Talking Ink with the Lucky Squid.
Jen and Olie, together with fellow artist and business partner Lyndzie, are the proud owners of the mighty Lucky Squid Tattoo shop. Located on the 600 block of 3rd Street Down Town. Their shop has a bright and open feel, inviting you to spend time taking in the art on the walls and getting to know the artists that put it there. I wanted to talk tattooing and, more specifically, tattooing in Medicine Hat. Jen and Olie gave me a lot of their time and I thank them for being so forthcoming with their opinions.
Andrew: What were the influences that lead you guys to becoming Tattoo Artists?
Olie: Ever since I was a little kid my Mom and Grandma always encouraged my art. They were both big influences on me. My Mom did sign painting and mural painting for a living, and my Grandma also had art gallery shows in Vancouver. Growing up around them made it easy to see how art could be a career. I also had a high school art teacher who said he thought he could see me as a Tattoo Artist. At the time I was like, nah fuck that, that seems like too much work, I wanted my art to be more about me or whatever baloney I was thinking as a teenager. Looking back now I see how much of an influence that really was.
Jen: Growing up I was always an art nerd. I moved around so much that I didn’t have a fixed group of friends around and drawing was a great source of comfort for me. I never imagined it would be a source of income, especially in Medicine Hat. At that time, it didn’t feel like this City was the right scene for artists. It was Olie and Lyndzie who pushed me to apprentice and as soon as that opportunity was presented I just dropped everything else a dove in head first. I was really lucky.
Andrew: So your influence was Olie.
Jen: He gave me a lot of confidence and inspiration to be better. It was a really creative environment, we created a lot of stuff together, and he gave me the freedom to just be myself. I think that’s key to how I survived in this industry.
Andrew: Considering that you both do something that you love, together, I would imagine it must be quite hard to leave work at the end of the day.
Olie: I think that is true for most Tattooers, but even if we wanted to stop and just leave work, you really don’t have the time to do that. You’re tattooing for six to eight hours a day, then when you go home, you still have all the prep work to get done. I come home, eat some dinner, hang out with the kids for a couple of hours then I’m back to drawing so I’ll be ready for the next day. Work follows us home for sure.
Jen: I think it’ll be a little different after the kids are grown. Right now we still want to get home, see them, hang out for a bit, and have that time as well. Balance can be difficult when you love your job.
Andrew: That’s interesting because when I picture the Tattoo Artist stereotype, it’s a very rock n roll lifestyle. It doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of room for partying when there’s this much work to put in.
Olie: There are many different types of Tattooers, but most of the Artists I know, the ones I have the most respect for. They are not living a ‘rock star life’ by any means. If they’re not at work they are at home studying art, studying drawing techniques and working on tattoos. They are eating it, breathing it, and sleeping it. The only way you’re going to get better at anything, in life, is to throw everything into it.
Jen: I think the stereotype is lived by the younger Tattooers, not necessary everyone but maybe the ones that might not have realized how much of themselves they have to put into this. It can be all fun and games at first but then you learn that you have to really sell yourself. You have to really put your entire being into it and there’s no time for partying and shit like that.
Olie: I remember thinking the guys doing my first tattoos were for sure rock stars. Super cool guys, sitting around drawing, and just hanging out with other cool people. I thought they probably lived in mansions with a hundred women, a yacht and all that shit. When you get into it you realize it’s not that glamorous. It’s hard hours, a sore back, and a lot of dedication. There can be lots of ups and down and heart ache that come with it too.
Andrew: It sounds like a really big commitment. It sounds like the life can be a bit rough.
Olie: It’s a huge commitment, I don’t know that I would say it’s rough because it’s amazing and I love it. I’m not thinking, fuck, my life’s rough, I’m sat here drawing when I could be out partying. I chose this life for myself and I wouldn’t have it another way.
Jen: Being an active part of the community is a really big part of it too. Having that underlying community, supporting those around you, and working together. I think embracing that has really been key to us still being here today. I think there’s definitely more to it than just opening up a shop and tattooing.
Olie: For me getting involved more with community stuff was helping to break down that stereotype too. So people don’t think we’re just a bunch of dirty old biker rock stars who don’t give a shit about our community. We care about everybody we’ve come in contact with and has supported us over the years. We want the City to thrive just as much as anybody else.
Jen: For the size of the City it still feels like a small town because everyone is so close and you feel a lot of connection here that you might not get in bigger Cities.
Andrew: So thinking about your industry and how it is in Medicine Hat specifically. There does seem to be a lot of Tattoo Shops here.
Olie: When I started tattooing in Medicine Hat, I think there was maybe five people tattooing. I think it’s closer to forty in the City right now. When I started tattooing, if I wanted to get my hands on a tattoo machine, I had to actually go to a tattoo shop and apprentice. The other artists would have to phone their tattoo machine guy and explain that I was their new artist and it was OK to sell it to me. There was no eBay you could just order one from. Information on tattooing was really guarded too. No one was just telling you how to tattoo or explaining anything technical. You could maybe order a book, that was it. There was no YouTube with thousands of videos telling you whatever you want to know. So people are able to get all of that now and it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand it’s putting out a lot of these great artists that might not have been able to find an apprenticeship, but on the other it’s a saturated market.
Jen: I think that with that flood of new artists also came a flood of new people getting tattoos too though. There were TV shows like Miami Ink that gave people an insight into what the tattoo experience might be like. It highlighted how much we appreciate our customers and their stories. I think that people watched that and thought, I have a story I would like to honour with a tattoo. People started to see tattoos as less of an unknown thing. It became more mainstream. The type of people getting tattoos changed too.
Olie: Yeah I agree. Before shows like Miami Ink there were still lots of people getting tattooed but they were smaller pieces. Tasmanian devils, little tribal pieces, butterflies, stuff like that. Then this push came where suddenly people could see what was possible and where they could take things. Now people come in for their first tattoo and it’s a half sleeve. That’s crazy to me looking at where things used to be.
Jen: It’s also society being so much more accepting about tattoos now too. People aren’t afraid to get the bigger more visible pieces. Grandma’s are walking around with tattoos, parents will get their kids tattoos as a grad present, it’s so accepted now.
Olie: There’s still some stigma, if you come into the shop looking like Post Malone people are still going to be like, yeah I think you crossed a line, but in ten or fifteen years that will probably be OK too.
Andrew: What would be your advice for someone looking to become a tattooist now?
Olie: Don’t go buying that shit online and start tattooing up your friends because you’ll both regret it. You’ll look back on that and wish you’d gone about it the right way. I’m not saying things have to go back all the way to how it was, being treated like an asshole for three years just to prove you want to be there. You should really find someone who you respect, who knows what they’re doing and ask them to train you. I think that most people are going to be met with a few no’s at first because it is a saturated market. That said, if you can make that personal connection and can convince them you have something true and genuine to offer then that’s your best chance. If you do get that opportunity then take it and run with it because your lucky.
Jen: It’s hard because a young person might not come into this seeing the years of experience it takes. It seems like a lot of people want to skip the mentor-ship and just go to YouTube and there’s so much they will miss going about it that way. They need someone to show them the problems the mistakes and how to avoid them. There’s also a whole medical aspect to what we do as well. It’s not just being able to draw. A staff infection can cause you to lose a limb. You can’t just buy that training from eBay and it’s just as important as the artistic side. It’s important that people are safe.
Andrew: That’s a great point, there is a clinical part to all this. What should people be looking for when deciding if someone is safe to be tattooed by.
Jen: If you’re not going to a shop you need to be asking about their sterilization techniques, are they using single use needles. Ask to see their sterilization area and needle disposal.
Olie: The big difference between being tattooed in a shop and being tattooed in someones basement, is that we are inspected, certified, and held to that high standard. If you don’t know that the person doing your tattoo is following all the right standards, a single use needle is just false security. I’m not saying that anybody tattooing outside of a shop is wiping their nose then picking up needles, they could be taking the same precautions as us, but there’s nobody there to check up on that. That’s the problem.
I feel like there was a lot I had underappreciated about tattooing and I’m grateful to Jen and Olie for being so open about their sacrifices and dedication. If there was one point I would especially like to double down on, it would be staying safe. Jen and Olie are artists first, and love nothing more than to see a new artists emerging into the community. However, tattooing can be dangerous and no one wants to see anybody getting hurt.
Below are links to Jen, Olie and Lyndzie’s art and shop website and a link to the Albert health standards for tattooing. At the time of publish the Lucky Squid is temporarily closed to help prevent the spread of covid-19. They will continue to be creative and will publish details about those projects nearer the time. We wish them success and hope to see them open again in the very near future.
Alberta health standards with regard to tattooing