Since I was a freshman college kid, I’ve always wanted to talk with Greensboro, North Carolina artist Otto Long. I’d seen him, and his artwork at Carolina Tattoo in 1994 when I was getting my first tattoos. To a kid new to the tattoo scene, a guy that carves skulls out of wood all day doesn’t seem like someone you just approach without an invitation. Later, when Otto began having his face tattooed, it only made him look more intimidating. Almost 20 years later, while covering the 17th Annual North Carolina Tattoo Convention, I got to sit down with Otto Long for a discussion of his life and art. I learned that Otto is not the grim figure that his artwork suggests; you’ll rarely meet a nicer person.
Otto Long began wood carving in 1993 while recuperating from a severe injury. He had suffered serious breaks to both legs, so he started carving wooden canes to occupy his mind, and to produce something he could make use of. It didn’t take long for Otto’s attractive, hand-made skull art to become popular among people with an interest in tattoos. Although he eventually lost part of one leg, Otto’s artistic hobby thrived and grew into “Creatures of the Night”, his brand name for his wood carving and artwork.
Otto got involved with the Greensboro and North Carolina tattoo community through his friendship with John “Little John” Bury. After Otto had spent about $1500 on tattoo work in two consecutive days, John offered him a place to display his artwork. The partnership evolved into a full-time job for Otto at Carolina Tattoo. When John left behind Carolina Tattoo and began Little John’s Tattoo, Otto continued with him. Otto eventually moved in with John, staying with him 15 years, and cementing their friendship, and artistic and professional collaboration. Otto doesn’t spend as much time at Little John’s Tattoo since John passed away in 2008, but pieces of Otto’s art are always on display in the shop.
Otto’s wood carvings range in price from $100 for a small piece, to $500 or more, for a large totem. A cane or a small piece takes Otto one or two days to produce; a large totem can take an entire week. “The time doesn’t matter, though”, Otto tells me. “An hour, a day, or a week doesn’t matter. I’m still doing the same thing; trying to stay ahead of the cracks and splits as the wood expands.”
Otto is well known in the North Carolina Triad region’s artistic community. He has several body cast sculptures on display at the Witherspoon Art Gallery in Greensboro. One of the casted figures holds one of Otto’s carved canes. He has had art exhibitions in Greensboro, Winston Salem, and throughout the Triad area. Although he has achieved critical success in the mainstream art community, Otto wants tattooed people to buy his work. That’s who he makes it for. “When I die, I want to be known for skull art”, he says, “that’s my goal.”
Throughout the tattoo convention, Otto’s young daughter was never far away, bringing him food and drinks, making sure he was comfortable, and helping him raffle and sell his Creatures of the Night. Otto is easy going and quite friendly; He offers a philosophy that anyone with tattoos or body modifications should take to heart. “I have to be extra nice to people, looking the way I look. I have my whole face tattooed. If I make a bad impression on somebody, I’m ruining it for all of us that have tattoos.”
Otto Long, Creatures of the Night; can be contacted through Little John’s Tattoo. Visit their website, here. See some of Otto’s art, here; and more coverage of the 17th Annual NC Tattoo Convention, here.