Monsters’ Ink Tattoos – Medicine Hat, AB
My name is Monty Ricken and I, along with my wife Leslie Ricken, own Monsters’ Ink Tattoos in Medicine Hat, AB. I started tattooing in Kelowna, BC, after finishing my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Victoria. In 2002 I started working at Primal Instinct, under Scotty Enberg. It was a really basic apprenticeship, more of a “learn as you go” type experience. Scotty was an old-school kind of guy so I learned a lot of old-school things that you don’t see in your typical apprenticeship these days. Needle making for one; I used to go into the shop early in the morning and make needles for everyone. Stencilling was a real pain as we didn’t have a stencil machine, so everyone’s designs were hand stenciled. Looking back it was very time-consuming and a lot of hard work, but as I said, it was an old school apprenticeship.
What style do you specialize in?
I’ve always considered myself a realism artist. Even in University, I tended to be more concerned with realistic drawings and paintings rather than anything highly stylized or abstract. When I opened the shop in Medicine Hat, in 2007, I put my computer skills to work. I began layering images and creating more of a surrealist type style. I primarily tattoo in black and grey; it’s kind of always been my thing, more pencil drawings rather than colourful paintings.
Can you elaborate a bit more on needle making and stencilling?
The first step would be to solder groupings. You start with your individual needles and use different jigs to hold them in the desired grouping (5 liner, 7 mag etc.) then solder them together. Next, you attach these groupings to needle bars; a different type of jig helps keep the needles and bar straight, and at this point, you determine the overall needle length.
Once that stage is complete, you have to thoroughly clean each one. Sterilization is the last step; each needle needs to be individually packaged and labeled for verification in the logbook. It was a ton of extra work to have them all ready for the artists when they arrived in the morning! Paying your dues back then meant paying back the knowledge and opportunity you were given, with hours of extra work. There was none of this sense of entitlement that seems to be apparent these days. Tattooers were far less common, and if you were lucky enough to get your foot in the door with one of these old-timers, you had to prove your worth! Stencilling was another way I paid my dues. Hand stencils were the only way to make a stencil in that shop! Old transparency makers work great; I still have one in my shop today. Hand stencilling is when you trace a design with stencil paper, underneath your proof, in exactly the way you want to tattoo it, sized and ready to go.
Who inspires you?
Some of my favourite artists, who I get a great deal of inspiration from, are: Rich Harris, Arlos Dichristian, Alex Pancho, Sergey Shanko, Anrijs Straume, Saga Anderson, and my wife Leslie Ricken.