Julian Callejas Talks Leaving Colombia for Tattoo Life in Canada
Julian Callejas Talks Leaving Colombia for Tattoo Life in Canada
Point to Point
Season 7

Julian Callejas Talks Leaving Colombia for Tattoo Life in Canada

From the moment he got his first tattoo in Colombia at age 18, Julian Callejas knew he wanted to tattoo. He left his job as an IT engineer for a chance to pursue his dream in Canada. He chats with Patrick about his journey this week on Point to Point.

Julian Callejas Talks Leaving Colombia for Tattoo Life in Canada


Julian Callejas Point to Point

Patrick Coste: Good day Julian, is the Montreal winter good for ya?

Julian Callejas: Lol, yes it is. It’s amazing, I got a day off.

PC: Oh yeah! You're like that, eh? LOL!

JC: Lol, thank you for having me here!

PC: Julian you’re a hard working individual, you’re talented and you hang with some crazy dudes at conventions; @azlmtl and @shamusmahannah

From what you were telling me when I last saw you on the convention circuit, you're from Colombia and well, right there’s a good story. Tell me how you got here, and how you got into tattoos!

JC: For sure… It all started when I was eighteen, I'm 37 right now. When I was 18, I was always into Punk Rock and skateboarding, you know? So you see those guys wearing good tattoos, and ‘not as good’ tattoos, but they’re all tattooed. I always wanted to get into tattooing, but back then in Colombia it was hard to get into tattooing. There were only two tattoo shops in Medellin, where I’m from.

Back then, remember Miami Ink?

PC: Yes!

JC: I watched that show and I was like, “Holy shit. Those guys are wearing skateboard brands, they work as tattooers, they can put food on the table for their family doing tattoos.” So, I wanted to get tattooed. At that time it was hard in Colombia to get tattooed, so I decided to get my first tattoo at 18. I was asking my friends if they knew someone who could tattoo me. Finally I got my appointment… The tattooer never showed.

PC: Oh wait, WHAT? The tattooer didn’t show?

JC: Yeah, yeah… Lol, the guy was from another city so yah, he never came up. I was like, Ooookeeyyyyyyy! After that, I got my first tattoo in the kitchen of a friend of a friend in Colombia, lol. I was like, “Oh shit, this is not a tattoo shop!” It was a kitchen, but I really wanted to get a tattoo…lol.

So that's when I knew I wanted to become a tattooer. From that day, the idea of tattooing was always in my head and I asked that kitchen tattoo guy if he would become my mentor.

I was like, “So man, can you show me how to tattoo?”

He was like, “NO, you're not a tattoo artist.”

I was like, “I KNOW, I want to learn…”

It didn’t work out, so I started to do some graphic design because I knew that graphic designers can have tattoos at work. That was the reason, and I love all the graphics in skateboarding and everything, but I never worked in graphic design. I was designing tattoos.

I asked him for four years. At some point I needed to do something with my life because I didn’t want to be an IT engineer forever. I didn’t want to work in something that I didn’t really love. I wanted to have a life that I really loved. I was getting discouraged and one day, I swear to you… Just like that, my friend asked me, "Do you still want to learn how to tattoo?”

I was like, “What? Yeah!”

Julian Callejas at work in his studio
Younger Julian Callejas - Photo ©Julian Callejas

He told me, “Just come here. You know how to clean the floors?” I did of course…

So, I had my work in the IT field during the week. I came home and then drove to the tattoo shop every single night, and on Saturdays, where I passed time cleaning the floor.

At that time when I was working in the IT field, I wanted to emigrate from Colombia to Canada. I wasn't tattooing at that time. I was learning French to come to Montreal, and I learned English as well.

I wanted to tattoo, not be in the IT field anymore. When I started to tattoo, one of my closest friends came to Montreal and I saw that it was really possible.

I’d been a tattooer for one year at that time. I said to myself, “OK, let's find the opportunity.”

So I wrote like, 300 emails to tattoo shops here in Canada. I was ‘copy paste, copy paste, copy paste’ every day for six months. Nobody answered me of course…..

Two years later, in 2014, a guy from PEI answered me like, “Hey man, do you want to come to Canada? I can help you with your papers…”

I was like, “First of all, where is PEI???”

I was Googling at the same time… Lol.

I got a visa and I came here to Canada and landed in PEI. I don't know if the guy was drunk when he wrote to me, but when I was there he was like, “Uh oh shit, you're here!”

After 20 days he told me, “OK, man, I'm gonna help you with your papers and everything.”

Meanwhile, I came to Montreal to meet my friends who moved here. I fell in love with the city. I was like, “This is such a cool city and a great place to tattoo!”

The guy in PEI didn't do anything for me really, so it was sort of a bad spot, but I had Montreal in mind. I came to Montreal, I met some people doing the immigration process and everything, and I talked to my wife. She’s a very supportive woman, from the first day she’s given me support in everything.

She was like, “OK, if this is part of your dream, do it, I’m gonna study. You’re gonna find a tattoo shop, let's do it.”

So we both applied for everything. Our visa was denied the first time. We applied for the second time… We never gave up, and so we finally received our visa.

PC: AMAZING, great story, but this is just how you got here!!

JC: Lol yes! I don’t know if you know 1974, with @bruntattoo and @gonzo.vince who were there at the time.

PC: YES I do!!

JC: I was talking with Vince Brun through Instagram and he wrote to me like, “Hey man, I love your work.”

“Same with your work”... you know?

I told him, “I'm going to live in Montreal”

He was like, “Really??”

He asked me if I spoke French. I was like, “I speak French too. A weak French, but I do!”

So he was like, “OK, man, when you come here to Montreal, please come to my shop. I'm gonna be glad to have you here.”

I was like, “Oh shit, I have my first spot to tattoo in Montreal. So let's go.”

I stayed there for about six months. MTL Tattoo, for me, was only like the holy grail of tattoo. It was like that Miami Ink shop back in 2018. A really big shop, big names, great tattoos etc, so I went to French classes…

PC: Then you realized those big names, they were all crazy people, lol! Sorry @azlmtl, lol….

You wanted to tattoo at 18 but you ended up tattooing at 28.

JC: I did. When I was working in the IT field, at the same time I was designing for some local brands in Medellin, where I'm from. I was always drawing, like drawing for a tattoo, but drawing and trying to do something cool every time.

I thought I wasn't good enough for tattooing. I mean, I can draw on paper but to draw something on the skin of someone is a huge responsibility, you know? So at that time, when I decided to become a tattooer, I needed to take this really, really seriously because I had time, but I was late to the party. Right now I needed to push myself to get in there.

PC: I feel you, I feel you. So basically, you knew you were going to do it… but you didn't know, and during those eight years you thought, “I'm still gonna tattoo eventually.” You focused so much that it was bound to happen at some point.

JC: Yes, I mean, I really did it because I love that culture. I studied to be a kitchen chef, I studied graphic design, but tattooing is the only thing that I feel comfortable with, that I can wake up every day and I want to go to the shop!

PC: That's good. I think your work shows that you’re a graphic designer or that you’re very good with computers. All of your graphics that we see, are all very well done. Very polished. The colour contrast between the colours…

JC: For sure! That helped me a lot to have the structure of the design, because back then I was designing my own tattoos. I really love doing so. I've always loved the Traditional style of tattoos, so I tried to copy a part of that in my designs.

At that time in Colombia it was the black and grey era, so everyone was doing black and grey and there were not as many Traditional tattooers. I started to tattoo small things really; fine lines, tattoos names, roman numbers. I didn't start doing the Traditional tattoos that I do today.

PC: How long was your apprenticeship?

JC: I waited until someone showed me how to do the basics of the tattoo, but my mentor was like, “OK, you need to wait. You need to be prepared.”

At the same time I was like, “I want to tattoo and I’m ready.” So, I set up everything at home.

I asked him, “I'm thinking of buying a table and tattooing some friends. Can I do that? “

He was like, “Oh whatever you want, but don't do it here in the shop.”

I was like, “OK, that works for me.”

I was tattooing people at night after work, and on Saturdays I was his apprentice. The thing was that he was the only professional tattooer, and we were free to learn how to tattoo but when someone came to the shop asking for a tattoo and he was busy, he’d ask, “OK, I have three people here who are apprentices. Who wants to tattoo this one?”

I always was like, “Me, me me, me, me!”

I wasn't ready to do it, but I needed to do it. Oh by the way, to my clients at that time - so sorry for that, lol!

PC: You truly went the extra mile!

JC: I did!! Lol, even when I came to MTL Tattoo. I asked Shamus “How can I improve? I want to get better. So, tell me what can I do? They were always really supportive of me.

Julian Callejas Convention Banner
Look for Julian Callejas’ Convention Banner on the convention circuit - photo ©Julian Callejas

He was like, “You need to paint everything by hand!”

In Colombia at that time, I started my designs on the computer because I didn't have an iPad back then so I was using it like a tablet, and when COVID started I was like, “OK, I need to do something.”

I started to paint Traditional and tried to sell it. I fell in love with painting, so I tried to paint more during that time.

PC: Well done for you! It is something to knock on some doors…

JC: I was scared. Honestly, I was scared to knock on doors and say, “Hey, I'm looking for a job”, because I didn't know how tattooing worked here in Canada. I didn't know if I was prepared. My language wasn't tops… I was so afraid to speak English, to speak French, to deal with clients, to deal with the designs. It's a cool thing about immigration, because you realize that you know a part of yourself that you didn't know when you were in your native country, so you put it on... like all your abilities.

I remember the first month that I was here. I was always drawing, but not because I wanted to, because I didn't want to talk to people because I was so afraid that they wouldn't understand me.

I think the tequila helped me a lot with that.

PC: Lol, I bet it did. So now you’ve been in Canada for 4 years! You’ve been doing quite a few conventions too!

JC: Three years in June this year. I can't lose more time. I mean, if somebody tells me “Hey, man, we're gonna do this convention. OK?” I'm good to go!

PC: I like the attitude you have. Was the convention circuit the same in Colombia?

JC: It's a little bit different comparing Canada to Medellin or Bogota, the capital of Colombia. It's a really small scene, small tattoo culture right now. It's getting there… There are a lot of good artists there, and good tattoo shops.

PC: What are your convention plans for this year?

JC: I'm gonna do Quebec, Toronto, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Calgary.

PC: You seem to be confident in the future… What's next?

JC: I'm always trying to find my style. I think I know what I want to do, I mean at this point, in a good way. I’m ok, I’m good, but there’s so much to grow from…

PC: Do you do anything outside of tattooing that, you know, makes you focus on tattooing or helps you focus, or…?

JC: I try to be healthy. I try to go to the gym each morning. I have a routine and so I go to the gym, I draw and I tattoo. That's my routine. I like to go to the gym in the morning and wake up early. I work on Saturdays, Sundays, Monday, Wednesday and normally my days off are Thursday and Friday. If I have a cool piece to do or if someone wants a tattoo on that day, I can do it, but on Thursday and Friday I'm always drawing and painting.

PC: This is a great routine here. It’s very inspiring to hear your story. You’ve come a long way and you’re not resting and waiting for handouts. You rock! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me.

JC: Thank you so much, and please fix my poor English skills to make me look good!

PC: Geez, you’re asking a Frenchman to help you! Lol, DEAL.. Lol!

Thank you very much Julian! See you on the road!


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