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Known as the act of marking the skin with indelible ink, tattooing has become an intrinsic part of pop culture today, especially in North America where millennials consider getting tattooed the same way they do hair dye and clothing choices. But with all the progress of youth there is still a lingering stigma that tattoos belong on sailors and criminals. So how to we bridge the gap between acceptance from our younger generations and mass misconception about tattoos among those over 25?

With hundreds of ink parlors and tattoo artists in Toronto alone there is an abundance of choice when deciding where to go and who to get inked by but one thing that is still lacking within the industry overall is education.

For the aspiring young artist and the general public alike, there remains a gap between knowledge about the tattooing industry and its ease of accessibility. On an industry level there are international tradeshows that exist in order to bring some of the world’s best talent to your doorstep and allow shop owners and artists to network and grow their businesses outside of their shops but that does not change the fact that there is not a lot of information available about how to become a tattoo artist or choose the right body art in today’s growing market.

Currently within youth culture, having a tattoo is so common that it is odd not to have a tattoo. But who has helped inform the youth about their ink? Who is educating young artists, looking for viable art related career paths about the potential that exists within the tattoo business?

Chronic Ink, one of Toronto’s top tattoo shops that has been in business since 2008 is making education their focus and have made it their mission to help guide young artists in the right direction by letting them know about the viable option of creating art on the human canvas.

Studio owner Ricky Fung has recently expanded his midtown shop to open a second location in Markham but he remembers fondly his modest beginnings as a tattoo booth inside the Pacific Mall.

We sat down with Ricky, who is motivated by growing his young business, to get an understanding of what drives him to educate tattoo artists and the public alike.

Tell us about the Apprenticeships and Co-op programs you have created at your shop?

We believe that great companies are built upon great people, the greater the people, the greater the potential to do special things.  So, we’ve always heavily invested in any way that we can to surround ourselves with awesome people, and our internship program is part of that.  On top of that, I think most of us in the studio have come from a history of second chances, so we believe there’s a social and human obligation to help others discover what we have.

What do you see as the biggest challenges within your industry today?

The biggest challenge in our industry is accountability, health boards that oversee health and safety govern public studios, but there are plenty of tattoo artists who are working privately without any oversight.Chronic Ink 2

Now, the problem obviously does not reside with the artists who do their diligence with health and safety, there are plenty of really awesome and safety conscious artists who have private studios.  The problems come from tattoo artists who either lack the knowledge or simply don’t care to adhere to health and safety standards; not only are they putting clients under high risk for infections and diseases, more often than not, these tattoos generally range from sub-par to horrendous.

What do you envision for the future of the tattoo industry as it relates to your business?

I think clients will expect more and more as the industry goes through the requisite evolutions.  The proliferation of content and information will provide a lot of more education but I think it will cause a lot more spontaneous tattoos, which can be dangerous.

On the business side, competition will ramp up and I think it will have a good overall impact as studios constantly try to one-up each other.  I also think the turnover of studios will be higher and higher because of the low barrier of entry but there are going to be studios that turn into amazing businesses; and there’s a great opportunity for these few to become mainstays for the decade because they will know how to turn dollars and demand into quality, efficiency and staying power.  

What is your advice to young artists who may or may have considered getting into tattooing?

  • Do it for the right reason. Tattooing can be a really rewarding career but understand that it can be a grind just like any other industry.  So many to-be tattoo artists look at it from a distance and it looks like a wonderland.  You have to realize that things are always fun when there aren’t any schedules or expectations around it – when it’s recreational.  When it becomes a job or a career, the ones that are truly passionate are the ones that will find success and longevity.
  • Care about your clients, don’t just do it for a quick buck.  If you only care about a quick buck, then do something less permanent and potentially less damaging.
  • Understand that tattooing is an application, and it’s ultimately their art that will decide the kind of artist they become.  I find a lot of artists stop working on their art once they start tattooing, because tattooing itself requires a lot of attention and time, so juggling the two can be tricky and demanding; but the best find time and that’s why they are the best.     

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