Andy Canino on sacrifice, honesty and confidence

Andy Canino started out with a basic tattooing kit and a natural talent for art. He figured out how to tattoo on his own, and has been tattooing professionally for almost a decade. He is now co-owner of Dedication Tattoo. Westword recently sat down with Canino, who talked about making sacrifices, being honest with himself and the importance of confidence.

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Westword: How long have you been tattooing?

Andy Canino: I've been in a shop for about nine years now. I was tattooing prior to that out of my house, being one of those guys.

How did you get into tattooing? What drew you to the art form?

I started getting tattooed at sixteen up in Fort Collins. My godmother signed for me to get my first one. I just kept getting tattoos there and I kept asking a lot of questions. At one point, the guy I was getting tattooed by was like, "Hey, you're asking a lot of questions. Is this something you want to get into?" I'm like seventeen at the time, like, "Yeah, absolutely, man." He said to give him X amount of dollars and we would get me set up with everything I'd need. So I did, and he did, kind of. He got me the basics, though. I took it home, set it all up the best that I could, and realized I had no idea what I was doing. So I went back to talk to him and he was gone. He had essentially disappeared off the face of the planet. So I was stuck with all this tattoo gear and, being some dumb kid, I was like, "Well, I'll figure it out." Having roots in art my whole life -- my mom raised me to be an artist; she said, "Here's a crayon, figure out what to do with it" -- well, here's a tattoo machine, figure out what to do with it. So I did it to the best of my ability, a bunch of trial and error on myself and on my friends -- mostly error. I learned a lot of what not to do. Looking back on it, I'm surprised I made some of the tattoos that I did. But yeah, you know, here we are now. It worked out okay. It probably took longer that it should have, figuring out how to do everything, but I got the hang of it eventually.

What styles do you like to work in?

Preferentially, I like to do traditional stuff -- strong lines, black shading, dense color. But I like to do tattoos that look like tattoos. The first shop I worked at was more along the lines of a street shop, where people would come in and pick stuff off the walls. There was a lot on the walls to choose from in every style so, advantageously, that gave me the opportunity to expand my abilities as far as what kind of tattoos I can make. If someone comes in the door wanting a black-and-gray tattoo, I can do it. If someone wants Japanese style, I love doing Japanese stuff. It's a lot of fun. I would like to think I can accommodate most requests. But I try to stick with traditional as much as I can. A lot of my clients and return clients are typically getting traditional stuff from me. Mostly just tattoos that look like tattoos.

Continue reading for the rest of the Q&A with Canino.

What would you say are some challenges to being a tattoo artist?

Trying to continue to grow. Trying not to stagnate. I've worked around people in the past who have lost their passion for tattooing. And it's not a challenge for me to maintain passion, but it is a challenge to not get comfortable -- to continue to grow, continue to learn, continue to study different types of tattooing, the stories behind certain styles like Japanese or American or otherwise. Just continuing to constantly feed your brain and just live tattooing. You have to sacrifice a lot of stuff to do that. When kids are first getting into tattooing, I'd say, "You probably want to just dump your boyfriend or girlfriend right now, because you're gonna live this." Sometimes that's a challenge for a lot of people; it's sometimes a challenge for me. Sometimes I'll take my focus away from tattooing and put it into a hobby, then I need to reevaluate what I'm doing and put it back into tattooing because it's the most important thing to me.

When you were starting out, did you feel pressure about creating something so permanent?

Oddly, no. I did my first handful of tattoos on myself, and I would like to think I approached it with a certain amount of honesty with myself that, if I were doing just terrible tattoos, I would be able to say, "This isn't for you. This is not your strong suit. You already suck at this. Don't pursue it." I was able to do that with other mediums, like I'm terrible at sculpting, terrible at working on Photoshop and stuff like that. I know that. I wanted to approach tattooing with the same amount of honesty with myself, so I did it on myself and was like, "Well, I've seen worse coming out of shops, so this can't be that bad if I just keep with it." I had a lot of friends who were super-supportive of me, so they let me put almost certainly atrocious tattoos on them. But the sense of permanence never really concerned me. It was just a matter of approaching it with a certain amount of confidence and hoping for the best.

Do you work in other media?

Most of the art I do is tattoo related -- tattooable pictures, painting flash, stuff like that. Sam [Yamini] and I have taken on the project of trying to do one sheet of flash per week. So it's just like an 11 inch by 14 inch sheet of designs. I painted a back piece recently. Just things that can be tattooed on people because you need to stay fresh and everything. I'll do a little bit of portrait watercolor, but that's completely aside from tattooing. In no way, shape or form do I want to do color portrait tattoos. It's just a fun, weird, kind of perverted outlet for me because it's just paintings of dirty girls and stuff, being weird. So yeah, mostly tattoo designs, watercolor and a little bit of portraiture.

For more information, visit Dedication's website or follow Canino on Instagram @a_canino.

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