Even if you’re the first of the day to sit down in Mark Fernandez’s chair, he has already worked all morning on your tattoo. From the moment he wakes up, he gets his head right and thinks about the opportunities ahead of him.
If I were to describe my morning, it’s getting myself ready for the opportunities to do this right. I want to make sure every client gets this out of me, they deserve that.
Mark believes the experience is more than merely the tattoo itself.
It’s almost a necessity to get a tattoo for some people. An intention for fulfilling a need. There’s a big adrenaline rush, a vulnerability. Sitting down and expressing a sentiment for wanting it. This is personal.
It’s personal for him too.
You can find tattoo shops all over. But it really is about giving something people can’t get around the corner. You can go anywhere to get a tattoo. What I hope sets me apart from the masses is a little more care toward the person getting it. I don’t set up my equipment to fail.
And, it’s even deeper than that.
I’ve always enjoyed making it more about the person getting the tattoo than what I got out of doing it.
It’s a kind of social magic. Maybe even spiritual. A lot of times, it resets a person’s computer. Like skydiving. But the thrill lasts a little longer.
His career didn’t exactly start out this way. It was a fascination with graffiti art, a passion created ironically after a major disaster.
I lived in Miami and in 1992, hurricane Andrew hit. It leveled my neighborhood. A couple months after, I saw street art. (Later I learned it was graffiti.) I was drawn to the colors and its poppy-looking art. It was super cool.
Eyes now open to art, he later realized Miami was full of it. And he found himself wanting a tattoo of his own.
I wanted one when tattoos didn't really hit mainstream America yet, it wasn't on TV and it was very much a subculture. The music I was listening to — punk rock, rock and roll, even in the skateboarding culture, all the artists had tattoos. I wanted one of my own.
Mark’s first tattoo was done by a graffiti artist.
It was pretty great and I identified with his style. He was nice and personable. I learned from him that a lot of tattooing is about interaction.
Guys that have been doing this long before me have said, you don't have to be the best tattooer, you have to be the most personable.
He went on to work as an apprentice where, above all else, he learned the value of self awareness.
I learned that to get to a place where you embody what it means to be a professional through your successes and your failures. Self awareness is what gets you to this level. It’s what distinguishes you. I never want to perceive that I know it all. Or that I have all the answers. I’m really big on self-analyzing and seeing what the day gave me, but also what I gave the day.
So what does this mean for his clients?
It means restraint, control and the ability to make good decisions for everyone involved, not just myself. This is a trade where I think, just because I can doesn't mean I should.
When asked to tattoo pieces that he knows won’t stand the test of time, that is when self awareness comes into play.
I can give you that tiny tattoo you saw on Pinterest, three little sentences that you asked for, but that I know will bleed together in a year. But I don’t. Because I know I shouldn’t. I want you to be just as proud of it, 5 years after wearing it. I am representing myself as a craftsman and I want my work to mean something.
When asked about his style, Mark has a simple answer.
I don’t have one.
He believes you can’t master it all, but there’s something to be said about being able to do a little bit of everything.
I have a hand. And when my hand works it makes a certain signature. I never fell into the world of just doing what you were good at. The artists I looked up to were good at doing everything. There are a lot of aspects of this job where if you want to stay relevant you’ve got to work at it. I never want to be in a spot where I can’t give a client a tattoo they need.
Some of his work stands out in his memories not by the piece, but by the reactions.
I’ve seen a lot of reactions from clients, but I remember the ones who immediately gasp, or kind of hop in the chair, or even say nothing. Theres a lot of personalities that come in the door. It’s important to be good to all of them. A tattoo could be a 5 minute ordeal but last every bit of their lifetime. They could be coming in to get a tattoo because they just had a horrible experience. You never really know how you’re affecting them. You just know you need to provide a positive experience either way. From the conversation to how I made them feel.
Yes, tattoos last forever. But Mark hopes that the experience itself will too.
I’ve worked so hard to do this properly. I never want to waste the opportunity. I hope you’ll get out of my chair and have this experience in your mind forever. I constantly tell folks, I hope this was a good memory.