‘My body is a temple,” said Benoit Landry with all the piousness of a Jesuit monk.
“I’m just painting the walls.”
Landry owns and runs Skin Touch Tattoo out of his home in Whitehorse.
All of his work is original.
He works with the customer on each tattoo, getting to know them to find out exactly what they want.
After all, the tattoo will last longer than you do.
And after he’s finished, he throws the artwork away.
One of his customers had a large hairy mole on his back, about the size of a dime.
Landry tattooed around it, giving the mole eight spidery legs, and turning a defect into art.
Throughout history and different cultures, tattooing has had many different meanings.
It’s been used to mark both thieves and heroes.
The Maori people of New Zealand have used facial tattooing to instil fear in the enemy.
In the case of the Russian and Japanese mafias, tattoos can signify membership in a group.
But to Landry, it’s a sign of individualism and high art.
He’s been honing his skill since 1990.
His previous work with an airbrush doing custom paint jobs on Harley-Davidsons prepared him for tattooing.
“Everybody was bugging me, saying I should try it,” he said.
“So I went out and bought the equipment — I jumped right into it.”
While a lot of people tend to start with homemade machines, Landry invested $3,000 for proper gear.
A friend was trusting enough to let him attempt his first tattoo.
The deal was that Landry would redo the job later on, once he had more experience.
But he did such a good job the first time it wasn’t necessary.
The little lion on his friend’s shoulder took more than five hours to complete.
Now it wouldn’t take him any more than 15 minutes.
Many tattoo artists learn their craft as apprentices, but there are schools in the US and Germany that offer tattoo courses.
The courses teach a wide range of tattoo knowledge, including customer service, art and history.
When Captain James Cook came back from the Polynesian Islands, he brought with him strange stories of the islanders printing signs on their bodies.
They called it “tattaw” and his sailors wore the marks themselves as evidence.
It wasn’t the first time that the European continent had seen ritual tattooing.
Otzi the Iceman, a frozen mummy discovered on the border between Austria and Italy, had 57 carbon tattoos on his body.
He is estimated to be around 5,200 years old.
Landry insists that today’s tattooing, a far cry from the techniques used by the Polynesians and Otzi, is perfectly safe.
“With all of the precautions that we take, it’s nearly impossible to get sick from a tattoo,” he said.
“I bend every needle in front of the customer to show them that it won’t be used again.”
When the modern art form was still in its infancy, various inks, such as printer toner, were used.
In some cases, these inks could be toxic.
But special tattooing inks have been created without toxic heavy metals and carcinogens.
Oddly enough, Landry himself has only one small tattoo — stitching on the inside of his lower lip.
“It’s like the carpenter with an old house, or the mechanic who drives a bad car,” he said.
“The problem is that I won’t go to anyone who’s not as picky as me.”
He is planning to travel south to get a large work done on his shoulder, back and arm.
And someday he hopes to travel to Borneo and receive traditional tattoos.
Perhaps on the same trip he’ll head down to New Zealand for a traditional Maori facial tattoo as well.
Landry is a multimedia artist and runs his tattoo parlour under the umbrella of his main business, Northern Art Design.
“Right now the tattoo work is good money, but I’d like to focus more on my metal work and other art.”
It may not be so easy to retire.
Landry is currently working on seven sleeves, tattoos that cover the entire arm or leg and take much more time to finish.
One of his customers is getting a complete body suit, from the neck down to his ankles.
This can take anywhere from two to 10 years to fully complete.
“As soon as I screw up once I will quit, the same if my hand ever starts to shake.”
Landry has worked across the country, starting in his home province of New Brunswick and moving to Montreal and BC.
He has lived and worked in Whitehorse for three-and-a-half years and is one of three tattoo artists in the area.
But there’s no competition, he said.
“Everyone has a different style. It’s great to see different people’s work and that people have more options.”