If Age Drago's mom had been all right with him getting his lip pierced, it might've changed his entire life.
"We had just moved from Mississippi to Arizona my sophomore year of high school, and I was really into punk rock," Drago says. "I told my mom I wanted to get my lip pierced, but she refused and said she'd rather me get a tattoo than a piercing. So she took me in to get my first tattoo when I was 15, I got an anarchy symbol to keep it punk. By the time I was 18, I think I had three more tattoos."
Drago, who now tattoos out of Living Canvas Tattoos in Tempe, feels that he has found a way to combine two of his main passions in life, punk rock and art, into a career. Though he admits his path to get here had some twists and turns he didn't expect.
"I've always been into art, and my mom is a really great artist, so I knew that it was something I wanted to do," Drago says. "I went into the art program at a community college, but it just felt like high school all over again. It wasn't working out."
With the realization that the academic way to a career in art wasn't for him, Drago began looking elsewhere.
"My buddy was getting into a tattoo shop, so I just started hanging out there for a while," Drago says. "They already had an apprentice at the time, but I hung out for long enough that eventually they noticed me and I got an apprenticeship."
While Drago prefers the traditional American style of tattooing, he believes he's a well-rounded artist and is comfortable doing nearly any style of tattooing, except for portraits. His favorite pieces to do are the ones where he can express some of his personality and humor.
"I like to do clever tattoos. Puns, inside jokes, stuff like that," Drago says. "I can't stand it when you know someone just Googled 'tattoos' and picked one off of there. Sometimes I'll see one and I'll think 'Oh, that's rose tattoos, second page from Google.'"
Aside from tattoo designs picked off of Internet searches, one of Drago's other issues with modern tattoo culture is the popularity of tattoo competition television shows like Ink Master.
"All that competition stuff isn't good for clients or for the industry," Drago says. "People watch those shows and see huge detailed stuff done in 40 minutes, not realizing that they had a full day beforehand to plan and sketch it and a lot more time to do it. And they call people their 'canvases' and stuff like that, which is so disrespectful. They're not a canvas, they're a person.
"When I do a tattoo on someone, it's our tattoo. It might be my art but it's your body. It's a shared experience," Drago says. "When you get jaded and impersonal, that's when it's just about making a living and not doing what you love."
What are some of your tattoos? Both of my arms, one is a really solid theme and good flow done by Mike Bergfalk from Salt Lake City. I started it about 10 years ago when I was 18, it's almost completed now. My other arm has all my video game stuff on there, which represents me because I really like that stuff. I don't have a Mario tattoo or anything that stereotypical though.
What's a memorable tattoo experience you've had? I'd say getting the geometrical tattoo was cool just because you have to be so precise with the lines and it's one of the more popular things to get today.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo? That it's a solid tattoo with bold lines and dark colors. A lot of black and good contrast. A lot of artists are afraid to use heavy black, but don't be afraid to do that, because that's what's going to make it last. It's going to fade eventually but I want it to look as good as possible for as long as possible.
Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could? Back in the day, my first year or two when I was tattooing, I wish I'd put more effort in. It wasn't that I didn't take it seriously but I definitely didn't work as hard as I could've. Now I'm more focused on it, but I'd be ahead of where I am now if I'd been like this back then.
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What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? Don't be afraid to ask questions and challenge the artist, but take into consideration what the artist says will look best. Sometimes I have to crush dreams because what people want just won't be a good tattoo. Take the artist seriously, particularly if they've been working in a shop for a long time. Sometimes you see a tattoo and you just want to change it, but you can't change all the tattoos in the world. Focus on doing one right at a time.
To see Drago's work, check out his Instagram.