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Ask any tattooer. They will probably all have the story in one form or another. The longer you have been in the business, the more they all start to fade together.
For me, one of the earliest I can remember was at the third shop I tattooed at, which was a small town shop in an area that was known for its meth problems. I read a lot. Early summer on a slow day was when I loved to sit outside the shop and read in the cool afternoon breeze. When I heard the deep southern accented question of the guy walking up, “Hey mane. Do you werk here?” I knew this was not going to be a fruitful conversation. You just develop a sense of reading people after a while.
When I nodded, the guy produced a tightly rolled baggy of white packed content, then palmed it back into his pocket.
“How much ink can I get for some caine?”
Clearly he had no knowledge of the shop owner’s reputation for hating druggies or the fact that there was almost always at least one off duty law enforcement person hanging out in our shop. Heck, one of our piercers was also a dispatcher for the sheriff’s department. I rolled my eyes, closed my book and walked back inside. When he followed me in, I pointed over my shoulder and told the owner that this gentleman had a question for him. Considering there were two off duty deputies sitting behind the counter, things did not go well for the guy. He was not arrested, but he left in a pretty big hurry after my boss lit into him. As temperamental as he was, this was one thing that I truly respected about that owner.
As I just watched our latest podcast with Oscar Zornosa (episode 98), before he engaged Jake in what was one of the most technical conversations I think we have had, Oscar recounts earlier days of tattooing when he was relegated to shops that were more in line with a lifestyle that people negatively stereotype tattooers as following. While these type places are probably always going to be around, they will hopefully be kept in check by the newer generation of people like Oscar who realize very quickly that they will only grow as artists if they surround themselves with artists who push them to grow.
As a tattooer, I got a lot of foundation skill from working in a small town street shop, drooling out my share of Cherry Creek Flash on the weekends. However, it was the ugly I saw on Friday and Saturday nights that really got to me. Constantly seeing people at their worst really does change your perspective on things. It was this aspect of that shop that made me decide to move back to Memphis and take a break from tattooing that ended up being relatively permanent. Because most of my growth as a young tattooer was left up to me, I grew into what I have to admit is a fairly mediocre tattooer. I can do good solid basic work, but because there was no one to push me, I never progressed beyond that.
When I first joined on with Jake and his crew, I wasn’t sure where it would lead me. What it has done is open my eyes to the growing multitude of young artists, who are focused and driven to both grow and develop beyond the limitations and individual circumstances of their apprenticeships and early experiences. We all have to pay the bills, and when we are starting out that sometimes takes the shape of working in shop environments that are not exactly our first choice.
Work anyway. It is the goal of our site and a plethora of other sources to equip the up and coming generation with the tools to grow faster and be more knowledgeable early on, so that they can pay their bills and build a career with dignity and professionality. Most importantly, keep drawing.
As for the rest of our interview with Oscar, check it out to get some great insight on everything from slowly accepting the benefits that modern technology can yield you as an artists to some very technical shark chum regarding geometric tattoos.
Unlike the normal posting, I’m actually not going to open the floor. We all have our Friday night at the shop stories. We all know the sort of things that people can offer you for your work as well as the negative stereotypes we get in regards to lifestyle. What I would like to see are some comments regarding obstacles you ran into with your growth as an artist and how you can or did overcome them.
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Till next time,