One eye has been painted on the Daruma doll in the new tattoo shop in Revelstoke. It signals the beginning of an auspicious and ambitious year for tattoo artist Ryan Krebs and his wife Amanda.
It all started with Krebs and Amanda getting married in Revelstoke.
Well, it actually started 12 years before when Krebs started working in Calgary.
Krebs’ tattoo apprenticeship is like something straight out of the Karate Kid. Like many movie plots, it all started with a crisis, and the beginning of a life-changing journey: Krebs and his dad weren’t getting along so he moved out. Working whatever jobs he could find in Calgary to pay the bills – he was a mover and drove trucks – he held onto his dream and kept creating.
“I just wanted to paint,” Krebs told me about that time in his life. He kept at graffiti, and people would occasionally commission him to paint their rooms.
Around the same time, in an interesting subplot, the budding artist got “a crappy tattoo by a biker in a house,” and although Krebs got it fixed, it wasn’t a great first experience. After that, he vowed to be tattooed only by friends.
And that’s how he began making some quality tattooing friends, and tattoo teachers, his Mr. Miyagi. Hating his job, Krebs would hang out and draw at the tattoo shop where his friend Dustin Poole worked.
It was there that the real training began. The shop’s tattoo artists would make fun of his drawings and tear them up. In another challenge, Krebs was told to make tattoo needles, something he’d never done before, and time and time again his needles were thrown out until he got it right. Wax on, wax off. Then, he was tasked with putting together a tattooing machine, another first he had to figure out on his own. Eventually Krebs was, in his own words, “doing crappy tattoos on his buddies.”
“Nowadays people pay for internships like that,” he told me un-ironically over the phone, feeling lucky that he had fallen into his tattoo training. It was a long and arduous process, but, as he said: “To tell you the truth, you don’t know what you’re doing for the first five years.”
Krebs found that bigger pieces were easier and less detailed, but pushed himself every day to get better. Sound familiar? Like the Karate Kid maybe?
When he was in Calgary, he got lots of practise reworking tattoos and learning the art of the cover up, as well as working on larger tattoos like many Japanese-style tattoos.
“In Calgary, people had money. Guys in the oil patch would drop a lot of cash, were willing to do $5,000 tattoos,” he said. Although the money was great, Krebs says that nowadays the money is a bonus. What makes him happy is when he feels he’s served a purpose and people like what he’s done and come back.
Like wandering Kung Fu master David Carradine (look it up, kids), Krebs has also spent a lot of time on the road working in other peoples’ shops, meeting inspiring artists like Filip Leu, Aaron Bell and Grime.
At last, the peripatetic tattooist has found a home, in the same mountains where he and his wife tied the knot. Clearly there was something about his tattooing that was getting people to line up in Revelstoke; at one point when 30 people were wanting tattoos in Revelstoke he and his wife Amanda decided to pack up and make the move.
“I don’t want to sound like a dick, but I’m good. I’m not trying brag,” said Krebs.
Over the time we talked on the phone, it was clear that Krebs is very focused on building a reputation for having a good, clean environment and making sure his clients walk away happy.
He’s honoured that people want to put his original artwork on their body, sometimes over unwanted tattoos. Yes, tattoos are forever, but sometimes they need to change just like everything else. Krebs is known for his cover up work.
“Sometimes people get an idea, then they change their mind. Some people shouldn’t get tattooed maybe,” mused the tattooist. “But it’s also how you talk to people, ‘It’s a big change for you, you got to get used to it.'”
And how has the transition been from the Big Smoke to Revelstoke?
“Revelstoke is where it’s at,” said Krebs. It’s quiet, he confirmed, and it’s a big change compared to the hustle and bustle of the city where there are more opportunities to tattoo, but also where there’s more burn out. Krebs is ecstatic to settle into his own creative nexus, an open concept shop whose walls are covered with art. He’s happy to be running at a slower pace.
But first, Krebs is once again hitting the road, heading to a tattoo convention in Ottawa this week. Don’t worry, though, he’ll be back in the shop on Nov. 17, and working his way to painting the second eye on his Daruma doll, the mark of a year successfully completed, next October.