Steve Morin started small, tattooing a simple cross on his arm.
Today he is the latest professional tattoo artist to open up shop in Whitehorse.
Pale Pony Tattoos and Piercings opened a month ago and has enjoyed a steady flow of customers ever since.
“Whitehorse has been very welcoming,” Morin said.
The name, he said, is from an old nickname for the Yukon capital that no business in town uses.
He’s learned a lot since his first tattoo, partly because technology has evolved a lot in the past few decades, and partly because he was 11 when he first put ink to skin.
He went for a small cross thinking it would be a good compromise with his religious grandmother.
“Turns out she was pretty angry,” he said, laughing.
After working a few years in cable TV — to please his family — he went looking for a tattoo apprenticeship.
“This is still a very traditional craft and trade,” he said.
Now an award-winning artist, he’s accumulated 20 years of experience, mostly in Ontario, where he grew up.
As his experience grew, so did his tattoos. There is a black and white snake covering most of his scalp, dark sleeve tattoos along each arm, letters under his chin and on his throat, and a giant rose between his shoulder and his neck.
The most painful one? The outline of a face done on the palm of his left hand.
“Absolute torture,” he said.
He moved to the Yukon last summer, following “the love of my life.”
He’s done all sorts of tattoos in all sorts of places.
“I’ve tattooed everywhere,” he said, when asked if he has ever tattooed a person’s behind.
For teenagers trying to get a tattoo without their parents’ approval, he only has two words: “Get out.”
He’ll tattoo anything, as long as it’s not racist or gang-related.
“No idea is really stupid,” he said. “What may seem stupid (to me) might mean a whole lot to somebody else.”
He will, however, warn customers if he thinks a tattoo won’t look very good in a few years.
“I try to educate people now versus what everybody else seems to be doing in town,” Morin said.
Overly detailed tattoos with too many lines or small letters won’t look good five years later, he said.
“If you make it a little bit bigger — simple — it will last longer,” he said.
Tattooing isn’t just an art: it requires some understanding of how the body works.
“You have to know how deep you can go, how fast to move,” he said. “You need to understand how the body is designed.”
When a customer requests a tattoo, Morin says it’s not as simple as slapping a design on any part of the body.
“You design a tattoo to fit that area. You don’t just put a tattoo in that area,” he said. “It has to look good in that spot.”
With the rise of TV shows like Ink Masters, Morin finds that the general public has become more educated about the industry.
But there’s still plenty to teach. One common misconception is how the body interacts with the tattoo pigments.
“Your tattoo never heals,” he said. “It’s the skin over your tattoo that heals.”
Over time the body absorbs some of the pigments, requiring “refreshers.”
That’s also how tattoo removal works: a laser will blow up pigments into smaller particles so the body can absorb them.
Morin particularly enjoys Polynesian tattoos, geometrical shapes often in black and white.
“Some have meanings. You can create stories with (them),” he said.
For most tattoos, he will use a stencil with the design to guide the image. But for Polynesian tattoos, he draws directly on the body with markers.
“It’s a lot of free-hand work,” he said.
On top of the business he co-created, Morin wants to get involved in the Whitehorse art community.
He also plans to meet with health officials to look at improving health regulations around tattooing.
“Tightening things… so people who are tattooing out of their houses can’t do it anymore,” he said. “You can’t cut corners on somebody’s health or life.”
Contact Pierre Chauvin at firstname.lastname@example.org