GASTOWN’S EARLY TATTOO ORIGINS
In a hood where inked-up skin is almost a right of passage, Gastown Tattoo Parlour is right at home.
“I always loved Gastown. It has an old-time vibe that really meshed with our aesthetic,” says shop owner, Mitch Kirilo.
Dragon Tattoo Shop in Maple Tree Square, c.1967. Photo courtesy of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-340
Years ago, Mitch worked in the neighourhood and recalls its early tattoo origins. Ed Hardy, known as the Godfather of Modern Tattoo, set up his old “Dragon Tattoo Shop” in the Alhambra building in Maple Tree Square. “I worked on the same block where his shop was, and I knew that I wanted to open my own studio in a neighbourhood that has so much history,” he recalls.
In 2011, Mitch opened Gastown Tattoo Parlour after discovering a vacant multi-level space across from the Woodwards building. And, it definitely does not look like your average tattoo shop. The parlour was designed as an open-concept creative studio with five workstations and an underground drawing room. It’s also completely modernized with vibrant artworks and impressive taxidermy mounted throughout the space.
In a few short years, GTP has developed into a one-stop shop that houses its own state-of-the-art laser removal clinic (operated by business partner, Ed Miller) and a collection of eclectic curios, from Diablo Organics jewellery, to stylish hand-made aprons by Search & Rescue.
CHANGING THE SCOPE
Although tattooing has become more accepted on a mainstream level, there’s still a bit of intimidation. Many perceive shops to be the cliché, biker-affiliated type joints with a too-cool-for-school attitude – and Mitch is keen on changing the image.
“I want to break that stereotype of the crusty old tattooer who doesn’t have the time of day to talk to you,” Mitch says. “Our main goal is to provide a friendly, approachable environment. I want everyone that comes in to feel welcome.”
The industry has seen a new wave of clients who acknowledge the art as a form of therapy. “Tattooing definitely forms close relationships. It’s easy to share personal stories when you’re spending a lot of time with a client during the process,” he notes. “I’ve met a lot of friends through tattooing. You really get to know people on a deeper level.”
OLD SCHOOL VALUES
The shop stays true to the tradition of custom tattooing, which focuses primarily on original drawings that are custom-made to reflect each client’s personality.
And, with nine talented artists on its roster, Gastown Tattoo offers a full spectrum of styles from American traditional to New School Illustrative. “Making tattoos that last is a big priority. Some tattoo shops will just do what a client asks to earn a quick dollar, but here we’re putting out the best work that we can.”
Furthermore, these artists are in high demand and some are fully booked until November. But, with monthly walk-in days (which operate on a first-come-first-serve basis), clients have the opportunity to forgo the waiting list and walk out with new ink.
“We do a lot of flash tattoos based on the old school tradition of walk-in days,” he notes. Artists have created their own books, where clients can view and choose from pages of elaborate, one-off flash designs and references.
And, if you’re can’t wait, the GTP crew will offer first-come-first-serve flash tattoos at the Vancouver Tattoo Show next weekend. The annual convention draws world-class talent into one room, giving Vancouver artists a chance to put their work on the map. Last year, Mitch stood in front of a panel of veteran judges and received the show’s award for the best full body colour tattoo.
Next month, Gastown Tattoo will celebrate their fourth anniversary and is set to welcome a bevvy of international artists for guest spots throughout the year.
Looking back at what the shop has achieved in four years, Mitch says he is the most proud of the crew. “Everyone here has a good attitude and work ethic. I like having a shop of likeminded people who care about the industry.”
It’s crucial to be in good hands when getting inked, he explains, “You should feel comfortable with your artist. It’s like a relationship – you’re not just bringing your car in to get work done.”