Have you ever just sat back and thought about how hard your life really is? Have you ever thought to yourself, “Hey, I don’t know what I’m going to do!”? If you have, how did you deal with it? Did you just keep fighting and pursuing what it was that you were after? Or, did you give up? If the latter is the best way of describing what you did, then I suggest you never try to become a tattoo artist. If that is your plan, however, I suggest you get better problem solving skills. I didn’t really know what I was in for when I started my apprenticeship. My only experience with a tattoo shop was the few times I had gone to see Jason or Jeremy or get tattooed. It all looked like nothing but fun and games to me. Hang out, chill with the homies, do art all day. WRONG!!! I never saw the work that went into their everyday. The trash, and the clean up, and the preparation. The late nights, and early mornings. The wondering when your next client was going to walk into the shop and let you permanently mark them so you could pay your bills and feed your family. What I did see is a chance to finally do what I wanted to do and the opportunity to do that. I was overwhelmed with thoughts of never having to lift heavy things and not getting dirty. (I was a plumber before.) I thought it was going to be a cake walk. I thought all I was going to have to do is draw a little and then I’d be making the “big bucks!!” WRONG!!!
On April 1st 2010, I stood on the front step of Apex Tattoo ready to start. It was raining. I showed up a half hour early and waited there till Jason showed up. We talked a little and he had totally forgotten that I was to start on that day. After I refreshed his memory, we headed inside to start the day. Jeremy was busy with the daily chores. I.E. taking out the trash and cleaning up from the previous day. He showed me around the shop and told me what my responsibilities were to be. I watched him do all the chores and tried to pick up on the things he was doing because I thought I would have to do them the next day. WRONG!!! Jeremy told me I had to watch him for at least 3 weeks before he would let me attempt it. So my days started consisting of a lot of watching and drawing. After three weeks of watching and learning, I finally got to take the trash out!!! Jeremy watched my every move. He commended me for doing it right on the first try because the last few apprentices couldn’t figure it out. Why that is, is beyond me. It’s not rocket science. I continued that routine for the first few months. Show up, wait for someone with keys to show up, head in and get the cleaning done, draw. I drew a lot at first. Not very good drawings though. Then I found a new, fun thing to do thanks to Aman. He introduced me to a yo-yo. I threw that damn thing so much for at least 9 months that the only progress I made was learning new tricks. My art all but ceased. I was once told that a wise man learns from others mistakes. It’s a little sentence I never really thought much about. Then, one day I was reading an interview of Jeff Gogue. In this interview, he said that the tattoo apprenticeship is the most fundamental and important parts of a tattoo career, even though he is self taught. It made me think that maybe I was throwing away my time. But I was addicted to that damn toy. All I wanted to do was throw it and learn new things with it.
Then, one day Jason calls me and asks how I would feel about moving shops. I was very confused. He told me that we were going to Kleen Sting and that Jeremy got a spot at Black Pearl Tattoo with Erik Campbell. I didn’t know what to think. Was this a blessing in disguise? Could this be what I needed? Could this ultimately be the thing I needed to kick this apprenticeship in the ass? I was optimistic about it and went into this new adventure with a lot of enthusiasm. New artists to be around and learn from. New environment to pull inspiration from. A whole new outlook. It was fun and exciting at first. There were so many people in and out of the shop at all times. Rob is a work horse and would stay at the shop until the wee hours on most days. Totally different from where we had come from at Apex. But this was a good change. I have learned more in the last 6 months at Kleen Sting then I had in the year I did at Apex. And it’s really because of one thing. I quit yo-yoing at work. I got inspired to tattoo, not play with toys. I painted a very large mural on the side of the building within that first month. I was cranking out drawings, even though they were just line drawings and not finished pieces. I was studying technique of a lot of tattoo artists and obsessed with art in general. It was great. I finally felt like I was getting it. I had purchased my machines quite some time back. Within the first few months of starting my apprenticeship. They sat for a very long time. All I could think about every time I looked at them was when I was going to finally get to use them. That day came soon enough after moving to KS. Jason had asked me if I felt I was ready and I thought I was.
I set up a date to have my brother come in for my first “professional” tattoo. He had always wanted a leg sleeve of famous artwork by Japanese film maker Hayao Miyazaki. I decided to start with a picture of No Face from Spirited Away. I spent all day drawing the design and getting it just right. My brother showed up at 7 while I was setting up the station. I set up my machines and wrapped everything in plastic. Set up the table and made my stencil. Put out my caps and filled them with ink. He lay down and I shaved his leg. It took me a few tries to get the stencil on right, but I finally did. My heart was pounding. I was more nervous than I had ever been in my life. In I drew my first line on skin. It was awful! It was shaky and wavy. My hands were trembling like I was an alcoholic without a drink. To make things worse, the shop was full of my shit talking friends and my girlfriend was all over the place taking pictures. But after an hour or so I finally had a shitty outline done. Now time to fix it!! Jason came in and gave me pointers on how to steady up my lines and relieve some of the tension. I worked on it for about 3 hours that night and when we got done he had something passable for a tattoo. I waited two weeks to do my next one. But as time went on they slowly got better. I’ve been at it for 3 months now. My lines aren’t as shaky and my nerves are better. I learn something new every time I do a tattoo. I have great teachers and I’m lucky to be doing my apprenticeship where I am. Now, if you still want to do an apprentice ship, I have to warn you, it’s not for the weak. Be prepared to suffer. A lot. Be prepared in general. Create a great looking portfolio before you even walk into the shop you are hoping to get an apprenticeship at. Go in looking professional. If you don’t, the guys at the shop won’t look twice at you.
Wear nice clothes, shave, do your hair. This is a job interview. Have money saved. At least $5000. You’ll need every penny. Use it to get supplies. I.e. machines, pigments, tubes, needles. If you are lucky enough to find an apprenticeship that works on sweat equity (work for free), don’t bitch. Do the work. The reason the guys at the shop are making you do the shit work is to find out if you are worthy of their time and knowledge. If it seems like a waste of your time to take the trash out the YOU are a waste of time. And draw. Draw draw draw draw draw. I know I need to take my own advice. I still don’t draw enough. I know guys 10 years into the game that still don’t draw enough. You can never draw too much.
As far as the suffering goes, it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. You’re the low guy on the totem pole and shit rolls downhill. You’re going to be yelled at and ostracized. You are going to be made fun of and made to feel worthless. You will do all the hard work without thanks except for the occasional “you didn’t fuck up as bad today” type of thanks. You will never be home and when you are you will be thinking about the shop. You will put miles on your vehicle and ruin a lot of good clothes.
You will become very familiar with a mop and blood borne pathogens. You will never do things well enough. And right about the time you think it’s going to get better and things will change for the good, you’ll get pushed down and shat upon once more. But take it with a grain of salt. It’s a tattoo shop, not a day care. The roughest, toughest, meanest ass holes this planet has ever shit out hang out in them and more importantly, work in them. You have to want this more than they don’t want you to have it. It’s an exclusive club. You have to earn it. I still have days that I question if I deserve it. But I’m not going anywhere. RAW-B
My face flush, I feared I would tip over into the cookie rack while the barista added steamed milk to the espresso. The design wasn’t anything portentous or frightening, and I’m fairly certain I’d eaten enough for breakfast to cancel out the effects of the heavy drinking from the night before. Nevertheless, I found myself swaying back and forth fixated by the zig-zag pseudo-flower shape that formed in my wide-mouthed white porcelain mug of coffee. The barista was a trim middleaged guy with a hoop earring and a faint goatee; he probably held a liberal arts degree of one kind or another and was putting all that creativity to good use in his deliverance of latte art. He stuck his hand out in front of the coffee mug as though if I were to fall he was more concerned I would tip over the coffee. “You alright?” he asked, but I had already steadied myself by placing both hands on the counter and taking a deep breath. I opened my eyes and focused on something other than the coffee mug….. I felt better, “Sorry, thought I was going to faint”. He motioned toward a row of black sofa chairs that looked more comfortable than they were, “Take a seat, and let me know if you need anything. Okay”, “Yeah, fine, no worries. I’m fine,” I stammered, and gripped the mug with both hands while trying to turn away from the counter. I noticed that a line had formed behind me. Two fellows in moderately professional attire looked at me impatiently in between their comments about
whatever it was they were trying to figure out in the twenty minutes before nine o’clock that Tuesday morning. Behind them were a woman and a little girl that shared such a resemblance that it must’ve been her daughter. The little girl was about five, and playing with a single long stem rose. There was always an elderly Italian woman outside the café who sold the roses on weekday mornings. After looking at the flower, I began to feel weak-kneed again. Blinking it off I quickly I took my seat, and turned away from the line. Firmly holding onto my cup, I sat looking out the door to the outside street. I must’ve been early; usually she was already waiting for me with her nose buried in a weekly tabloid. Things hadn’t been going well in our relationship so I was fairly sure that we were breaking up. When she asked that we meet, she chose a place that was familiar to the both of us; we almost never met here until after noon. Last night I hadn’t had a chance to call, my friends convinced me to go drinking after we locked up. Our relationship consisted of eight months of music and food appreciation, drinking, and having sex. It was usually a combination of the three, but we never met more than a few days a week. There weren’t any attempts at declarations of feelings, nor had we ever talk about living together. We met through a friend of a friend who thought we both needed to get laid. I wasn’t even sure she could break up with me because I had never really heard her call me
a boyfriend. She would text me on the days she could hang out since her schedule was constantly fluctuating, and we’d meet up for coffee or drinks depending on the time of day. Yesterday though she texted me to be here at this time, which makes this the first time she had texted to set up a meeting longer than a few hours. She came through the doors at ten after, looking beautiful. Her brown hair hung around her shoulders in long curls and made her dark eyes more striking than usual. She caught sight of me, and I noticed a flicker of smile that was stifled. I stood to kiss her, but she caught my hand and spoke before I could put my lips on hers, “Hey, how are you?”, “Oh, I’m good,” I said nodding. “Where do you want to sit?”, “Do you mind if we walk and talk? I am running late.”, “Yeah, sure, let’s go.” I set my empty cup in the tub near the door before walking out to meet her waiting for me. The sun was fighting through the clouds, but it was still cold. The Italian woman gave me a friendly smile and wave of recognition as we passed. I smiled back. I was having trouble keeping up with her , she had begun speed-walking as soon as I had gotten out the door. “What’s up?”, “I have a doctor’s appointment. Listen, I am pregnant.” I stopped and straightened my posture. I’d been so transfixed by her hair that I’d missed the white floral designs on her long skirt. Starting from her black heels and tights, I traced my eyes up her legs until I saw the wavy abstract
flowers of her skirt that were barely visible on the light blue material of the skirt. She turned a few paces ahead of me, and looking frustrated grabbed my hand. “Really, no time for shock right now. I am going to the doctor for confirmation.”, “So maybe there is a chance…”. “No way, I took three different tests. Look there is something else. I don’t think it is yours. I mean we were always so careful, you know?” I was struggling to keep up and thought I felt myself trip a few times, but somehow I’d managed to keep myself, more or less, vertical. I thought about how careful I was with condoms and never had had any breaks. “There have been others, and we were not as good about that sort of thing” she pulled me around a street corner and kept on pulling me up the incline of the street. “Could we maybe stop for a minute? I feel a little light headed.” She stopped and looked at me. I noticed the fear behind her calm countenance and realized she was putting on a show of strength. We’d stopped on a slanted street corner in front of an apartment building called the Regal Vine. I couldn’t say I was angry about her sleeping with other men. As I’ve said, it would be unrealistic to call ours a serious relationship, but I’d be lieing if I said I wasn’t at least disappointed. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever been with. I suppose that is why I could never get the courage to tell her how I felt. Any other woman could have rejected me, but it wouldn’t matter. So I didn’t say anything, I played it cool and tried to keep it from ending so that I could at least enjoy the fluke while it lasted.
“I’ve decided to keep the baby. I’m not in a place in my life where I could possibly take care of another’s life, and I’m fighting just to keep my own head above water. My parents are hopelessly useless, and I don’t want to be in their debt. And at first I really didn’t think I was going to be able to do it, but there is something about all that bullshit and hardship that makes me want to keep the baby. I’m going to talk to a doctor to confirm the pregnancy. I just need someone to go with me.” “Of course I will, let’s go. I’m fine”. As we began walking again, I watched cars going down the hill that we marched up. After taking a left across the street at the top, I realized we must be headed to Emanuel’s, which was five blocks away. The last time I had been to that hospital, my friend and I, inebriated, stumbling down Broadway, found an old beat up car with a shattered back window. The window was intact inside its frame but cracked with a thousand silver veins. I saw the urge to finish off the broken glass glimmer in his eyes. In his defense it did look like it would be easy enough to punch through the weakened glass. Instead his fist went only about half way through the glass, slicing his hand open in four different parts from knuckle to wrist. We turned the last block and headed toward the hospital. I watched an ambulance leaving the hospital flip on its red flashing lights and emit a cacophony of music that seemed to bring oblivion to my mind. It drowned out all the other noises, pushed my senses into a murky cloud, and left me hypnotized by the show of lights reflected
by the gray sky and black streets that were all around us. The ambulance turned away from the hospital and headed straight down the road we were walking down. I took a full stride directly into the road. A car fired its horn and swerved around me, nearly hitting the ambulance that was also forced to swerve annihilating a bus stop bench. Behind the car, was a white van that failed to react and slammed into the back of the car. I watched in a disoriented sway as glass breaking and metal bending joined the sound of the siren. The rear of the car being forced forward by the momentum of the van slammed into my legs and sent me hurling over the end of the car. A moment of pain followed a realization that I had somehow failed to become anything of value. I lived from one day to the next afraid to break away from a life that had trapped me. On the ground staring up at the sky, I could see the print on the side of the van; Denise Flowers and Garden Center. I wanted to get up and become a husband and father of this baby, but instead my consciousness slipped away into one more haze.