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Part-time scratcher

It was an impulsive decision. But here I was and the tattoo gun was buzzing.

Kevin finally found time in his busy schedule for me to come over and get tattooed.  It was a cold autumn night.  The air was crisp and it was quiet.

As I entered his house, he walked me through a few rooms, and we sat down in what used to be the dining room of this house.  If you didn’t know you were in a house in suburban Oakville, you’d wouldn’t believe this was a tattoo studio.

The studio walls were covered with posters and paintings and photographs that Kevin has been collecting to turn this room into his studio.  Neon lights on the walls lit up his desk where he had sketches of potential tattoo ideas.  On a shelf above his desk was green bonsai tree and deep red Buddha statue. 

Kevin had put on some relaxing indie music. We started to talk about what he’s been up to since the last time I saw him.

After high school, Kevin took a year off to figure out what he wanted to do.  He took an introduction to trades course and decided he would become an electrician.  He chose this line of work because he was told it would pay well and he would be in demand.  He then spent two years at school and completing a pre-apprenticeship.  He went straight into working as an electrician.  He worked a lot and was being paid well. 

Recently, Kevin started his final ten-week program to become a fully-licensed electrician.  But the tone of our conversation shifted when we started talking about tattoos. 

It’s obvious where Kevin’s heart is – and it’s not electrical work.

“I got my first tattoo when I was seventeen,” Kevin says, proudly. “I even had to bring my mom with me to sign.” 

Kevin’s body is covered in tattoos.  He’s wearing black jeans and a baggy black hoody.  His skinny frame made his pants look even baggier.  His all-black tattoos peep out of his sleeves and shorts and are intriguing.  His right arm is covered in one tattoo that he traveled to Scandinavia to get done by his favourite artist. 

He flips through his sketches and we come across one that I like.  It’s a simple oak leaf he drew, and it’ll go on the back of my leg.  He prints off the stencil and starts cleaning off his work area.  The room is suddenly filled with the smell of rubbing alcohol. 

He flips open a massage table and tells me to lie down and get comfortable.  Before any ink touches any skin, Kevin asks me if I’m sure this is what I want and reassures me that I can turn back now.  I’ve already come this far, and although I might be one of Kevin’s first clients, I trust him.

He turns out the lights in the room and turns on a spotlight to focus more on his work.  We keep talking. 

Kevin only began doing his tattoo work this year.  Last year, he and his two siblings got matching tattoos.  All they wanted was the house number where they grew up.  It took half an hour and cost $400.  Kevin knew they were being ripped off. 

“It was a bunch of lines!  I’m no artist, but I felt like I could’ve done that,” he says. 

Later that week, Kevin went on Amazon and ordered everything he needed to start doing his own tattoos.  I asked him if he worries about how much he’s spent on his studio. 

“No, I try not to think about it.  It’s something I love doing so it doesn’t bother me,” he says. 

He starts pointing around the room at everything he’s bought, listing of their prices.  The total was several thousand dollars.  It’s a lot of money to invest in something he’s never been formally trained in.

Kevin admits that he’s never taken an art class and can barely draw. 

“I bought a fake skin dummy to practice tattooing on.  Thirty minutes later I threw it across the room and started tattooing my legs,” he says. 

For that reason, he knows he can’t find a job at an official tattoo studio.  They would ask for a sketchbook, and he would have nothing to show them.  Kevin hasn’t let that stop him.  

More than ten people have let Kevin practice his craft on them, and he’s enjoyed doing every one.  His goal is to run his own shop and learn from other artists, and one day be able to quit his electrician work.

“Electrical work pays the bills, but if I could, I would be at home doing tattoos every day.  I could do this every day for the rest of my life and be happy.  Hopefully, one day that’ll happen,” he says. 

So sometime in the future you might walk into his studio. Kevin will be waiting, eager to give you a tattoo.

Written by
Ross Cadranel
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