Tattoo artists inks God's canvases
By Aaron Epp | Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Don Ritson says tattoos remind him of the impermanence of bodies. PHOTO: AARON EPP
WINNIPEGWhen people think of tattoos, they think of something permanent. Not Don Ritson.
"Tattoos remind me of the impermanence of these bodies we find ourselves in," says the 26-year-old tattoo artist. It may be permanent for the wearer, but when it comes down to it, the longest a tattoo is ever going to last is 80 yearsnot a very long time in the grand scheme of things.
For Ritson, who grew up in the Salvation Army, that sentiment is a reminder of his faith.
Faith wasn't always a priority in his life, but today it influences Ritson's art and the way he conducts business at Rebel Waltz, the Notre Dame Avenue tattoo shop he and his wife Andrea opened in March.
Mopping the floor of the shop before opening on a Friday morning, the easy-going artist explains that he'll tattoo almost anything a customer asks for, except racist or satanic images.
"You've got to be responsible for what you're putting out there," he says. "I feel like God put me on this path, so to do something like that would be beyond disrespectful."
Ritson says that growing up, he was always interested in tattoos. He got his first one at the age of 20. Old English lettering on his back that spells "Create."
Since then he's spent somewhere between 45 and 50 hours under the needle. A variety of images, from ravens to keys to initials, adorn his arms, legs, hands, neck, chest and back. Some are tributes to family members, while somelike the image of 1950s pin-up model Bettie Page on his right armare simply "eye candy."
Ritson has been drawing his whole life. Although he wanted to get into tattooing in his early 20s, his parents advised him to channel his creativity into something they felt would lead to better job security.
After earning a diploma in graphic design at Red River College, Ritson quickly found an upper-level job at a local design firm. He wasn't happy, though. The long hours left him with little time to see his wife and young daughter, Ruby.
"It became a pretty big drag pretty quick. It was ridiculous working at something I didn't enjoy, just to pay the bills."
So, two years ago, he quit his job and approached Jody Gillies, a tattoo artist who owned the Xtensive
"It's a lot of work, but at least I enjoy it," Ritson says.
His favourite tattoos to create look "old school," with a lot of colours and heavy shading, he says, pulling out a photo album with shots some of the work he's done for family and friends, including a tattoo of Jesus.
So does Ritson share his faith with everyday customers?
"Sometimes," he says. "Some people will try to witness to you, and it just comes off really strong. I try not to push it, but if there's an opportunity there to ease into that discussion, I take it.
"I'm not a Bible thumper with a holier-than-thou attitude," he concludes. "I'm just a regular guy who happens to believe in a higher power."