Dustin Schwam’s name comes up a lot when you’re talking about tattooing (or punk rock or skateboarding). This local ink veteran talks to us about his own career, the industry as a whole, and lots more!
How did you get started as a tattoo artist? Why?
Well… I started actually getting paid for tattoos in 2002, so let’s just say since then haha! I was an art nut and vandal who had been pissing around tattoo shops in the city since before those killer whales at Sea-Land ate motherfuckers! I guess you can say it all started when I finally got sick of getting sliced up at the family glass shop and decided that I needed a fuckin change. I had done a lot of glass designs around town, some of which can be seen at the Penny Farthing Pub and front doors of the Royal Theatre, so shit just kind of fell into place; that and I bugged the hell out of Garry Peak at Pair ‘O’ Dice to set me up…I was definitely a late starter at age 32!!!
Tell us some stories.
I tattooed at Pair ‘O’ Dice in Market Square for a while…that was pretty much the wild west! I could get arrested if I told you some of the madness that went on down there. I tattooed at a few other shops like Old School, Asylum and Sun City Tattoo over in Penticton. I have tattooed all sorts of people over the years; lots of local musicians and skaters , soldiers, gang bangers, athletes, yoga motherfuckers, cops, real-estate agents…the spectrum is a lot larger now. I once asked a guy with a fake leg what leg he was getting his tattoo on. I miss all the sleaze, ya know? We were buying fuckin socket sets, drums, cymbals, surfboards! Fuck, one dude who I won’t name bought a weed eater still in the box, to this day I am still kicking myself for not scoring the motor home!!! Tattooing has really kept me grounded if anything. I’m one of those people who thinks Victoria is the best place on the planet, and I like to stick around. I will venture off the rock in May though to go to the Halifax convention!
What direction is the tattoo industry going?
I have seen a whack of changes over the years… especially the level of art out there. Just find a tattoo magazine from 1999, then hold it up next to a tattoo mag today and you’ll see what I mean! A negative though is the number of butchers you see these days who get into the game thinking they have skills because they watched a Youtube video and ordered a tattoo machine from the internet. When I started tattooing there were only four shops open on the island…now there`s 50! We have to hustle now, you can’t sit on your ass and wait for people to walk through your door. It was a lot different when I started as people were quite often walking in to the shop and picking a design off the wall; we would just rattled them off all day long. Now it’s a more drawn-out process… people are a lot more educated when it comes to selecting artists and the type of tattoo they want.
The T.V shows we see these days have had a huge impact on tattooing. I think the industry is getting better, but you will always have those “back-in-the-days” guys kicking around. It’s an industry that can only go up; everywhere we look now we see tattoo imagery.
Have your clients changed over the years?
My clients have certainly changed over the years…I make a point now to get to know each of them and try to build a relationship with them. I used to tattoo complete strangers every day, now people seek me out and come to my studio in Saanich for custom work.
I sometimes work out of Let It Bleed in Langford and have been known to hang around old man (Garry) Peak’s. Whenever I get a chance I like to do spots at Sun City in Penticton BC, who have had a shwack of great artists over the years too.
Do you market yourself differently now?
People kind of know what they are getting into with me and are familiar with my style so I don’t really need to worry about marketing my style differently. Social media is a huge help I think!
What’s in your future for tattooing?
I haven’t really thought that far ahead…I am more or less just happy if I make it through the day! No, I just plan to keep on chuggin’ along…do like rapper TOO $HORT said and “Get In Where You Fit In”!