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Capitol Conversations: Ninjas and Needles

By Meghan Brink | December 5, 2021

(Photo Credit: Meghan Brink / The ASP)

Dustin Horon is a tattoo artist and the owner of the tattoo shop “The Dead President’s Lounge” in Albany N.Y. He has been tattooing since 2000.

I have to meet the people to tattoo them. It is so hard when it is a long-distance person and you are just going through email. It is very numb. I have to meet them and then I can ask questions. So let’s take a mandala. I’ll ask them about it. Do you like the pointiness of it or the roundness of this mandala? Where do you want to put it? I can get an idea of what it will look like on them by the photos they send me and the vibe they give too.

I ideally want to make the person happy, give them the best experience so ten years from now they remember every part of it, what we talked about, what it smelled like, what we listened to in here, and have everything be super positive. That is like one of my goals.

One time a client said something to me that always stuck with me. They said you’re here every day, it's not anything different or special to you. For me, it is one of the only times, so it’s super special.

Horon sketches snake tattoo before meeting with a client.(Photo Credit: Meghan Brink / The ASP)

I think also with this tattoo shop, like tattoo shops are scary, they are not as scary anymore but I wanted to make it the most approachable, like chill place ever, so I think this place doesn’t really look like a regular tattoo shop, and that was on purpose because I want everyone to feel comfortable and think “oh I think it in here” it is not supposed to be scary.

I went to school to draw comic books. There is a stigma that if you like comic books you are a nerd. You think about comic books now are much cooler like with the movies and stuff but back then you were covered in Cheetos and drinking Moutain Dew. I didn’t want that, cus I wasn’t a nerd. I’m a nerd, but I wasn’t a nerd like that.

And there’s also all the other stuff with drawing with comic books. You don’t get to do just the big action shot. I love comic books, I love reading, I love drawing superheroes, the extra work I didn’t like. Then you have the tattoo world. I was a skateboarder, skateboarders have tattoos, bikers have tattoos, that whole wild lifestyle, party animal appealed to me way more. And, you got to do the big action shot on someone, the detailed, whatever it is it has to be the more dynamic thing for their body.

I went to Europe for a while and I met this guy when I was there. We became friends and he was like “Hey, you should do tattoos, you like to draw right?” I was like “Yeh?” and he was like “Yeh you are going to do tattoos, that’s what is going to be what’s up.”

So I got home. I started drawing a whole bunch towards tattoos. I was always drawing art, but I kinda geared things towards tattooing. I went into some of the local shops in Albany. I had no idea, it is impossible to learn how to tattoo, cus no tattoo artist wants to teach you how to tattoo because then you are just going to be more competition for them. So, it used to be super sacred, now with the internet and everything it is a lot more open. But when I went into a shop 20 years ago, I would be like “I want to learn how to tattoo. Can I buy some stuff?” and they would all just laugh at me. Like you know, get out of here!

One of Horon's regular clients meets with him to discuss a tattoo sketch. (Photo Credit: Meghan Brink / The ASP)

I was about to move back to the city when my biker mom was having a tattoo party at her house and the tattoo artist there liked my art. I was like, well I want to learn and he was like “I’ll teach you, I’m about to open a shop.” And I was like “oh alright, cool!”

He was kinda a wild dude. I was apprenticing for three months and he had me tattooing the public, and I was scared shitless. I had no clue what I was doing. He was literally setting up my machines for me and then I would just start tattooing the person. He was like, “if anyone asks, just say you have been tattooing for a year.” *Laughs* It was wild!

What was the first tattoo you ever did?

On my leg. Just some lines to see what it was like. Then I tattooed one of my buddies, and then I tattooed my mom. *Laughs*. She got a flower on her hip, and I dug the shit out of her. It was the first color tattoo I ever did, no idea what I am doing, her skin is literally floating around in the ink. She just sat there.

I think I am still looking for my tattooing aesthetics. I get so much inspiration from other stuff. I struggle on a daily basis. Do I like the style? Do I want to work in this? I really like Japanese-style tattooing. I also really like the henna ornamental stuff. I am also a yoga teacher, I am really into yoga and stuff like that but I also really wish I was a ninja *laughs.*

Horon uses a marker to draw on a client. (Photo Credit: Meghan Brink / The ASP)

I look at tattoo books. I try to not look at current stuff too much. It is all really talented and good but I don’t want to be inspired by the people, I want to be inspired by what they are inspired by. You get the old books. I tell my apprentice, don’t Google stuff, go for the secret stuff, the books. Everyone looks at the thing that comes up on Google first. But I definitely get inspired by the audience. You can’t help yourself, you just look on Instagram and like damn that’s sick! I wanna do something like that!

There is one back piece that I am working on currently and the guy just went away for a year and it is one of my favorite tattoos I have ever done so far. It is a combination of coming from yoga but also really liking how a Japanese tattoo is constructed, I am really pumped for that. That client makes it a favorite tattoo for me, you know, if they suck but they have the coolest tattoo I’m not going to like it. Like if they are a pain in the ass. This guy sits so well, and he is like super chill.

I don’t mind anything. If you want to be picky, that’s fine, it challenges me in a way. If you don’t want to be picky, that challenges me to be creative. If I go into any tattoo with expectations of how you are going to act, chances are I am going to be disappointed.

Horon tattooing a client 's leg. (Photo Credit: Meghan Brink / The ASP)

After 21 years, every time you send someone the picture, they change it 60 times because they are looking at it over and over. I’ll meet with them once and then I’ll have a sketch for them. I usually never have anything for them *laughs* and they come in a sit-down and I’ll draw on them, and I’ll sketch on them. If you show them once, they are wowed by it, they are happy about it, and they don’t analyze anymore because that is the magic of tattooing in a way.

The best part of this job is to meet new people and have a totally different experience. You can tattoo a 50-year-old man who lives out in the middle of the country or maybe on a totally different day you get the young college girl who came with her two friends. You talk about different things, listen to different music, that’s cool. You know, it never gets dry or boring.

I think there have been days I have been tired but I haven’t in a while. It is fun, everything is fun. Sometimes I have to sneak away and eat real quick because I am so busy, you are running late, it’s still fun, you are drawing on people for a living. It’s good.

It is so crazy to think. When I started tattooing where I am at now, on a micro-scale is like everything I wanted. So I am super grateful, I’m kinda like, when is it going to stop?


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