Apprenticeship: Going from Zero to Cookie

"I always dreamt of being a comic book artist, but as I got older, I realized it was not gonna happen. Art was just not a viable career.”
-Cookie, Professional Tattoo Artist Since 2001

In 2001, there was a 24 year-old guy named Cookie who liked to draw for fun, but worked as a stagehand to make ends meet. Ever since he was a kid, he would draw graphic, comic-book style art that would would be passed around and treasured by his friends and their friends before social media was a thing.

“I never went to art school, dropped out of college,” he says. “I wasn’t actively pursuing artwork as a career.”

Some of Cookie’s artwork caught the eye of Mike Locasio, the owner of Ink Inc. Tattooing in Kingston. He saw that Cookie’s art style and raw talent would translate perfectly into tattooing, and approached him to become an apprentice at his shop.

The tattoo industry was a little different in 2001; only 21% of American households had someone with a tattoo.

“When i started tattooing, you had to go to the adult bookstore to buy a tattoo magazine,” says Cookie. “Now there's a whole entire rack of tattoo magazines at Barnes & Noble. You don’t have to seek it out. There are so many more possibilities today.”

Today, over 40% of households have someone with a tattoo, and the boom times aren’t over: IBISWorld, a database company that provides market research, says that tattoo industry is a “business you can count on,” projecting it alongside high-tech industries like social game development and 3d printer manufacturing as having steady growth for the next five years.

Cookie jumped at the chance to become a professional artist, well before the tattoo industry had exploded. Back then, apprenticeships took much longer than most do now (Ink Inc.’s current apprenticeship program is an intensive 4-6 weeks), and Cookie even had to stop working his other job to fully commit to the process.

“Mike made it a pretty welcome platform and was really nice, but it wasn’t easy by any means,” says Cookie. “It was all very new to me; I’d been in shops and been tattooed, but being on the other side was a completely new experience.”

Before Cookie picked up a tattoo machine, he did a little bit of everything: he watched how the shop operated, learned the business side, practicing drawing, preparation, how to deal with people and customers, ran errands, and even swept up the shop at the end of the day.

It was really humbling, and it put the brakes on everything. Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, you realize you can do way better.

“I practically lived at the shop, completely immersing myself in it,” said Cookie. “I didn't tattoo anybody until I tattooed myself. Mike sure as hell wouldn't let me tattoo an orange or some inaminate object. I had to get real live results.”

After weeks of watching and drawing on his own, Cookie thought his first tattoo would be a piece of cake.

“I did a nautical star with flames on the top of my thigh,” he says. “It was a bit of a mess, and I had to go back over the years to fix it. It was really humbling, and it put the brakes on everything. Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, you realize you can do way better.”

After that first tattoo, Cookie gradually got better. Under Mike’s tutelage, he focused on just doing good tattoos instead of developing a unique style.

“I had a lot of friends from my stagehand days that were willing to let me do tattoos on them,” he says. “Mike told me to draw everything; don't just draw what you want and what you like… it’s not really important to refine your own style early on. You just have to understand that you’re doing something serious for other people, and you’re not going to do everything you want to do right away.”

Despite having an intense apprenticeship and fifteen years of experience, Cookie says that he’ll be learning for the rest of his life.

“There's no instant gratification to this, it’s not easy, and it’s a lot of responsibility,” he says. “It takes a really long time to master, and you have to be doing it for the right reasons. There’s never a *poof*, you're a tattooer.”

He’s worked at Ink Inc. as well as a couple of other shops before ending up at Graceland Tattoo in Wappinger Falls. His tattooing career has also give him a platform to explore printmaking and original art; his Etsy shop is called RocknRollArtSchool and sells his work inspired by a mix of rock, horror and pop culture.

His advice to anyone looking to join the industry? There’s more to tattooing than just doing the tattoo.

“There is no overnight success when it comes to tattooing… if you think it's easy, you're doing something wrong,” he says. “It's about committing fully to the craft. It’s not about being a rock star, or getting chicks, or anything like that. You have to love it, be dedicated and respect it.”

Today, Cookie is still focused on the fundamentals of tattooing.

“As I watch my tattoos age over time, I’m really into american traditional tattooing,” he says. “Bold, simple, bright designs will that last over time. There's a reason that a 40 or 50 year old tattoo of an eagle or a rose just holds up, because of the boldness and simplicity of the design. So the foremost thing I think about is longevity, how it'll hold up over time.”

To see more of Cookie’s work, check out his Instagram.

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