In a fairly small room with dazzling lights; paintings, rolling artist chairs, a work table and a few other essentials, 23-year-old Derrick Kunta holds a tattoo gun carefully ready to fulfil a client’s wish: ink a pattern on his hand.
“It’s a tough job. One that needs skills and attention to detail.”
A few months after high school, Derrick visited Knights Tattoo Shop in Nakuru town ready to fulfil his long-term wish: have a tattoo. Little did he know that his visit to the tattoo parlour would serve as the beginning of an unending love for tattooing.
“When I first came here for my first tattoo, I never thought tattooing would become my profession. I came solely to get a tattoo. I remember my current colleagues say that I would come back for another one. And true, I came back for my second tattoo. I loved the work and requested to learn the whole process. Within three months I had already mastered the whole process.”
Derrick works with three colleagues and all of them agree on one thing: Tattooing is all about passion.
“Without passion, you can’t succeed in any profession,” James Karumi, one of Derrick’s trainers and current colleague, says.
“Tattooing requires even more passion. Your job is to ink permanent images and patterns on someone’s skin. If you are not passionate about it, you will end up hurting your client and the business,” he adds.
Derrick adds that the secret to perfecting the art of tattooing is embracing every aspect of the job and working to do everything correctly.
“I strive to learn everything there is about tattooing. Constantly, I have to increase my knowledge about the tattoo business, trends and changes about tattoos and the industry at large. By committing myself to the whole tattoo profession, I become a better artist. I’m able to improve the quality of my work and increase customer satisfaction,” Derrick says.
Although myths and misconceptions about tattooing are still major challenge Derrick and his colleagues face, the business is fast growing. According to Henry Ndege, the oldest tattoo artist at Knights Tattoos, where Derrick also works, he has trained more than 30 tattoo artists who have since established their own tattoo shops in different parts of the country.
“This is my eleventh year as a tattoo artist. I learnt my skills back in 2004 from an Italian man in Malindi. Over the years, I began training those interested in the artisan. Compared to back then, the tattoo business in Kenya is in its golden years. Currently we received dozens of people who want tattoos every month,” Henry says.
Since he became a professional tattoo artist in 2014, Derrick no longer pursues a college degree. He has fallen in love with a professional that pays his bills and helps him save for future investments. Similar to his tattooing colleagues, Derrick charges Sh2,500 for a basic permanent tattoo . With each of tattoo artists in the shop receiving more than 50 tattooing requests from clients every month, it’s easy to see why he has no complaints about the financial aspect of the business.
“Many of the myths and misconceptions people have about tattoo come from either lack of enough information or resentful experiences from friends. A quality tattoo asks for imperative attention to detail, good eye to hand coordination and patience, ” Derrick says.
To clarify these misconceptions, Derrick and his colleagues note that they work hard to explicitly clarify any misunderstandings people have about tattooists in Kenya or the business as a whole.
Derrick shares the group’s goal for the next one year: Expand their business to include embellishing vehicles with showy decorations in Nakuru town. Together, the group of five also hopes to become the leading distributor of tattoo machines and all other essentials tattoo artists require in Kenya.
Knights Tattoos is based at Masters Plaza Room number B149 in Nakuru.
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