Many fathers pass down their interests to their children. For Chadrick Gregory, that meant tattoos.
“I started liking tattoos because my father had tattoos,” Gregory said. “I grew up with him being in prison so that’s how I can remember about him in prison; he had tattoos and a lot of his friends in prison had tattoos.”
Gregory did his first tattoo when he was 15. It was a scorpion, on his own ankle, which he did with a safety pin and India Ink.
His father got out of prison a few years later and ordered Gregory his first tattoo kit out of the back of a magazine. Not only did he order the kit, but he also elected to become the first human canvas for his son’s artwork. They went for 18 hours straight.
After years of tattooing, Gregory looks back on that first tattoo and brags about his dad’s high level of pain tolerance.
“Tattoo needles are soldered onto a stainless steel bar and the soldering is usually around half an inch deep,” Gregory said. “The tattoo needle only goes into the skin maybe the thickness of a dime; it’s just the top layer of your epidermis.”
Gregory said he was probably running the needle a quarter of an inch into his father’s arm when he first started because he thought he had to get it all the way into the soldering.
“He sat 18 1/2 hours through a bunch of that, and took it like a champ,” Gregory said.
After using the machine, his passion for tattooing only continued to grow. So did his knowledge and ability.
In his early 20s, Gregory tried to get an apprenticeship.
In the tattoo industry an apprenticeship includes sweeping, setting up, watching the tattoo artists do their work, cleaning up, and whatever else they say to do.
Of course, different shops and different owners vary in their treatment of apprentices, ranging from lowly to royalty.
It took Gregory three years to actually get into a shop. He tried two or three times a month with Aaron Favolora, who used to own Skin Graphix Tattoo Studio in Cleveland.
He started his apprenticeship with Favolora in November 2007.
“That wasn’t fun,” he said. “I had to listen to the owner and three other artists and I still had to clean up after another apprentice that was already there.”
He stayed for two years and got his tattoo artist’s license in 2010.
Due to some personal differences, Gregory quit Skin Graphix to “better himself.” He was out of work for a few months and after trying to get a job in Chattanooga, Athens, Knoxville and even North Georgia, he saw a sign.
“I was heading southbound on 411 and saw a sign that said ‘Living Art Tattoo Studio,’” he said. “I went in there and asked for the owner.”
Brian Jones then told Gregory he was the owner and asked what he wanted.
He told Jones he was looking for an apprenticeship.
“He gave me some choice words and told me to leave my resume and portfolio on the table, that he was busy,” Gregory said. “He called me up a week later and asked me to come up. He said he wanted to talk about my crappy artwork.”
So Gregory went, and Jones pointed out all of the flaws in his tattoos. He had his apprenticeship.
Jones slowed him down and took him back to the basics.
He showed him how to pull straight lines and blend shading. He showed him how to set up a machine properly without damaging the needles.
He worked there for about eight months, traveling from Cleveland to Madisonville every day. However, he was not making enough money, and it started taking a toll on him financially.
Gregory decided to quit.
Again, he was out of work. He got an opportunity with John Cross at Ink Works Tattoo, in Cleveland. It did not work out.
This time he was out of work for a year, and Jones called him back to offer him another shot at Living Art. He worked there for a year until Jones decided to close and move to Las Vegas.
During Gregory’s time away from his first shop, it came under a new owner, Michael Williams. About a month before Jones moved to Las Vegas, Williams called to see if he would like to work for Skin Graphix again.
Gregory now works a day job to supplement his income while he tattoos there.
“Tattooing is probably my greatest passion,” he said. “It’s pretty much all I know and all I talk about.”
Tattooing knowledge is not all he gained.
“I have a lot of tattoos on me that I regret because I wanted to be cool and tough; I’m now having those removed,” he said. “I think placement is a big part of it; we do live in a society where you still need to be presentable.”
He said when people get tattoos in certain areas, they need to be sure that is where they want them.
He believes tattoos are “like a storybook for your life at that time.” He said some people get them just because they want them, some get them due to peer pressure, and others have more in-depth reasons.
Tattoo artists hear many great stories about why people are getting tattoos. They also have people open up about their personal lives.
“We’re kind of like shrinks here,” Gregory said.