Working as a tattoo artist sounds as if it would be a pretty easy job (minus the fact you have to be good at art); you get to sleep in, show up for work sometime in the afternoon, draw some things, meet tons of people, hangout with your buddies and listen to loud music! Well although many tattoo artists do in fact get to enjoy this as a daily routine, they don’t just waltz into this luxury overnight. It takes time, dedication and countless hours of practice. We sat down with Nick Chan who recently graduated as an apprentice artist of Jim Carter at Incendiary Tattoos. Nick talks about his grind to get into the tattoo industry and his struggle in the early months back in Edmonton, AB, where he got his opportunity and first role in a tattoo shop.
How did you first get started in the tattoo industry, Nick?
Two years ago I was at a tattoo convention at Pearkes Arena in Victoria. I had a few tattoos at the time and figured I would try and get another one while I was there. I sat down with Preston Hamilton who was representing Demons Ink tattoo shop. During my session with him, I expressed interest in getting into the tattoo industry and asked him how I might get an opportunity. He explained that it was very hard these days and that usually the only way in is through an apprenticeship; so I asked him right there for an apprenticeship! Much to my disappointment he turned me down and that was pretty much the end of my session with him, so it was time to leave. I left the tattoo convention pretty bummed and discouraged but I wasn’t about to let that stop me.
About six months later I got a phone call…it was Preston Hamilton. He asked me if I was still interested in tattooing and said he had an opening at his shop; I literally dropped everything, packed my life and moved to Edmonton.
Now I bet you’re thinking, “So that’s it? That’s how he got into tattooing?!” Well no, that’s not it; that’s only the beginning!
In Edmonton I was pretty much the shop bitch . My job was to clean, scrub toilets, answer the phone, and if there was still time left in the day after all that, I could practice drawing. After months of this I still was not allowed to tattoo, and therefore I could only earn a minimal wage. I was barely making ends meet between working at the shop and working the kitchen at the local pub in the evenings. Eating Kraft Dinner at each meal became a routine; I was depressed! I tried to keep my head up and keep focused but the truth was, I missed home and I missed my friends and family. My boss could see that I was down and he knew that I wished I was back home again.
A year had passed since I first met Preston. The tattoo convention was being held for a second time back home at Pearkes Arena. Little did I know that while I was grinding away in Edmonton, Preston and Jim Carter, a tattoo artist and shop owner in Victoria, were stewing up an opportunity that was about to change my life!
When Preston arrived back home from the tattoo convention he told me to pack my bags and that I was moving back home to start a full apprenticeship with Jim Carter at Incendiary Tattoos.
Within a few days I was home again in Victoria and meeting with Jim at his shop. Jim gave me the run down and basically had me start right away. I picked up my old job again with the City of Victoria to help pay bills and survive while I began my journey to becoming a full-time tattoo artist.
As an apprentice with Jim, my job was quite similar to the one I had back in Edmonton – scrubbing tubes, cleaning the shop, answering the phone; however it wasn’t too long before Jim had me tattooing on pig skins for practice. Soon after that I was starting to tattoo on my own body, and before I knew it I was tattooing my friends! I will never forget the day; Jim came in to the shop, walked into the back room where I was drawing and said, “Nick, it’s time to start tattooing, buddy!“
I was only allowed to tattoo my friends at first, and could only charge $15/hour. That was a year ago. I graduated the apprenticeship program with Jim and today I’m a certified tattoo artist charging nearly full rate!
What does an average day look like for you now, Nick?
I wake up at 6 am every morning and head to my day job with the City of Victoria. At 4 pm I leave work and head straight to the shop and work for another 3 or 4 hours!
What’s your long term goal? Will you continue as a tattoo artist?
Absolutely! My motivation is the vision I have of one day becoming a full-time tattoo artist. If I play my cards right, I’ll be tattooing for the rest of my life!
How do you like working at Incendiary Tattoo, and more so, how do you like working with Jim?
I absolutely love it here! Jim is an incredible coach and I owe everything to him. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for him; he gave me a chance and I will forever be grateful for that.
We had a chance to briefly chat with Jim Carter, owner of Incendiary Tattoo and coach/mentor to Nick.
Jim, what can you tell us about Nick? How has it been coaching and working with him?
He’s a pain in my ass! Hahaha… no, Nick’s great. He is just like me which helps us get along so well! Nick is like family to me and to the rest of the shop now.
I had a blast coaching Nick through his apprenticeship! I never had to show him the same thing twice; when I show or teach him something, he just nods his head and runs with it.
I told Nick in the beginning of his training that I would show him everything I knew, and that my goal was to make him better than me. But I said to him, “If I teach you everything I know and you decide to just up and move away… I will find you and cut your FUCKIN’ thumbs off!”