It’s not how you start but how you finish.
On April 2013, Tommy G had to leave our studio and his apprenticeship behind because his family needed him to help out because they were struggling to make ends meet. His dad found him a job in a Sudbury restaurant where he worked as a fryer boy. A fryer boy, as Tommy explained, was someone who worked the deep fryer in the kitchen.
Apparently, his family had given him a timeline to start earning as a tattoo artist and his time was up. Tommy was one of the most loved guys in the studio and I’m sure nobody wanted him to leave, but it was especially tough for Tony and I because we knew how badly he wanted and needed this.
I remembered talking to him in Sudbury and telling him to keep his head up, to keep smiling, to keep his dream alive, and to draw every chance he got when he wasn’t working at the restaurant. I told him that this is not the end of the road for him, but a hiccup, and he just had to keep the faith.
To be honest, even as I was telling him those things, I wasn’t sure I was convinced myself. I knew it was the right things to say but it was hard to see what was going to change for him. His dad was adamant about him keeping his job in Sudbury. He just didn’t see Tommy succeeding in our studio. Maybe he didn’t see tattooing as a way to earn a living or maybe he didn’t think Tommy was capable. Whatever it was, he envisioned a different path for Tommy.
Tommy was so dejected. There’s nothing wrong with working as a fryer boy, but it just wasn’t what he wanted for his life.
I remembered he was so scared that he would end up spending his entire life working the fryer. He knew he wasn’t the best in school and he felt like he really didn’t have any other skills so this was it for him. Drawing was the only thing he enjoyed doing and he told me he was the happiest he’s ever been in his life when he tattoos.
So when Tommy walked into our studio on August 9, 2013 and said he’s back, that in itself was a small miracle. Somehow, he made a deal with his dad that he would get a job in Toronto & Vancouver so he can work, help out the family, and still find time to come to the studio. Now, Tommy didn’t end up getting a job because his brother and Tony decided to help him out every month and make his contributions to his family for him.
Tommy told me his brother had been putting off his wedding because he was contributing Tommy’s share to the family. He didn’t have the money to do both but he was willing to wait for Tommy to become a tattoo artist first. So, that August, Tommy gave himself a year. If he couldn’t become an earning artist by then, he would give up and go back to Sudbury.
On May 6, 2014, Tommy G got his own chair and station at Chronic Ink. He officially became a full-time tattoo artist. We didn’t give him the chair because time was running out, we gave him the chair because he deserves it.
You see, Tommy is not the most naturally gifted artist, and when I say that, I don’t mean that with any disrespect. In fact, I mean it as a compliment. He started later than others because he never had a formal art education. He had to deal with a whole bunch of shit but that’s also part of his strength. He just put his head down and kept working. He made sure he would decide his own fate, not life, not his dad, not anyone or anything else.
Life’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. Yes, it may have taken Tommy a bit longer than others to complete his apprenticeship. Heck, it took him like 3 years to muster enough courage to ask Tony for an apprenticeship because he thought his art wasn’t good enough.
But, he is good enough now. His drawings already exceed some of his elders and he’s putting out some of the cleanest and most cared for tattoos in our studio. We know he will be a great artist because he treats each tattoo like it may be his last. Honestly, we try to be mentors to our apprentices but sometimes, they are the ones doing the inspiring.
Congratulations and love from all of us,
Chronic Ink Family
*Top left is a picture of Tommy’s drawing from June 2012. The other two are drawings from this year.