the guys with respect.
Still a relative newbie in the San Anto tattoo community, Billian is optimistic about area tattoo artists establishing a family-like bond. “That’s all I ever wanted, was to see San Antonio tattooers become more of a family,” Billian said. He noted that in his short time as a tattoo artist he’s already come across a few people that have bad-mouthed him and the shop, but he takes the negative comments in stride.
A devout Catholic, Billian credits much of his success to God. While chomping down on breakfast at a nearby taqueria he paused to pray and even put down his taco to quote a verse from the Bible. Tattoos, tacos, and praise is the diet that feeds Billian — it’s just the balance he needed to put him on the map in the local tattoo