RJ Valencerina Talks His Filipino Roots, Overcoming Loss, and Trading Engineering for Tattooing...
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 tattoo artist realism dude, RJ Valencerina.
Name: RJ Valencerina
Years tattooing: 10 years
Place of business: Uptown Tattoo, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Patrick Coste: Wassup RJ you crazy animal?! I know you've been up to something good!! Lol.
RJ Valencerina: LOL! Hey man! I always have something up my sleeve, lol. I’ve been good, busy, life is great! 2020 is the best year ever...even with what’s happening.
Back here in February I had a lot of business, then .. what do you do with this COVID? So I decided to do an introspection. I looked at the big guys like Saga with his crazy painting skill, and I started painting. Lots of 3D painting, being a bit more serious with colour realism tattooing. I completed ten paintings during COVID, all in colour. I did quite few great collabs with other colour artists and learned more about colour.
PC: Yes I’ve seen that. I’ll get straight to getting to know you a bit. We’ve seen in many places in Quebec and Ontario that you’ve been killing for a little while..but man, what a story you’ve got. Tell us how you got into tattooing!
RJV: I’m originally from the Philippines, so you can imagine right there that life is a bit different. It really started when my uncle came back from vacation in Saoudhi with a tebori-style wood stick and needles and started scratching away in the kitchen, drinking and all. I was very young lol, but it did start a passion although I didn't know what was going on lol.
When I got a little older, I was drawing every chance I could while the rich kids were playing basketball, that’s what I was doing.
I always performed somehow, and when I was doing something I was making sure I was first. I'm very competitive.
PC: Oh, I know that lol, but man I’ve gotta say, you’ll have fun but you have a fierce sense of competition. I love it. Tell me more!
RJV: LOL, oh yes - At 18, you know, old enough to get a tattoo, I got a tribal dragon that I still don't fully understand even today. Lol.
I also graduated from University in Engineering and worked for Texas Instruments, you know everything electronic has something from there... lol, but I realized that it wasn't for me. I wanted to change that life. I’ve always been in bands and a bit of a wildcard, but eh, it wasn't life so I started a shirt printing company\photo infographics place which led me to cover tattoo events and that’s where everything started.
Once I covered a tattoo event, taking pictures and all, and I saw a crazy-talented Polynesian-style tattooer do a freehand tattoo beside the beach where the convention was taking place. His name was RIP . He tattooed me for a while after that... I was his canvas, living the tattoo life.
I went to many conventions over there, and saw many tattoos. I drew a lot back then too and I started to think, I could do better! At one point I figured I could do better than quite a lot of what I was seeing.
JC got shot. Someone emptied a clip on the tattoo artist that encouraged me, so we raised a lot of money for him while he was in a coma… When he woke up, he figured he didn’t want to be here, so he decided to let himself go. He removed all his tubes and just gave up on life...
All that was very sad… but I got a tattoo today because of him. Around that time, I got a great business deal and decided to get a Chinese machine kit. My cousin, who was in Alberta back then, came back and let me tattoo him and a scratcher’s life began lol. I went for it and wanted to be good as always, and I did it with a passion. I already had a business. I was 27.
PC: You always had that misfit culture in you eh?
RJV: Yes, I grew up in it and well, I guess I’m a little tamer these days with kids and a wife, lol.
It wasn’t always like that though. I made lots of bad tattoos because I had a band and the culture around it, so I always had clients and wanted to be better. I was banging out hearts and all sorts of tattoos..
PC: You’ve got to tell us how you ended up here. LOL! You could’ve been anywhere right?
RJV: True, there’s a Filipino in every city lol. I had $800 when I moved. My sister was here a couple of years before me, then my mom… Sadly, another sad part but also crucial is that my sister passed away not too long before I arrived in Montreal. It was sad but we saw it coming. I promised her that I would care for her son, my nephew, so I do.
PC: Is he the young man we see attached to you at conventions?
RJV: Yes, he is now my apprentice.
PC: Wow eh! Amazing...you’re a good soul!
Now you’ve been here for a little while, and boy-oh-boy have you been busy!! I remember when I first saw you at the Montreal Ink event and it was your first win. What we didn’t know is that you had it in your mind for a while and got to get a win!
RJV: Yes, I moved here and I knew I wanted to tattoo, so I had my Chinese machine and found work on a metro ride from my house. I was one of those lousy drunk tattooers… hanging with the same drunks... day after day... but we all know that having bad habits is not the way to become successful, so I was going thru the same shit as before just in a different country.
What I realized after a while, is that the crowd was a bad one… never at conventions, a bit shady and all, you know what I mean.
I’ve always been in business and what I saw displeased me. I was paying way more than I should and they did nothing for me. You know, the usual bad shop. I was oddly the best there at that time and even I knew it wasn’t enough, but I made contacts. I had an eye on where I was going. I went to the bike and tattoo show at one point. I was angry to see we weren’t there, so I tried to get in all conventions but none were accepting. None were taking new artists, but by visiting I was able to see what and how it was happening.
Montreal ink was indeed my first convention here. When I entered the room everybody was friendly, but not with me lol.
I was expecting to win something, I was confident and the plan was to do so. I did a Chester tribute and didn’t have a chance to win that day… The day after, I was ready to leave, literally ready to leave and they called my name. I was “whaaaat I won first????” I was expecting to be 3rd. It was my goal, so I left early… But then I hear BENNY with his strong french (France) accent, RJ - Uptown Tattoo left everyone on the floor and ran to see him lol.
I was able, and grateful to be able to be at quite few other shows after that one, and I did great at each one of them.
Gonna win one in 2020 lol, online with the Ottawa Tattoo show this year, October 17th live.
PC: On a lighter note here, you’ve been extremely lucky to get tattooed by Whang Od, the amazing 103 year old lady tattooer! It wasn't even when you were living in the Philippines, you discovered her existence while you were here!!!
RJ: Awwww man, it’s like meeting your origins. She was four hours away at that time, the mother of all Filipino tattooers, she is true. I met her niece one time, so when I went back visiting I made sure I went and saw her. It’s like meeting Jesus twice, because I went and see her twice.
PC: That’s amazing man, what a trip you’ve been on. I wish you all the best, I believe you deserve all of it!!!
Follow RJ Valencerina on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/uptowntattoosmtl