When William "Boomer" Baker lost his left index finger to a gun malfunction about a decade ago, he thought it was the end of his artistic career. Instead, it turned out to be just the life-changing event that he needed.
"I used to collect guns. One time I was messing with a gun, and it malfunctioned in my hand and took my finger," Boomer says. "I figured I wasn't going to be able to draw. I was worried that I'd have nothing to keep me sane, so I'd be getting into trouble and just doing stuff that wasn't good for me. Instead, it kind of made me switch to all art, all the time. It motivated me to show everyone that it's just a finger."
Boomer, now 30, believes he's lucky to have only lost his finger, as it could've caused much more severe damage if it was just an inch lower on his hand. As for the missing finger, Boomer has a tattoo commemorating it, but he's found a much better replacement.
"That's why I call my studio Fifth Finger, the art is my fifth finger," Boomer says. "There are guys out there with no hands who are tattooing with their feet. They might not be the best tattoos, but if they can do that, then I knew I could still tattoo."
Glendale's Fifth Finger Tattoo Studio isn't your typical tattoo spot though. Boomer, a Glendale native, is the owner and lone artist at the studio. While he plans to add another artist or two sometime soon, Boomer has no plans to change the way he does business.
"I want this to be more of a studio, not just a shop," Boomer "A lot of clients spend all day here, I want it to be like a gallery. I'm trying to change the outlook of tattoos on the west side. I don't want it to just be ghetto tattoo shops in Glendale like people think of. We should take pride in our art and our tattoos."
Boomer began his artistic career by doing graphic design and selling T-shirts in a tattoo shop. The owner of the shop asked him if he'd ever tattooed before. He hadn't, but that didn't stop him from learning.
Seven years later, Boomer has established himself as an elite realism artist, both with tattoos and in paintings.
"I do color tattoos and black and gray. I think I like black and gray more, but the color tattoos get a lot more wow," Boomer says. "I try to paint and draw as much as possible. Honestly, I love painting. I get lost in painting. If I got paid to paint what I do to tattoo, I would do that instead."
The downside of owning and being the only artist at his own tattoo shop is that Boomer doesn't necessarily get to interact with other artists a whole lot. Overall though, he says tattooing has definitely changed his life for the better.
"Tattooing has made me a lot more humble and relaxed me a lot. I used to be not such a good person, but now I'm totally different," Boomer says. "I didn't think I'd get to travel like I do. I do as many of the shows as I can, like Chicago, San Diego, Philly. I do so many conventions so I can see other artists and get motivation from them. I've been trying to find my own motivation."
What are some of your tattoos? I've got some Arizona stuff since I'm from the west side, the bullet that took my finger, this one is for my finger. All of my tattoos tell a story, there are a lot of memorial ones.
What's a memorable tattoo you've done? Honestly, it's every time I do a portrait. It's never the person, it's always the story behind them. When I do a portrait on someone, it's special because they're trusting me with someone they love.
What's the most important thing to you about a tattoo? I'd say placement. It could be a great tattoo but in a horrible spot, and it just won't look right. If it doesn't flow with the body, then it kind of loses its purpose.
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What do you look for in an artist or a tattoo shop? Originality, I guess. I don't want to go into some shop with the same flash on the walls that everybody else uses. I look for artists who are doing something different, not just tattoo artists.
Would you change anything about your tattoos or tattooing if you could? I don't think I would change anything. You've got to learn. The biggest teacher is the mistake you make, and it shows you what not to do next time.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone getting their first tattoo? Go to someone who's a real artist, not just a ghetto tattoo place. You'll get a better tattoo and a better experience.