The Worn Path: Pierre Botardo
By Danny Reis
My name is Pierre Botardo I’m currently living in Brooklyn New York and I am age 34. I grew up in Virginia Beach, Virginia and I was interested in tattooing pretty early, I guess. When I was in junior high, I was already doing stick and pokes on myself with a sewing needle and some ink. I remember trying to convince my friends to do it. That didn’t really work out because they weren’t into the idea of a tattoos, but I was proud if it. It was fun and painful; but that’s what drew me to tattooing because it was a kind of “club”. The pain is a part of the whole experience. Even to this day, I still see it that way. You have to “put up or shut up”. Also, around this time, tattoos weren’t very popular. It was still considered to be an “outsider” sort of thing; which I loved.
I honestly didn’t think about tattooing as a career until maybe 2007 or 2008. Around the first time I moved to Brooklyn. It was through a friend who suggested it. I was dead broke and I thought for some reason, it was something that would force me to focus on a path. I had a friend who was showing me a few things here and there out of the apartment. Good habits like setting up and breaking down the station and sanitation of equipment. After struggling with finding regular work, I thought it was time to actually pursue an apprenticeship and take things seriously. I wanted to learn more. What’s crazy is that I had invested so much money into my own equipment that I shouldn’t have been spending but I chose to anyways. It took me about a year to actually obtain any kind of apprenticeship.
I ended up apprenticing through this guy Gerald Feliciano. We had a mutual friend of a friend that introduced us. Gerald was working at a shop in the Bronx and the owner there had a brother who tattooed also, so he was trying to get me in touch with him. The brother told me I needed to get my license first, so I studied for my license and took the proper steps in order to get that. But once that happened, I could never get in touch with him again. So, I had to be persistent. I traveled up to the Bronx so I could meet with Gerald and he could introduce me to the owner with hopes I could actually take on an apprenticeship there.
It wasn’t an apprenticeship where I like chose or followed a certain artist, honestly. It was more like, “Let me figure out how to tattoo properly first, then I can try to figure out from there what kind of style I want to get into”. I was commuting 2hrs on the train from Greenpoint, BK to the Bronx 3 to 4 times a week while I was still working a part time job and doing freelance illustration work so I could have money to pay rent and eat. I’d spend all day at the shop and clean up at night. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories people who were treated like shit but I wasn’t there. I was running errands, getting their food, cleaning up after everyone; stuff like that, but I would also watch and ask questions when I could. They would tell me straight up things like, “no you cant do that and you cant do this”. It was good being around an environment where people are forward about how things should be and for what reason. They weren’t hazing me or screaming at me and making me feel like I was at some crazy bottom level chump. I hear about apprenticeships like that. Shit is already as hard enough as it is up here. Especially up there in the Bronx. We all have to start somewhere.
The most important lesson I learned from them is “you don’t have to be a fucking dick head”. Going into a shop is already intimidating enough as it is, even for me, and a lot of people tend to take on this character of them being a big, bad, old timey, scary tattoo artist. To me, there’s always a time and place to be that guy; just not off the bat. What I learned from my apprenticeship and my experiences in retail is to just be nice. You want them to come back. Nobody wants to get a tattoo from an asshole you just met. If you do, you’re a fucking idiot. Straight up. We’re not feeding children or the sick over here. Check the egos at the door. Times have changed. It’s a business now where everyone is hungry and there’s not enough food. Why am I going to give you my money? One maybe two hundred dollars an hour? Why am I going to feed that asshole? My first shop tattoo was from a large, scary, biker guy. Actually from Ancient Art in Yorktown in the late 90′s. That was a great experience, but like I said, times have changed. Now I just enjoy getting tattooed by my friends.
The first tattoo I did was definitely shit. It’s a huge difference from where I am now. It was on the person that introduced me to the craft. It was an outline of a basic scull and it wasn’t big at all. It literally took me about forty minutes and I was sweating bullets with shaky hands and all. Haha. It was definitely difficult getting used to holding a machine and the weight of it and finding a comfortable position so you can go about your business. There’s so many technical rules to tattooing. Especially traditional tattoos. For example, “You can’t stay in this area for too long, or you can’t stick your needle but this far, or you can’t pull a straight line this way.” and at the same time, you have to make it feel natural for yourself so it flows. It took me a long time to figure that out. I’m not saying I’m some big tattooer because I’m not. I still worry about that shit. I’m just more comfortable with it now than I was before. If I was big time, I’d be raking in dough with emails off the chains, but I’m not. Haha. I’m being considered one of the underdogs. Haha. It’s alright, I’m all for the underdogs. Keeps my drive in check.
In Ancient Art (Virginia beach), just being around that envoirment, being around better artists than me, made me subconsciously learn more. That’s why I moved back for that year. I wanted to progress. I didn’t have to just sit there and ask them questions all of the time like I did in my apprenticeship. All of us naturally sharing our work all the time made me want to do better. We’d suggest things here and there or asked how one of us got a certain look. It was great! I think that makes anyone progress in any craft. You have to want to learn, and practice, of course. I mean, it’s a continuous learning process. Even now I want to try new techniques in terms of shading things in or using a certain colors and inks. The amount of constant learning can be really stressful sometimes. I just kill myself with the “I should’ve done this” and “should’ve done that” now.
I’m happy with what I do but I wish I did more weird shit like dark imagery. I love that stuff. I’d like to do more subject matter like that. I just want to crank out better work each time and learn a different style. Maybe some single needle Cholo stuff. In about ten years, hopefully I’m still tattooing. I’ve just got to keep striving for that and get more clients and keep being consistent with my tattoos. I doubt I’ll ever stop trying to learn other techniques. That’s why I started tattooing in the first place. To keep my head busy. I never want to stop using my mind and my hands. I’ll never stop wanting to push things and be creative. Its not a nine to five where your problem solving becomes routine. I don’t want a routine, I want a challenge. You have to do a good job every time because you only get one chance. And when you don’t, you’ll get called out. I’m always constantly calling myself out. I’ll say, “I should’ve shaded this” or “I should’ve shaded that”. I start slaying myself over it every time! But, I guess that’s just how it goes.
I’ve got to give it up for everyone at Ancient Art (Virginia beach). They were all really awesome to work with. Everybody was just feeding off of each other. I know it sounds biased, but I don’t care. That’s got to be the best shop in the Hampton roads area as far as traditional tattoos goes. Tony Riccio, Dave Voegeli, Scott Sterling, Luis Gonzalez, and even Joey Ilardi, who is the apprentice there now, is doing a good job. Everyone just clicks over there and they’re all easy to work and get along with. And a special shout to Gerald for taking me on.