Mark Walters is just another victim of the evil subject known as math.
The owner and one of the artists at Living Canvas Tattoos in Tempe didn't intend to go into tattooing, he wanted to work with his dad as an architect, but he always found himself struggling with the numbers side of the architecture business. When he began his first apprenticeship in 1987, Walters, 44, says people's views on tattoos were quite a bit different than they are today.
"It wasn't the cool thing, having tattoos or being an artist. I think celebrities, athletes, public personas getting tattoos really changed how people look at them," Walters says. "I used to go places and people would be like 'Holy shit!' because of my sleeves, now if you go somewhere and you don't have sleeves, people are surprised."
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Despite his career in architecture not working out as planned, Walters has made a name for himself and his shop as one of the top tattoo salons in the Valley. According to Walters, Living Canvas, which opened in 1993, is currently the oldest single-owner tattoo shop in Arizona. When he's not tattooing or running Living Canvas, Walters is proud to be one of the few shop owners in the state who works with the Department of Health Services to set higher standards for Arizona's tattoo artists and shops.
Walters grew up in Hong Kong and England before moving across the Atlantic. He credits the culture of his youth for the his preferred Japanese style of tattooing. Japanese tattoos tend to feature some of the significant creatures in Japanese mythology (such as a dragon, tiger, koi, snake or phoenix) and are generally known to flow together very smoothly, which makes them perfect for larger spaces like sleeves, back pieces or even full body suits.
"I love to tattoo Japanese tattooing. I grew up around that culture in Hong Kong and I never really knew what it was. Now I love to tattoo everything I used to see. I have a style I do and people know it. I can look at a tattoo I did years ago and know I did that tattoo."
Overall, Walters says he wouldn't change a whole lot about his journey through tattoo culture, because he couldn't imagine doing a normal desk job.
"I'm the biggest people person ever. I love people's stories, the personal interaction. I couldn't work in a cubicle. I love collaborating with people's ideas, when they tell me what they want and just let me use my ideas on it, I think that's awesome."
What are some of your tattoos?
My arms are all done in traditional Japanese tattoos. I've got a tiger and a dragon on my forearms, because they're two of the main symbols, and then I've got a fu dog and a mask, too. They're all symbols of protection and stuff in Japanese mythology. I got them about 20 years ago, but they still look great.
What's a memorable tattoo you've done?
I have so many pieces I'm proud of, but I think one would definitely be [professional baseball player] Eric Hinske's back piece. The subject matter, the size, the themes, and since he could only get it done in the offseason it took way longer than it should've. My style is always changing though, so that tattoo wouldn't look the same if I did it now.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo?
I think it should be a really rad experience to get a tattoo. I try to give everyone a unique experience, because there are some amazing artists out there, but they're total dickheads. Like they don't talk to you, they just have their headphones in or something, you know? I'd rather get an amazing experience than an amazing tattoo.
What do you look for in an artist or a tattoo shop?
Well, our shop is super home-y, and we try to make you feel like a friend for life. It's about finding someone you feel 100 percent comfortable with and that you have that connection with, you know? I've met lots of people who would be my friends for life anyway, but I never would've met if they didn't come into the shop. We still have people come into the shop years after they get a tattoo just because they were in the area, that's what we're all about.
Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could?
I would've gotten a full Japanese bodysuit right away, but that's the only thing I would've done differently. I wouldn't have gotten as many small tattoos, I would've just gotten one really rad bodysuit.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo?
Do a lot of research. Don't go somewhere just because it's cheap. Do a consultation. If you don't like it, just tell me. You wouldn't walk into a dentist or a hair salon without doing your research. And get someone who does the style you're looking for. I don't do portraits, so if you come to me looking for a portrait I'll send you to someone else here. There's no excuse to go somewhere bad with all the reviews on the Internet.
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