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A Curious Calling: Mil Martinez

Xanthi Barker finds odd jobs that have nothing to do with 9 to 5

Written by . Published on July 4th 2011.

A Curious Calling: Mil Martinez

TATTOOING is a club whose most notorious members stereotypically include pirates, soldiers, gang-leaders and murderers. But nowadays it is often harder to find people who don’t have tattoos. I’ve got a physics equation on my bum, conducted one sleepless weekend with my teenage best friend. Thinking this renders me equipped with some kind of insider’s knowledge, I head to Diamond Jack’s to meet Mil Martinez, 29. Finding three walking, talking canvasses, I realise I know nothing at all. Martinez grins at me, with his half-covered face. He sticks out his colourful arm to shake my hand and already I can spot a wolf, horse and drowning heart. He has worked here for five years and cannot remember the number of hours spent tattooing himself, let alone how many he’s got. Once a carpenter and a grave-digger, and now also a pro-wrestler, Martinez is the complete opposite of threatening.

How did you become a tattoo artist?
It’s a very working class job. You don’t go to college. You get a foot in the door and work hard. You have people teaching you, but really it’s whether or not you have the skill. I know people that are awesome artists and they struggle to pick up a tattoo machine. And others who aren’t the best artists, but understand the machinery. I’m not an art student. I just fell in love with tattooing.

When people don’t know what’s going on they look for reasons to panic. You have to get them some red bull and speak in a calming voice.

Do you think there’s a stigma to it?
It’s gradually disappearing, but that’s why you get these people coming in, all timid and nervous, going, ‘I want something really little’. Six months later they come in for their seventh and you think ‘wow, you looked like a frightened, little kid!’ A lot of it’s down to how people perceive this industry and people from it. I’m not an aggressive person. Im a little softy. I’ve had someone come up to me in the street and poke me and say ‘what’s that?’ It was just some mad, old woman who wanted a chat at the bus stop. We got the bus all the way to the west end and she was my best mate when we got there.

Does your mum mind?
Believe it or not, she wasn’t that bothered. She thinks it’s great that I chose to do something different with my life. My dad isn’t a fan. He comes from quite a strict, religious Spanish family. When I wanted my ears pierced when I was twelve he said ‘If God had wanted you to have holes in your ears you would’ve been born with them’.



How about your girlfriend?
She manages a tattoo shop and has more tattoos than me!

Do you ever tattoo each other?
I tattoo her all the time. And she’s had a little go on me. But when I met her she was pretty much full, so my job has just been to fill in the gaps.

Is it hard when people come in for really poignant tattoos?
When you see someone whose very emotional about something you step up the game. You wanna make them feel as safe as possible. They’re gonna carry that for the rest of their life. So you’ve gotta make sure you’re 100 per cent everyday. It’s so stressful. You don’t leave your work in the shop. I draw every night, preparing for the next day.

Has anyone had a really bad reaction?
I had a woman last week who looked so unhappy and when she stood up and looked in the mirror she went ‘oh thank god! It looks beautiful!’ I was looking down the whole time and all I saw was mess everywhere’. That’s because I hadn’t washed the ink off yet. When people don’t know what’s going on they look for reasons to panic. You have to get them some red bull and speak in a calming voice.

Had to tattoo any really weird places?
I tattooed a penis before. It’s uncomfortable. You’re working on a sensitive area and that person’s uncomfortable having a sensitive area out in front of you. You’ve got to keep them calm and try to keep yourself calm, but it’s not the best piece of skin anyway.

Any advice for future tattoo artists?
If you love tattooing, I’m all for it. If you wanna get heavily tattooed and you love the industry then great. But if you walk in thinking your amazing because you got a first from university in fine art, you’re not going to get much respect from a guy who’s been working in shops for twenty years. They’ll treat you like an idiot.

To read about more curious callings, please click here


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Nicole DalamagasJuly 5th 2011.

'Once a carpenter and a grave-digger, and now also a pro-wrestler' - hahaha!

Graham CharlesJuly 6th 2011.

i like the bit where he talks about being a tattoo artist

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