Before opening Corilliam Ink with Ben Cordova in 2019, Destiny Williams always knew she wanted to be a tattoo artist. She spent her childhood drawing on herself with gel pens and Sharpies.
One day when she was sixteen, Williams and her mom entered Denver’s Endless Ink Tattoo & Piercing to support its fundraiser for cancer.
“My mom knew I wanted to be a tattoo artist,” Williams reminisces. “While getting our tattoos, she asked what it took to be an apprentice and how hard it is to be an artist. I felt so put on the spot. Eventually they said, ‘If she is really serious, bring in some artwork this weekend, and we'll decide.’"
Williams jumped at the chance and showed her portfolio of pen and ink watercolor portraits. There were images of her family and friends; acrylic paintings of birds and other animals; sketches from years of art classes; and photos of murals of the Statue of Liberty. There was even an image of the Go Green slogan with smokestacks wrapped in foliage, solar panels, and a figure of Mother Nature wrapped in a recycling symbol.
At the time that Williams and her mom had gone to the shop, five permanent artists and various guest artists were working at Endless Ink. They were impressed with Williams’s work when they saw it, and they took her under their wings.
“I was put under Jeremiah Heller and Brian Wall, but I learned a little from everyone,” Williams explains. “Robert Martinez and I remain close friends. Adrian Hernandez always made sure to connect me with his network of friends to keep me busy and expand my skills. I appreciate everything they taught me about the industry and craftmanship.”
At Endless Ink, Williams studied the basics of tattooing. She learned how to completely disassemble, clean and troubleshoot her tools, prevent cross-contamination, manage needle depth, shade and color, and more.
After her apprenticeship, Williams freelanced as a tattoo artist, using her own supplies and traveling to the homes of friends and family. “I freelanced off and on for about two and a half years,” Williams says. “After a while, I decided traveling was just a hassle. My grandparents helped me build my own studio at home. We put in tile floors, a sink, and everything to make the space up to health code in our basement.”
In-between freelancing, she had some odd jobs to keep her afloat. Eventually, her grandparents thought it was time for Williams to stop doing tattoos in their basement.
“My grandparents were tired of strangers in and out of our house,” Williams explains. “I went back to Endless Ink once I was ready to tattoo full-time. Timing was actually a big factor. I was trying to decide where to go when the owner called and said they had lost an artist. They wanted to give me a real shot.”
When Williams returned to Endless Ink, the business was set up as a tattoo shop and barber shop. To avoid cross-contamination, there were private rooms that could each hold two artists and their equipment. She shared a 150-square-foot room with Ben Cordova, who became a close friend.
“Working closely, you learn a lot about one another,” Williams explains. “[We] not only gained respect, but a true understanding and friendship. Ben would be there to help me through tough times, give advice when warranted, but some days just listen like a big brother.”
“We had each other’s back early on,” Cordova says. “We always kept an eye on each other and helped each other.”
After working at Endless Ink and Master Peace Tattoo, they decided they wanted take hold of their destiny and run their own tattoo parlor.
“After [eight] years, we’ve become quite the team. We found this location with our previous partner at Master Peace. We loved the view, balcony and open layout. Originally, it was just open space with carpet.
“We had a team build all the booths, divide our break room, and set up [plumbing, flooring, and framing] how we wanted,” Williams adds. “We have easy highway access, but away from the hustle and bustle of a main strip like Colfax. Our team of artists were found through job ads on Facebook and word of mouth, like most of our clientele.”
The shop, at 5253 West 48th Avenue, opened in September 2019.
“Corilliam is a combination of our last names, Cordova and Williams,” Williams says. “It was a new element and reminded us of something like Adamantium from X-Men — a symbol of our journey.”
Cordova says the name symbolizes their partnership, "the bond and respect Destiny and I have for each other as artists, and our combined dedication, drive and commitment we have creating our success as a team. Destiny is reliable, talented and driven, which is hard to find these days.”
The pair's friends, family and clients have supported Corilliam Ink from day one.
“My grandfather actually is the best at just walking up to random people, handing out my cards and telling them how proud he is,” Williams says. “My grandmother only has one tattoo, [which] she got when I first started [tattooing] to support me, and still passes out my cards as well.”
Corilliam Ink also thrives because of their strong family bonds with their team of artists: Tanya Couser, Anthony Johnson and Kris Vanleuven.
“I think Ben and I being so family-oriented in our personal lives has made us want our artists to feel at home and happy working with us,” Williams says. “Life happens. We all know that, and help and support each other in more than just the work environment. We ask about each others’ family, personal struggles and the crazy world we live in. We genuinely care for one another more than just co-workers or employees.”
In October 2020, the Corilliam Ink family rallied together to hold a fundraiser for Cordova’s daughter-in-law, Deidre, who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“We had a few sheets with various designs for people to pick from,” Williams says. “Standard size and simple line work for $25 and additions would increase price. But the initial $25 was all donated to Deidre’s battle. People also had the option to just donate if they didn’t want a tattoo. Every person who donated was entered into a raffle for a $200 tattoo gift certificate.”
Kris Vanleuven owns a shop in Utah called Arcane Ink Tattoo. He recruited his shop's artists to help with the fundraiser, and they also donated their proceeds of $2,000. When the fundraiser ended, Corilliam Ink raised approximately $12,000. Most of the money went to Deidre, and the rest went to replenishing art supplies and occasional lunches at Corilliam Ink.
“As of Christmas Eve, [Deidre] is 100 percent cancer-free,” Cordova says. “She struggled with it for about six months. The fundraiser helped her and the family immensely with bills and the financial burdens that came along with her having to take the time off fighting her battle.”
Tanya Couser, a tattoo artist who’s been with Corilliam Ink for about eight months, says participating in the fundraiser “gave me some faith in humanity, seeing how the whole shop and community came through to help.”
The fundraiser, implementing COVID-specific safety standards, and the support from clients, friends and family, kept Corilliam Ink afloat during the pandemic. In 2021, Corilliam wants to start offering piercing and permanent makeup services. But the shop still plans to focus on artistic tattoos.
“We want everyone to not only love their artwork, but never forget the experience and feeling of Corilliam Ink,” Williams explains. “Our clients are more than clients to us. They are our friends.”
For more information about Corilliam Ink, visit the shop's Facebook page.
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