Chris Dominick always doodled and sketched, and was accepted to study art at Stevenson University. But when he got there, he loved art but not studying.
So he left school and became a bartender. Then he met a man who offered him a different sort of artist's job.
For the past eight months, Dominick, 23, of Parkton, apprenticed at Marked 4 Life tattoo studio in Edgewood. Now he is considered a bona fide tattoo artist.
"When I tell people I'm a full-time artist, they think it's cool. But I get different reactions when I tell them I'm a tattoo artist," said Dominick, a 2007 Hereford High School graduate. "It's almost a sacred thing to be an apprentice. It's the accepted way to pay your dues. This has been a lot of hard work, but it's perfect for me."
On July 2, Dominick recently worked on a tattoo for Candi Brosman, a family friend, at Marked 4 Life.
He added more color to the cupcake he had previously tattooed on the inside of Brosman's wrist. She was having Dominick redraw it so it had turquoise and white striped icing with a cookie on top.
"I bake every single day for my family, and I'm at a point in my life where I wanted to do something for myself," Brosman said as Dominick used an electric tattoo machine. He held the needle steady over her arm as he drew the ink into her skin.
"It sort of burns," Brosman said as Dominick hunched over her wrist. "But it sort of feels good, too."
When he finished, she looked at it and said, "Cool. I like it."
Her 19-year-old daughter, Alison Brosman watched. Alison has one of Dominick's tattoos, too: the words "So it goes" on the inside of her wrist.
"It's from 'Slaughterhouse-Five,' my favorite book," Alison Brosman said. "Chris tattooed it in typewriter font so it looks like it would in the book." The phrase is in the book many times, spoken by the book's narrator every time someone dies.
Dominick said he got his first tattoo — his initials on his arm — when he was just 16. He now has 15 tattoos, most done by other artists. He is in the middle of tattooing his leg with a skull representing a Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead.
From rubber to skin
When Dominick started his apprenticeship last year, the first thing he did was observe as his mentor, Jake Von Holzer, 35, tattooed customers.
"We did a trial for about two weeks to see if we could get along," Von Holzer said. "Nine out of 10 apprentices fail because it's harder than they thought. But Chris is both a good artist and a people person."
Under Von Holzer's tutelage, Dominick had to practice tattooing pieces of rubber to learn how to keep the needle pressure constant.
Then he got some real experience tattooing humans when his parents, Jane and Tom, volunteered their skin as Dominick's "canvas."
"Jake tattooed a flower on my shoulder and Chris did the vines," Jane Dominick said. "He did it freehand. I love it."
Jane Dominick admits she was upset when Chris announced that he was going to become a tattoo artist. "But now I see how hard he's working. I'm proud of him," she said.
Candi Brosman is so happy with Dominick's work that she is planning to return for more tattoos. She wants to add other baking essentials to her arm, like a hand-held mixer and an apron.
Dominick has plenty of work these days, since Von Holzer has moved to a new job at a tattoo studio in Florida. Many of his customers are now Dominick's.
"What I love about this job is that every day is different," Dominick said. "I can never have a bad day and I know I only get one chance to do it right. But that's what I love about it."