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Jake Steele | Tattoo Artist | Painter | World Traveller

My Tattoo Journey: Part 1

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My Tattoo Journey: Part 1

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For my 20th birthday, I decided to get tattooed. As a college chemistry student chasing rock N’ roll dreams, I deemed a tattoo experience the next logical step in the pursuit of discovering myself. The words “Dreams can only get you so far” resonated in my head as I carried my muddled sketchbook with my concept tattoo idea through  the doors of my first tattoo shop. 

     That was February 8th, 2011. Sometime in March 2011, I had ordered my tattoo kit off of the internet and convinced the drummer of my band to let me tattoo a cartoon character on his foot at my parent’s picnic table with an extension chord coming through the front door from the kitchen. 

     Because of my instant infatuation with the craft, I dropped out of college in October 2011 during my third year at the university of Pittsburgh to become a tattoo artist. I was once a 4.0 student pursuing a high level medical career that had a serious fall from grace. At that point in my life, I was abusing drugs and alcohol and playing victim to my parent’s divorce while I paraded around with my horrible self-inflicted tattoos. (not exactly the perfect recipe for success in the tattoo community) 

     For the next few years, I was seriously depressed. I was a laughing stock amongst my peers and marked up with horrible amateur tattoos on my arms and hands. Zero confidence and zero sustainable relationships. I kept letting the problems pile up while I sabotaged my own happiness through lack of action. I grew up in an abusive household in a small town in the country where dreams and ambition go to die. ( I don’t say these things with disrespect, but I use them for empowerment for others seeking to improve their lives). After quitting the third minimum wage job in three months while my tattoo gear from the internet gathered dust in my closet, I decided I didn’t want to be poor anymore. There was something bigger out there for me. 

     I just got to a point where I didn’t want change, I needed it to survive.

     I went back to school with a new vision and ambition to succeed. I studied art history, music, and performing art. Tattoos were kinda on the back burner as I continually grew in my education. I had new dreams of being in the film industry and moving to LA to pursue a master’s degree. I got straight A’s and participated in the majority of the plays, art groups, and chorus concerts while my confidence slowly started to emerge. During my senior year, I landed the lead role in the school’s musical and wrote, directed, and performed in my own play. During my commencement in December 2014, I felt on top of the world. Funny thing about that is January 2015 came around, and I had to get a job. I was officially at the bottom again. 

     I applied for every job I could locally thinking my bachelors degree would magically grant me access to a 50K/year salary. After a few weeks went by and I couldn’t afford to eat anymore, I applied at a temp agency. I landed a job opening boxes at a furniture warehouse for 9 dollars an hour. 

     After a few months went by and my student loan bills were rolling in, I realized I could barely afford to get new shoes with 330$/week let alone pay my 60k debt back. I wanted to at least treat all my hard work with something I loved, a new tattoo. I ended up saving up a few hundred dollars and decided to go see my old buddy Mike the tattoo artist to get some work. (after deciding to just default on my student loans lol) 

     Just like that, tattoos were back in my life. 

    The shop I went to was small and run down on the side of a highway by some train tracks, but it was full of life. Complete magic. I sensed a new chapter of my life coming on when Mike had suggested I started tattooing again. 


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