Learning… to a Point
The art of church decorating with piercer/tattooist Brad of Island Ink
January 26, 2006
He's only been doing it for three years. But Brad already knows this is what he wants to do forever.
"You're helping someone decorate their church," he says. "Their body's their temple, right?"
Though he grew up in Idaho, Brad started his bodily "church decorating" 15 years ago in Eugene, Oregon, in a back-of-the-house shop he and his friend constructed. While his friend handled the ink, Brad took care of the piercing, an art form he says he'd been fascinated with since he was eight years old and watching National Geographic programs on TV.
"It just goes to show you your parents should really pay attention to what you're watching," says Brad.
Still piercing, he moved to Maui nearly eight years ago to fill a guest spot for another piercer at Island Ink Tattoo Co. in Paia. When that piercer left two days later, Brad decided to stay, with the stipulation that he would eventually pursue a tattoo apprenticeship at the shop.
Then-owner Tom, now at Lahaina Tattoo, took Brad under his wing, teaching him the "technical shit" of ink slinging, needle-making, cleanliness and other glamorous tricks of the trade. Brad took it all in, also gaining insight from the other people in the shop, as well as his years of poking people with his piercing gun.
"Yeah, I've already dealt with people's trips," he says. "Piercing is faster but way more intimate. The energy is different. But I don't ever want to stop doing either."
He says his first professional tattoo was done on a friend's mom who had never been inked before. She wanted a heart in remembrance of her husband who had just died. Brad says he was nervous and it seemed to take forever. But on her next trip, she had him add flowers to the design.
When asked if there's something he wants to be known for as an artist, Brad says simply, "doing good work.
"Is there really anything else?" he says. "I've known complete assholes, total pricks but hey, they do really good work and that's all that matters."
Brad says he's inspired by "the amount of exceptional artists here," as well as visiting artists, preferring that they come here to guest spot so he doesn't ever have to leave the island in order to continue his education. He also studies art online and is touched by people's imaginations.
"I love how they take a normal picture, turn it abnormal, then make it a tattoo," he says.
He's also impressed by artists who do big freehand pieces—tattoos drawn directly on the body without the use of a stencil—like Samson, a local artist who's known for his amazing freehand Polynesian tattoos.
But Brad also says the hardest thing he's had to learn is patience.
"In a busy shop, everyone's pushing you to go faster," he says. "It's a challenge to try slowing down, and at the same time you want to gain speed."
"One thing Brad understands is tribal and the whole Polynesian angle," says Caz, another tattoo artist at Island Ink. "He knows what things mean, or at least where to look, so he can give people what they want."
But ask Brad what he specializes in and he bristles.
"I refuse to limit myself," he says. "People get stereotyped into a genre or image and I don't want that."
In his spare time, Brad hangs out with his dogs, paints, dives, surfs, fishes and drinks coffee. But like most tattoo artists, he hopes to own his own shop one day. In the meantime, he's content to stay on Maui, developing the skill and knowledge of his body craft.
"I've got the hang of it," he says. "But with the growth of the industry, new stuff's popping up. The bottom line is I don't ever want to stop learning. Anyway, it's the know-it-all I want to avoid." MTW
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