Pearls of Wisdom: Tattoos on the Danforth
I love tattoos. My only regret is that I don’t have more. The text on my shoulder reads Illegitimi Non Carborundum in a thick Gothic font, a phrase of butchered Latin commonly understood to mean “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down.” It was my first. I was working in restaurants at the time, and it seemed like a good service industry motto. The appointment was quick, easy, and not nearly as painful as I’d expected. I may not be a full-time cook anymore, but I decided I wanted to stick with the service industry theme as a memento of my time in the kitchen. I settled on some bannering around the words, with a chef’s knife down the middle. My design choices made, I got in touch with the folks at Black Pearl Tattoo. I’d looked over their work and decided they were a good fit. They were happy to be interviewed, and booked me an appointment with the talented Juliano Trindade, a guest artist from Brazil who happened to be working with them at the time. While I was in the chair, I decided I wanted to know a bit more about the shop, the industry, and what it’s like being the premier tattoo shop on the Danforth, so I asked Juliano and the rest of the Black Pearl staff a few questions.
A conversation with Mr. Trindade*:
- Tell us a bit about yourself. What got you into Tattooing in the first place? How did you get your career started?
I’ve been drawing my whole life. I started drawing on my body in high school, my friends thought it was cool and asked me to do designs on them. In college I took design, but I was more interested in tattoos. I started at home, doing work on my friends.
- What influences your style? How has it changed in the time you’ve been working?
Mostly traditional blackwork. My style changes as I try to figure out something new.
- Do you have a favourite tattoo of your own? How about one that you’ve done for someone else?
I have a chrysanthemum on my shoulder. On someone else, I did the angel from the Nirvana album cover In Utero on a friend. I liked it because it was huge, and it was a gift.
- Tell us a bit about tattoo culture in Brazil. Have you noticed any big differences or similarities from what you’ve seen so far in Canada?
Brazil has some big artists, but many less passionate people in shops with a quick turnaround. It’s normal to start like I did, tattooing friends at home. It’s not something you can learn in school.
- Why do you think people — either here or back home — are drawn to your style and choose to see you over other artists?
Because I have something different, and I try to experiment and grow my style. Also, I don’t want to be that guy and say that people just like me more, but I try to be friendly, and to make people comfortable. I think it sucks to have an artist who’s all business, kind of angry, and maybe doesn’t give the customer the right kind of attention.
- Have you ever had to do a piece you really didn’t care for, or a piece you walked away from unsatisfied? Why?
Nothing specific, but sometimes you get a difficult customer. People can’t handle the pain, they shake, and you have to stop the session— otherwise the lines go on wrong. It can mess with my head, and I have to sort of take a step back and breathe.
- What’s next for you, professionally?
I’m going to keep travelling, searching out inspiration, and keep collecting as much knowledge as I can. I want to bring something new back home.
- Why the Black Pearl? How did you hear about these guys and end up working here?
I searched out the best studios in Toronto, and I liked what I saw here. They’re real professionals.
After my session was done and I’d talked to Juliano, I asked around the shop to see if any of the other artists were free to answer a few quick questions. I spoke to Rob Ethier, a relatively new hire.
- Tell us a bit about how Black Pearl got started.
It’s the dream of every good artist to have their own shop. Mike [Storey] was no different. He just wanted to do what he loved and see it done properly.
- Some of you have been doing this for a while; what sort of changes have you seen to the industry, and to attitudes surrounding tattoos as a whole?
I’ve been doing this for six and a half years now, and I think the changes had already started when I got in. There’s a lot less stigma and a lot more honesty. The industry is becoming more art-based [and] creatively driven. The technology is changing, too.
- Tell us about your place in the neighbourhood, and the shop’s clientele. When you set up shop, how did people around here react to you?
It was pretty positive. We’re well known throughout the city, and I think we’ve made a good impression.
- Do you get a lot of repeat business from locals? People coming back for multiple pieces?
Yeah, our business is primarily local. Online presence is important, but every shop depends on word of mouth.
- Talk to us a bit about tattoo trends. What’s big right now, what are you doing a lot of?
I don’t know, I try to steer away from following trends personally, but you’re always going to get someone bringing in something they saw on Pinterest. When that happens, I try to convince them to change it up a bit, or send them to another artist. Most artists want to do custom stuff they’ve designed themselves.
- What is the neighbourhood to you guys? Do you live around here? If not, does it feel more like home, or the place you work, or something else?
I’m new here, but I like it. It’s busy, homey, there’s a lot of good-looking houses. I like to go walking.
- What sets you guys apart from other shops on the Danforth, like Red9ine and Inkuisition?
I don’t know those guys well enough to get deep into it. I’d say it’s just a style thing. They do more traditional, we’re into realism.
I would just like to add, Juliano and Rob were both extremely friendly and helpful, as was Julia, the receptionist who helped me set this whole process up. I’d like to give my thanks to all of them.
Juliano was a lot of fun. Most Canadian artists I’ve known work with a temporary tattoo stencil as their outline, so I wasn’t expecting him to freehand this one in magic marker on my shoulder. Far from apprehensive, I was intrigued by this. I’d seen his Instagram and I could tell he knew his stuff. After we’d started, he got my tattoo done much quicker than I expected. When I told him that, he smiled, shrugged, and said, “Some people tell me I’m fast. I just go at my own speed, and it’s done when it’s done.” I had a great time getting this piece, joking around with him during the process, and talking to him and Rob afterward.
As for the shop itself, it was immaculately clean, and I want to give props to the whole Black Pearl crew for running such a tight ship. Poor hygiene has been one of the biggest ongoing stigmas against the tattoo industry for decades. These guys are definitely professionals, and they fully deserve the great reputation they enjoy in the city.
*As English is Juliano’s second language, reworking of phrasing in the interest of clarity has been done with permission.