My wife of 18 years asked me awhile back if I was still writing a blog for Tattoo Artist Magazine. I shot her a pile of excuses about time & being busy at work, taking care of the shop & spending time with her & the kids. She looked at me with her amazingly sweet smile as if to say “Sure Omar, I love you I have your back but you’re throwing up a smoke screen.” She knows me really well, better than any other human being on the planet. Her words that she spoke next were small and to the point. she simply said ” you’re really good at what you do. you have wisdom to impart.” I am not making that part up; she really does speak like that. So here I am sitting in front of a computer trying to figure out what to “impart” on you, gentle reader. I started thinking about what I had said to my beautiful and talented better half. It wasn’t a lie I have been busy with an amazing varied rag tag bunch of folks who for what ever reason be it a bump on the head or just a history of poor life choices have asked me to mark them permanently. It is also true that -as any shop owner can attest to- when you own a tattoo shop stuff comes up, there are always fires to be put out, business needs handling. It is most decidedly true that I love spending time with her and our 3 awesome kids. I don’t know about y’all but the last time I checked there are only 24 hours in a day only 7 of those days in a week etc., etc. you know the math. You are,I am sure, by this point getting my point that there are a lot of things that come up in my day to day life that are at times pleasurable at times nerve wracking & everything in between. Much like some of you out there, I get to try to figure out how to balance business & family, which is what struck me as something to write about…
Life, Happens everyday. It comes at us pretty fast you have to keep your eyes open and your head up if you are going to get through it in one piece. How to balance work & family…
I am not great at Balance. I don’t know to many tattooers who are, actually. We seem to be creatures prone to addictive behaviors. Not in drugs or drink; although there are certainly some of us who have found themselves killing time and brain cells with various chemeicals. I am speaking to the idea that when we find something we like we do it, A LOT. We drive forward forsaking relationships & responsiblity. Think about your apprenticeship or the first several years of tattooing. Were you able to carry on conversations about ANYTHING aside from tattooing? If the answer is yes, then I applaud you, I certainly couldn’t. In fact in the beginning years of my career, my aforementioned amazing, beautiful wife got frustrated with me & my tattooer buddies. She threw up her hands and said “Can we have a conversation about something else for five minutes? Anything else is fine, seriously”. We assured her that we could then sat in silence for the next 3 minutes until she gave us the reprieve, letting us get back to our discussion of coil wire, capacitors, tube vises, making ink etc., etc. I can’t recall exactly what we were talking about but it sure wasn’t what Kati wanted to talk about. We are like dogs with our respective bones. Which is what it takes to succeed and build a career. I know I wouldn’t be here after nearly 23 years if I didn’t pursue tattooing with laser like focus. I also know that I wouldn’t be where I am without the love and support of my family.
That focus is important, it shows commitment, it is what it take to learn something as strangely fascinating as tattooing. We dive into what we love. We immerse ourselves in learning to run clean lines how to do smooth shading (or peppery shading for those traditionist cats out there) do bright solid color. We get lost in drawing, painting, or building machines. There are dozens of things that we do in order to become better as artists, craftsmen, Tattooists, tattooers, or scab vendors but it is still, at the end of the day tattooing. At least it always has been for me.
What I find now after working in street shops for the first 12+ years of my career then running my own shop for 10+ is balancing tattooing with other things is tough but necessary. Being a husband and father is my biggest joy in life. It is my greatest accomplishment. My clients deserve me at my very best. I am my best when I am rested relaxed & joyful. It took along time for me to realize that.I have more times than not sacrificed personal time to tattoo. The demands of a large clientele can weigh heavy on your head and heart. Trying to make sure everyone is taken care of & happy is, at times, a fools errand. You will never make everyone happy. There just isn’t enough hours in the day to make sure everyone is taken care of RIGHT NOW. Luckily if you are like me you have an understanding client base who knows that there is only so much a person can do. If you are truly blessed as I am, your family & friends are even more understanding than your clients are. They not only allow you to do something as wonderful as tattooing, they support you & sing your praises for doing something you love doing.
I am not saying blow your clients off but I am saying as tattooers we need to take time for ourselves, our families, & freinds. Our jobs can be heavy. We are permanently affecting each person we tattoo. Changing not only the way the world sees them but also how they see the world.That weighs on a person after awhile. You have to decompress. I believe it is important to have something or several things outside of tattooing that speaks to your soul, to free your mind, to push the reset button if you will. To borrow a line from pop culture psychobabble “you have to find your joy”. Whatever it is that you can lose yourself in for awhile, do that.
For me when I began to realize these things, I asked myself what used to make me happy? What was it that made me smile as a kid? For me it has been Surfing, hiking, hunting, fishing ,working out, building old cars ,or golf. Those are things totally unrelated to tattooing or what I do day in day out that allow me to turn off the part of myself that only thinks about tattooing. Whatever the activity is has the same essential affect, cleansing my head and easing my tension. In surfing the first paddle out as I duck into a wave and the water hits the top of my head the worries and distractions wash away. It is like a baptism everytime. Hiking hunting or fishing are similar in that I am away from concrete and steel. I am not looking at the world through glass but rather seeing it as it is, unobstructed. Breathing in clean fresh air, hearing the wind in the trees and bird singing, and feeling the dirt settle under my feet is freeing to me. Wrenching on cars is just like therapy taking something that is old and making it new again. Not just new but building it bigger, lower, & faster. These were all things I did as a kid with my Dad or my family or pals growing up. The are also all things that fell (fall) to the side in pursuit of career and providing for my family. If you are lucky enough to have those things I hope you are as equally lucky to have some friends and/or family to share them with.
I would love to tell you all that I surf everyday or go hiking every week or fish all season long or take the whole hunting season off to chase Elk with my bow.I would love nothing better to tell you all about the fleet of sweet old cars that I have restored/hot rodded. I would love to tell you that I play golf all the time. I would love to tell you these things but they would be a lie. We all know that the truth will set us free. The truth is I played golf exactly once this summer when Robert, Rabbit, and I played hooky from work. I went salmon fishing three times this year. I didn’t hunt at all, I haven’t been surfing since right before my youngest son was born two years ago. Like I said before I am terrible at balance.
I can tell you I travel a fair bit. Not as much as some, more than others. The majority of the travel is tattoo/work related. I find myself even in the idea of going somewhere looking for ways to tattoo. We were invited along last year to go to Hawaii. My sister had access to a house there for free. All it would cost was flights and food. I immediately started looking for a shop to sit in at. Imagine with me, if you will, going to perhaps one of the most beautiful places on earth with your loving family and all I can think of is “where am I going to work?” We actually didn’t end up going because I couldn’t wrap my head around it. As a surfer- actually I don’t know if I can still call myself that- I couldn’t wrap my noggin around going to the birth place of surfing with no way to tattoo. I imagine I owe the family a Hawaiian vacation. I go back home to Austin, Texas 4-5 times a year. I go for many reasons, it is one of my favorite cities in the world, I still have a good clientele base there, I have a lot of friends there, etc. The main reason I go is my best friend, Scott Ellis lives there. Scott owns Triple Crown Tattoo, Amillion Tattoo & Body Piercing, as well as Magic Laser Tattoo Removal. I love the Ellis familia, I love his wife Gabby, I love his kids, I love my best friend. We are very similar and very different. It’s always a joy to go there and hang out. I was lamenting to Scott on my last trip that several of my clients weren’t getting tattooed as much anymore or at all. One of my dearest friends had recently gotten married, one was moving to Florida, one was just MIA. I was moaning that I didn’t have as much work to keep me coming back as often. Scott, in his beautiful balanced thinking said to me “Good, I have to tell you it pisses me off that you work as much as you do when you come to town. We should be playing more golf when you are here.” There I was in one of my favorite cities with one of my most favorite people in the world and all I could concentrate on was getting into one of my favorite tattoo shops (Triple Crown) to do one of my favorite things (tattoo). I realized I was unbalanced in my friendship to Scott. There are other friends and other cities that this happens with more than I care to admit. Again I am terrible at balance. Once a year however my wife and I load up the kids in our truck. We go on a Griswold inspired road trip. Ten days on the road with my family is a wonderful thing. I would love to say that it has been a long standing family tradition but it isn’t. We have done it twice. The first trip was to Mount Rushmore then down into Colorado and then back home to Oregon. Last year we went through The Redwoods. The Rushmore trip was literally the first non-work realted vacation I had taken, ever. In 21+ years at that point of tattooing and I had never done anything that didn’t have something to do with work. It was strange to set out with no work agenda at first. As the trip proceeded I began to feel the apprehension and stress slip away with every mile.The Redwoods trip was just as relaxing & therapeutic. By the end of these trips I was a brand new man. Able to get back to work, to perform at the level my clients deserve.
I believe after restoring the balance we can preform at even higher levels. That is ultimately what we are all trying to strive for, isn’t it? To not just plateau out but to continue to get better. To push ourselves to the next level. If I wake up one day and believe that I have learned everything there is to know about tattooing, I am simply going to go out in the back yard. I am then going to dig a hole. I am going to lay down in said hole and start pulling dirt in on myself. If I have learned everything there is to learn, pushed myself to the point of nothing higher then it is time to lay it down for the big dirt nap.
I really wish I had the answers for you, gentle reader. The be all end all answer to the question, “How do I balance profession and family?” I unfortunately haven’t found the answer to that question in my own life, but I can promise you, I am working on it.
Thank you for indulging me these ramblings.
“Pilgrim, Preacher, Problem when he is stoned”
All American Tattoo
1742 Center St NE
Salem, OR 97301