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Ethan Walters: The Gypsy Behind the Curtain

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There's something that binds us together. It rests within us much deeper than aesthetic choices, brand loyalties, or individual feats of skill. Though these things have their place, they sit atop a foundation much more sturdy, more enduring. For Ethan Walters, the form of art and the function of firearms come together as tools to protect the things we love: be it our own lives, or the lives of those we care about.

Chances are each of us has seen the influence of his art. Sometimes going by the name Gypsy, the work of Ethan Walters can be found in some of the most hard-to-find corners of special operations, to some of the largest names in the industry, and not just that of firearms. As a result, his perspective on firearms culture, and his story drive a point home. But we won't steal his thunder:

Who Are You, what do you do, and how did you get here?

Ethan Walters: I'm an illustrator and a tattooist for the last 12 years. I'm a regular guy and I like shooting firearms. I got the name Gypsy in St. Louis when I was traveling around. I got that nickname from a group I was hanging out with, and it stuck.

gypsy walters art reaper

House of Wolves is my merch business. It started off as my tattoo studio, which had the same name. When I closed my studio, we transferred it to the all-in-one online business. There you can find stickers, and merch, and services like illustration and tattooing.

How has that led you to your involvement with both firearms and firearms culture?

Ethan Walters: It's allowed me to be artistically expressive outside of hired work. I draw and put it out there, as a just-for-me thing that the community likes. From there I've been moving into streetwear.

Were firearms a Part of your Childhood?

Ethan Walters: My first interaction with firearms was when my Grandpa let me shoot cans of the back porch with his .22. There were definitely firearms in my childhood and teens: they were held in high regard and I was taught to respect them at an early age. I think instilling that mindset at a young age has incredible benefits for young gun owners.

Was it your Grandfather that taught you how to shoot?

Ethan Walters: I don't really have any family. He would load up the .22 and hand it to me, telling me to let him know when I was out of rounds. It wasn't until 2008 that I got my first AR. This leads into how I got started shooting.

I shot off and on in my late teens, but I really started getting into firearms when i was in my 20's. One of my friends was in the military, and I started buying gear. I would bounce ideas off my SOF friends, and even my civilian friends who were outfitted pretty well. They would tell me why they ran a gun in a certain configuration. I pretty much just took everything I was told and made it work best for me.

I started training way heavier tactically, around 2012. That's when I went full-bore.

Coming from someone who's not in the military, how did you approach Training?

Ethan Walters: I knew multiple people who own ranges and shoot houses and I started there. A lot of CQB work, a lot of shoot-house stuff or other active shooter scenarios. I've ran in those 360-degree simulators quite a bit as well. We have a lot of space out here, whether it be long-range, high altitude, or once you get into night vision, there are shoot houses under Night Vision Goggles. That leads to another thing about how you configure rifles with IR capabilities. I learned from one of my buddies that he only runs a click-cap on his white light because in his profession, if you ND (negligent discharge) white light, you're dead. That's how I run most of my rifles now.

Training, getting the gear, and figuring out what works for me: running the rounds to figure it out. I've done the Op-For against local SWAT teams.

What you're saying is there's there a way for civilians to get involved with esoteric parts of firearms culture?

Ethan Walters: I've been incredibly fortunate. I remember I was running a shoot house, and this green beret was able to observe my entry and movement, and tell me what I was doing right.

ethan walters
Photo by Alex Aubrey

Whenever I do questions (on Instagram), there's plenty of people who ask things like “what's a good entry/budget rifle?” I think Lucas from T-Rex hits it as well. If you're a good shooter, you can make a Smith & Wesson M&P-15 Sport work well, but it's not the same as a Knight's Armament.

When it comes to firearms, yes: get what you can afford, and what will make it work. But when you're getting into Night Vision, or higher-end kit, money really counts. PVS-7's might get you into night vision, but it doesn't make you night-capable.

What Brought Art and Guns together for you?

Ethan Walters: Illustrating for some of the largest companies in the industry really brought me into the fold professionally. I've liked drawing tactical-related material on my own, but getting to work with brands like GBRS Group, Ops-Core, Vortex Optics, and Sig Sauer brought it all together. I could be a fanboy all day, but when it melded together, it really worked out.

Rattlecanning all my guns might not count. I had so many people getting mad that I painted the SCAR 20, but I got immense joy out of it.

I climbed a 10,000 mountain, and it banged up my PEQ. Then we shot at distance. I made every single shot, through three loopholes, at 300 yards, at 8,000-foot elevation.

How have you seen firearms culture change over time?

Ethan Walters: I've seen a change over the last year or two. COVID really hit it hard, as well as the riots. I think it shook a lot of people up. When cities are burning, the government is not going to do a thing for you. So you need to become self-reliant, you need to become self-sufficient. Over the last year or two, it's changed, but it's also become incredibly divisive.

We see it when companies treat the industry like a competition, not a community. I think we really need to remember the reason why we are in this, and why we are a community: we believe in the right to defend ourselves and who we care for. That's our culture, that's our passion, and that's our community. We need to get away from the divisive game.

If you were to give advice to a younger shooter, how would you suggest that they navigate the culture?

Ethan Walters: Tread lightly. I've had a few companies not want to work with me because I've worked with someone else. That's not on me. I support everyone, but I don't join everyone. I'd tell the younger person to take everything with a grain of salt, and stay out of the bullshit. You're going to see it, you're going to be exposed to it. Find what works for you and stick to it.

I've been saying it for a while, and it's stuck. I think we could innovate more and go further by focusing on community and not divisive competition.

gypsy walters ethan walters art

What is your Tattooing style?

Ethan Walters: Illustrative realism. It's exactly how I draw: a thicker outline, with thinner lines on the inside, and realistic shading. As far as other styles in history, there's the Japanese influence. In the old days, you would go over to Japan, meet with the artist, have dinner with him, and hang out for four days, and he gives you the tattoo he thinks you deserve. So if you're a military man, a man of honor of beliefs you might get a dragon and tiger. I think it's a beautiful concept for traditional tattoos.

When tattooing came over to America we saw many pioneers from the '30s and '40s. The original tattoo machine was based off of Thomas Edison's electronic pen. Samuel O'Reilly took the electric pen and changed it and patented it as a rotary pen. It's cool because now I use a rotary machine, but it looks like a surefire light. It's crisp and quiet, as opposed to your old coil machines. A few years ago, when the rotary style started coming back, there was a movement that called itself Loyal to the Coil. Using the rotary machine feels like cheating as opposed to holding a pound of steel, and there are still some who are using coil machines.

I've tattooed Latin Kings, I've tattooed Bikers, I've tattooed SOF dudes, and Secret Service guys and Famous Band members.

Do you have a specific story where you were faced with adversity and were able to overcome it?

Ethan Walters: My personal story. Everyone's got a story, so it's a hard one. I'm from North Chicago: born and raised there. My mom and I were homeless for a while. I dropped out of high school because I wanted to make a living grinding at my art. Mine is kind of a rags-to-riches story. I'm a real guy, but this didn't just fall into my lap.

Being here and now is crazy. I think of it as the result of hard work.

Looking at what you've experienced, is there a lesson or piece of advice that you'd want to give to your younger self, or to younger Americans?

Ethan Walters: It's tough for me to give advice because everyone's different. For me, I've always done whatever I wanted. If I don't want to work this job, I quit and do something. I dropped out of high school because I wanted to make a living doing art. At that time, tattooing opened up, and eventually I was tattooing some of the most famous bands.

Now I illustrate. I do tell people: “this life is too short for you to not do what you love, or what you want to do.” I lived in Europe for four years, and people would say, “oh man, I'd love to go there, someday.” People who say that shit, never do it. Someday never comes. If you want something, go do it. You have to make what you want happen. I hate to sound like a motivational speaker, but the hard work sells itself.

ethan walters gypsy walters reaper

I'd definitely tell my younger self, and those struggling, to keep going. Whether it's depression, or maybe you're in a dead-end job, it doesn't really have to be doom-and-gloom, it's a matter of time. Unless you stop, then it'll never happen. Keep pushing and it'll get there.

There's a lot of doom and gloom in Firearms culture. How can your advice apply?

Ethan Walters: Keep a positive head about it. I see it in companies like Flux Defense: they innovate to find something that makes a change and pushes the boundaries.

Honestly just working through it, not getting caught up in the bullshit of doom-and-gloom. That's no way to live your life. You can waste your life being paranoid and doomer, which is different than being prepared and trained. It's more like physical fitness: you train every day to be healthy not to be the fittest person in the apocalypse. If you apply it to your day-to-day, I think you're mental health will improve. You need to work through your challenges but you need to enjoy it.

This life is short, you could go tomorrow. Are you okay with that? Memento Mori: live your life. Don't waste any time. If you want something, go get it. Don't wait around.

Ethan Walters

IG: @gypsywalters and @houseofwolveslc

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