Mike Young Talks Machine Building, Tattooing With His Son, and Bonsai
Point to Point takes you behind the needle to share the personal journeys of tattoo artists like you. Drawing inspiration, spreading respect and love… This time we’re talking with PEI-based machine builder Mike Young!
Patrick Coste: Good day Mike! When was the last time we saw each other? Wait ... We never did! LOL.. You don't get around much!
You’ve been at it for a while and you’ve got the respect of your peers, so it’s quite interesting that you’ve never been to a convention! YES, I can already hear people saying “Wait, what? No way!”, but it’s true, as you told me so before...Tell me more about that, because it’s in a sense incredible!
Mike Young: Haha! You’re right Patrick, I’ve never been to a convention ! I’ve been invited to some great ones, but I’ve always usually worked alone at the shop with a shop manager to run things so I can concentrate on tattooing and building machines. All of the conventions look like a blast, but I’m always so busy with the shop and family I could never justify getting away to do any shows.
PC: Amazing! So, let's go back to your start in tattooing... How did you end up having a tattoo family?
MY: Well, I got started in tattooing back in the nineties. I was living in Vancouver and pursuing a music career. I started getting tattooed out there with my friends. I got my first tattoo from Kerry Irvine (RIP) at Fat City Tattoo, and I later inherited Kerry’s old barber chair after he passed. I still have it!
One of the guys tattooing one of my buddies, saw some of my artwork and offered me a job helping out at the shop. The owner of that shop, Vinnie Ruocco was a constant source of inspiration, full of great tattoo stories, always quick with great advice and there was never a dull moment. Anyone who knew Vinnie back then knows what a loose cannon he was. LOL! I owe my career in tattooing to Vinnie and I’m eternally grateful for everything he taught me. After he sold the shop and semi-retired, I worked in my own private studio in Vancouver for a few years before moving home to Charlottetown to open Eternal Dragon. I’ve been pulling daily duty at the shop now since I moved home in 2001.
PC: Your son is also involved in the trade... Did you twist his arm, or it was a natural thing?
I’m so lucky to have my son, Nick Young, working with me tattooing at the shop! Nick’s been around it his whole life, so it really was a natural progression for him. He started a serious apprenticeship with me about 4 years ago and quickly jumped right into developing his own clientele. Nick did his first tattoo when he was 8 years old! LOL! He was fearless that day when he was asked by one of my clients if he’d like to do a tattoo on him. He jumped right in!
He drew up a little stick-man alien and blasted that first design onto his first client’s leg! It was amazing! He hasn’t looked back since...He always spent lots of time drawing when he was younger and stepped right into tattooing full time while doing all the usual apprentice duties, while taking all the abuse! LOL!
PC: It’s hard to talk to you and not talk about tattoo machines. Your machines go around the world and they ask for more! How did you end up building? What’s your main interest?
MY: I got started with building pretty much right from the start. Vinnie gave me a couple of old Spaulding Supremes when I worked for him. I tore those two machines apart so many times and tried different setups to try to make them do what I wanted and I quickly realized I was limited by the geometries of those frames. This led to experiments with my own designs and cutting my own parts, etc etc.
There were lots of failures, but they all led to some awesome machines that I put into production once other artists started seeking me out.
I’ve always used my own machines since I started building them, and my first priority was always function. I try to get the best performance out of my machines, coupled with versatility so one machine can tackle more than one job. If someone is going to trust me to build them a machine, I love hearing back from them that my build is their new daily driver.
PC: I also follow your Bonsai journey. LOL, love it! Tell me more about them...What drew you to it?
I love my little trees. Some of them are older than my kids, Lol! It’s a great thing to get into. Bonsai has a rich history just like Japanese tattooing, and the two art forms share a lot of the same disciplines, like having to be accepted as an apprentice to a bonsai master in Japan to become a bonsai professional. It’s just a hobby for me though!
I don’t have a huge collection but I’ve started some adult trees from cuttings and grown them up and trained them into bonsai. A few of my trees that I started myself, are 25 or more years old.
PC: Last quick question. You’re a musician at heart, what’s your jam when you tattoo? Do you have a favourite tune of all time?
MY: Anything by Iron Maiden! They’ve always been my favourite. Let’s go with “Dance with Death”!
PC: Wowwzaaaaaaaa, that’s going to spike up my day! Thank you Mike, you are rock solid!
Follow Mike Young on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mike_young_machines/