“Tattoos were the Facebook of my day, only instead of a like button we just sorta nodded and said, ‘Where’d you get it?’ said the Angry old man overheard at the coffee shop.
When I first moved here to Pueblo and began asking the bearers of great tattoos ‘where’d you get it?’, the name that I most often heard was: Joaquin Molina. So when the opportunity to interview him came up, I gladly tracked hi down and set up a breakfast meeting at Martinez Café for 9 a.m.
I was surprised to see Joaquin sitting at a corner table, when I walked about five minutes until nine. Promptness wasn’t necessarily something I expected from a tattoo artist. But neither was the conversation we were about to have.
Consultant for Hire
Tattooing has changed dramatically over the last 15 years, becoming part of mainstream life and no longer being the hallmark of the fringes of society, yet the essential things still remain; the needle, the ink, and the artist.
Technology has improved both the needles and the ink used in tattooing, even experimenting with glow in the dark and blacklight ink, but in the end it all comes down to the artist. “In any given week, I can have a college student who wants to get a nautical star, someone wanting to commemorate a major life change, and a consultation where we are building a life plan. So you have to be ready for anything.”
Molina said at one time he was an elitist, but has realized that people want certain things and his job is to provide them what they are looking for. However, there are certain times when he offers advice from the position of a consultant.
“I have to look at the person and talk them through whether or not they have thought about what they are about to do. Is this guy doing this because he’s angry? Does she really understand what this tattoo means? Are you sure you want your first tattoo to be on your face? I am constantly reminding people that this is permanent.”
Scratchers, Imposters, and Shingle Hangers
One thing that is surprising is the lack of regulations placed on tattoo artists. Where hair stylist, massage therapists, and pedicurists have to be licensed, a tattoo artist does not. Basically, if your building can pass a health inspection and you can fill out the proper paperwork for a business license, you can hang a shingle and being injecting metal filled ink into peoples skin with a motorized needle. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true. However, Molina is working to change this. “When basically anyone can call themselves a tattoo artist, the consumer is at great risk. Both their health and the potential of a permanent embarrassment. That’s got to change.” Molina is working to create a framework for licensing tattoo artists based loosely off of what they have in place in Portland. Not only would it protect the consumer, but it would also raise the level of art in Pueblo.
“Bad tattoos really bother me. Not the concept or the choice, but the execution, poor ink, and bad placement.”
Part of that comes from the scratchers. Tattoo artists that work out of their homes. But the fault doesn’t lie solely on the artists. Lack of education, lack of research and the failure to ask questions on the part of the person seeking the tattoo is a huge contributor to poor tattoo’s and health issues. If you are looking for an artist, ask questions, look at their past work, and spend time discussing what it is you are wanting.
Mariners, Maori, and Matisyahu
The story of the tattoo is incredible. From the Ancient Maori warriors of Polynesia, to the British Mariners crossing the Tropic of Capricorn in old clipper ships, to a US marine patrolling the dusty streets of Afghanistan, tattoos have always been a reminder of accomplishments, memories, and moments. They have been the physical display of an inward desire to reflect they person the world might not otherwise know. They have been used to define a person, connect people, and mark someone. Molina understands this, constantly researching and studying to deliver on the trust his clients place in his abilities. He isn’t just good at tattooing, he loves tattooing. The history, the present and the future of this art.
Molina is to tattoo artists what Matisyahu is to reggae. They shatter all stereotypes while holding true to the roots of their craft.
by Jonathan Almanzar
Photos by Malissa Ahlin