Thursday, July 29th, 2010
“My first tattoo was getting my initials on my left arm at 18. It was part of the moving out of the house and being free phase of life. It was an interesting experience, less because of the tattoo and more because I brought my girlfriend and another friend from school and they got in a fight while I was in the chair. Looking back, it was kind of funny. Once I got one, I got another and then another. Now, I have 14.
“After moving out, I lived with my brother who owned a pager store on Georgia Avenue. I would come to work every day and see a line outside the door at the tattoo shop next door. Even during the summer, when they had no air conditioner, people were still lined up. Since I always loved to paint and draw, I figured I would give it a try. Skin is a completely different canvas because it is living and moving, so it takes some time to get used to. I bought a few books and a kit and eventually gave myself a tattoo of a spider on my knee. Most tattoo artists will have their first tattoos on their legs because it is the easiest place to reach and the skin there is easy to work with.
“Eventually, I did my first tattoo on someone else. I was nervous as hell, but he was a friend and really supportive. From there, I was, what we call, a scratcher and did tattoos in basements for friends. I eventually got an apprenticeship where I really learned the practice and started working at shops around town before I opened my own place.
“Pinz-N-Needlez has been open for four years now. It is always entertaining. We’ve had a lot of interesting characters come through here. I remember one lady who came in here and called me the most unprofessional person in the world because I refused to tattoo her. I should also mention that I refused to tattoo her because she disappeared into the bathroom for 20 minutes and then came back with coke all over her face. But most of the clients are great and I like working here.
“Working in this business, I see that tattoos are definitely more socially acceptable now than they used to be. It is no longer limited to drug addicts and bikers and all of the low-lifes of society. I have a lot of school teachers and corporate folks who are covered in tattoos. For many people, tattoos can be a spiritual experience. For me, I have a tattoo that celebrates my children’s birth. I have tattoos for my father who is from Nigeria. I have tattoos that memorialize a friend who passed. Then, I also have tattoos that are just decorative. I like that tattoo’s mark an event or provide some release, even if it is artistic. That is why I try and shy away from walk-in clients because many of them get tattoos as a spur of the moment thing. With those, there is not that deep satisfaction that I get when someone makes an appointment and we talk through a tattoo that actually means something to them.
“Still, most people get tattoos based on the latest trends. Now, I think it is driven by what celebrity has what tattoo. Angelina Jolie has some script on her back or Chris Brown and Rihanna have star on the back of their ear and everyone wants the same. In D.C., the big trend is tattooing the D.C. flag. I have done hundreds. I think that it is kind of funny that so many of the people who come to me to get the D.C. flag tattoo are new to the city. I don’t have a D.C. flag tattoo because I know that I am from here and don’t need to identify that to anyone else.”
Pinz-N-Needlez is located at 926 U St NW.