James was born in St. Louis, Missouri and attended high school at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. After graduating in 1990, he attended both the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan and the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri before settling at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. After three years at SAIC he graduated with a Bachelors degree in Fine Art in 1995.
James started tattooing while at the Art Institute in 1994. Self-taught, he worked on friends in his spare time while working coloring comic books. In 1996, answering an ad in the paper, James was hired at Milios Salon as a tattoo artist. While at Milios, he worked with Jason Leisge (now at Infinity Tattoo in Portland, Oregon) and then his brother Tim Kern. While at Milios James expanded his knowledge of the art of tattoo by talking with and observing other talented tattoo artists in the area such as Guy Aitchison (to who he owes a great debt to for his openness and encouragement), Jason Leisge, Kim Saigh, Ben Wahhh, later Jon Clue, and also his brother Tim who was apprenticing at Dreamcatchers in Columbia, Missouri. In 1999, he participated in a tattoo demonstration at University of Illionois-Chicago as part of a lecture series celebrating body art. After approximately three years at Milios, it was time for a change and James and Tim moved to No Hope No Fear (formerly owned and operated by David Kotker) in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.
His work has won numerous awards at tattoo conventions and has been published in many tattoo magazines, as well as feature articles in Tattoo Magazine (August 1998) and Skin Art #70, Tattoo Society #4, Skin and Ink, Tattoo Flash and (most recently) Northwest Tattoo Magazine- as well as magazines in Germany, France, Mexico and Japan.
In 2004, James self-published his book “Advanced cover-ups for tattooists” which is now out of print. A new edition of the book is in the works.
After moving to Portland, Oregon in 2004, he worked with Nate Hudson, Tracy Faraca, Pedro Dorsey and Tim Jordan at Optic Nerve Arts.
James is currently tattooing in Portland, Oregon at No Hope No Fear (opened in 2007) with Rachel Gilbert, and working tattoo conventions as well as guest tattooing at shops around the country.
James Kern- President
NHNF, INc./No Hope No Fear Tattoo Art Studio
2923 SE Division St.
Portland, Oregon 97202