• Ceara

Our Tattoo Family - Part 2

3 Things we learned from each other along the way...

Last week I knew exactly what I wanted to say here this week... a week changes a lot! I had intended to write more to introduce our crew (immediate tattoo family, blah, blah, blah), but came to the conclusion that it wouldn't do much to explain what makes us a family (of sorts) or why I think of us as a kind of family.

A quick Google of "family meaning" threw up this definition:

"family /ˈfamɪli,ˈfam(ə)li/

noun noun: family; plural noun: families


a group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit. "she moved in with her boyfriend's family"synonyms:household, ménage; More a group of people related by blood or marriage. "friends and family can provide support"synonyms:relatives, relations, blood relations, family members, kin, next of kin, kinsfolk, kinsmen, kinswomen, kindred, one's (own) flesh and blood, connections; More the children of a person or couple being discussed. "she has the sole responsibility for a large family"synonyms:children, little ones, youngsters; More INFORMAL a local organizational unit of the Mafia or other large criminal group.


all the descendants of a common ancestor. "the house has been owned by the same family for 300 years"synonyms:ancestry, parentage, birth, pedigree, genealogy, background, family tree, descent, lineage, line, line of descent, bloodline, blood, extraction, derivation, race, strain, stock, breed; More a group of peoples from a common stock.

3. a group of related things. "all manuscripts that share this reading constitute a family" BIOLOGY a principal taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below order, usually ending in -idae (in zoology) or -aceae (in botany). "the cabbage family"synonyms:taxonomic group, group, order, class, subclass, genus, species"

Well, we're not parents and children, we're not related by blood or marriage, we may share a common ancestor(?) - but this is a pretty tenuous link for a whole blog post - and, although tattoo may be (or may once have been) considered pretty dodgy by some people, we're not part of the Mafia or other organised crime ring.

We seem to be more of a "group of related things". We are in the tattoo industry. We are each parts that make up The Gallery's whole. It is not so much how we initially became connected but how we stay connected that makes us this group of related things.

Sure, on the surface, we have tattoo in common. But, thanks to the apprenticeship process (and/or time together), we now have a few shared traits that we learned along the way.

For the sake of blogginess, I'll share 3 of them with you here:

1 - Patience

Now, as tattooing is quite a slow process, you might think that this comes easily to us ... but this isn't necessarily the case. Some of our crew (Rose, Jake and Cam) came to The Gallery with more patience than others (Mario and I). Mario and I have been pretty impatient at times, but this is changing. And we are usually impatient because we see potential and want to see it realised.

You see, the main attribute we seek in any hopeful apprentice is potential - the promise of what they could be, creatively, as tattoo artists and as co-workers. Each of our apprentices has come to us from a different background, with a different skill base and with loads of potential. Mario and I can visualise so clearly what wonderful tattoo artists they each could be that we have, at times, moved too fast or pushed too hard to see that potential realised. And, each time we pushed too hard, it has bitten us in the butt!

Development of others can't be pushed at the pace we choose. In order for someone to reach their potential, they first have to recognise this potential - you can't aim for the goal if you have no idea where it is! So we have learned to slow down and communicate with each apprentice what we see in them and for them. Then we are all one step closer to reaching a shared goal.

2 - Trust

Trust develops and is earned over time. Trust is easier lost than gained.

Each member of our team has had, initially, a baseline of trust in one another. We trust that we will treat one another with respect. Our apprentices trust that Mario will help them develop as tattoo artists and that I will help them develop their business. We, in turn, trust that they will always strive to develop as tattoo artists. I won't claim that any of us are perfect - but some of us (Cam (wink emoji)) are more perfect than others.

I mentioned that Mario and I have, at times, pushed our apprentices too hard in order to see them reach our perceptions of their potential and that, each time, it bit us - hard! Each time we lost trust. The apprentice lost trust in our ability to teach them and lost trust in their own ability as trainee tattoo artists. It is heartbreaking to lose someone's trust. It's more heartbreaking to see another person lose trust in themselves.

Over time Mario and I have learned to look to ourselves first when this has happened and to change our own behaviours in order to inspire and earn trust again. We have learned to put our own feelings aside and seek to provide what is needed, whether it is knowledge, training, support, positive feedback or an apology. We are lucky that our crew will often be open enough to let us know what it is that is needed.

The trick is to be consistent. You can't apologise once and then revert back to the same behaviour that lead to it. You actually have to hold yourself accountable (however bad that makes you feel) and make changes to prevent loss of trust from occurring again.

Over time we have lost some trust but I am pretty sure that we have earned more. And, over the years we have learned to trust our team a whole lot!

3 - Gentleness

One trait that Mario, Cam, Jake, Rose and I share is that we are all incredibly self-critical. This is one trait Mario and I seek in any potential member of our crew. When we first began imagining what The Gallery could be, we imagined that it would become a home to AMAZING tattoo artists and that any artist working with us would always strive to keep developing their craft. To this end, being self-critical is an asset as, in order to develop, we must first see imperfection.

But when we look at ourselves and our work and ONLY look for the imperfect we begin to see only the flaws. Do this too often and the faults can seem too great to overcome - they can become crippling. In order to develop anything (art, skill, knowledge, ourselves...) we must first see that it is worth developing and that it has potential to be improved. See too many faults and we fail to see any point in improving it - it becomes unworthy of time and effort.

I have seen every artist in our team reach this crippling point with a tattoo design. When this happens they lose faith in their own ability to create anything beautiful. This is where trust comes in. When this happens they have to trust that one or more of the rest of us will see the beauty and potential in what they are creating, and trust that we will gently help them to see it for themselves.

In order to prevent self-doubt from crippling us we have to learn to be gentle with ourselves - moderate the self-critique so that we can function to the best of our ability. Strangely, if we are frozen by self-doubt we are more likely to be ill-tempered and treat one another badly. The wonderful thing about learning to be gentle on ourselves is that, when you are gentle with yourself you are more able to be gentle with each other.

And that is a little of what has made us a kind of family.


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