From convict to businessman

Navajo tattoo artist's success written in ink

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, March 14, 2013

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(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Tattoo artist Lucas Blackie, from Rock Springs, Wyo., keeps focused on drawing one of two roses on Jessie Yazzie, of Farmington, on Sunday in Farmington.

SECOND FROM TOP: Tattoo artist Lucas Blackie puts the finishing touches on a tattoo Sunday in Farmington.

THIRD FROM TOP: Tattoo artists Lucas Blackie, left, and Josh Johnson, from Denver, Colo., stay focused as they work on tattoos for their clients Sunday in Farmington.

F or an ex-con, the road to respectability is long, hard and mostly uphill.

Lucas Blackie knows it well.

When the opportunity presented itself, the Navajo tattoo artist took it, and now he is the proud owner of a small tattoo shop in Rock Springs, Wyo.

"Tattoos by Blackness" is the name of the shop Blackie, 32, has been the proud owner of since 2011, but originally he first started working at the shop in 2009 as an artist when it was called "Screaming Stagecoach," and when an opportunity came up to buy it he jumped on it .

"I didn't want to settle just as an artist, I wanted to start my own legacy, and I believe this is the beginning," Blackie said.

Blackie said when he first started out, he searched for artist's positions in tattoo shops in Oklahoma, hoping to find on that would accept him, but when that didn't work out he moved back home to Wyoming where he was able to get into Screaming Stagecoach. He said it took him two years to fine a tattoo shop that would accept him, because he was a self-taught artist.

"I wanted to become an artist because it's my passion making people's ideas and thoughts into something real," said Blackie on why he chose to be a tattoo artist and he does it for "the love of art."

Blackie is Nahoobáani (Grey Streak End People), born for Nakaii Dine'e (Mexican People) and his family has roots in Crownpoint, N.M. and Nageezi N.M.

In the five years that Blackie has been a professional tattoo artist he said his work has changed enormously. His first tattoo was just lettering.

"The first thing I learned is the skin is a whole other medium, it's not like paper," said Blackie. "It takes a lot of hours and practice. You can't just jump into it and expect to be amazing."

Now Blackie can say his specialty is ink work in black and grey as well as different types of lettering.

"His lettering and script work, it's just unique compared to a lot of people we've seen," said Orlando Gonzales, shop manager of the Southwest Ink tattoo shop in Farmington, N.M. "It stands out more."

Blackie was recently a guest artist at Southwest Ink from Feb. 25 to March 9, and within those two weeks Gonzales said he had at least 20 clients.

Blackie's success did not come easy. He said the biggest challenges he faced as a tattoo artist was the fact that he was self-taught, "because in this industry if you didn't get an apprenticeship you are looked down on."

It also didn't help, even in the tattoo business, that he was an ex-convict.

After spending seven years in prison on a narcotics charge, a lot of people told him he wouldn't make it as an artist because they believed all he would ever be was a convict.

"I just kept going and going," Blackie said, and he gives young people in his position the same pep talk he gave himself: "Don't ever doubt yourself and what you want to do. People will always say things."

"I never thought I would make it this far in life. I never thought I would be a business owner or a well-recognized artist that I am now," Blackie said. "I'm respected now, I guess you could say."

Blackie said his main influence to pursue his art was his grandparents.

"They told me I was talented and it always stuck with me."

Blackie said his influential tattoo artists include Boog Brown from Texas, Bob Tyrell from Michigan, and Steve Soto from California, all of whom work in black and grey like Blackie.

Tattoos by Blackness is located at 422 S. Main, Rock Springs, Wyo., and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

For more information: 307-362-3274.

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