Justin Nordine started his professional career as a high school art teacher. He loved teaching kids about art, but he missed being an artist. In his fifth year of teaching, he decided to share his affinity for tattoos with his high school students. Justin had been getting tattooed since he was 18. He found tattoos fascinating and as he aged, he saw their true art form. For Justin, tattoos carried a voice and the skin merely a canvas to be decorated. So he challenged his students with a tattoo project.
First, they studied the history of tattoos through the modern times. They discussed everything from getting the tattoo to removing tattoos if you didn’t end up liking one. They visited tattoo studios around Denver and even made a title for a tattoo shop, The Raw Canvas, and created flash for the (at the time) fictional location.
It was during this period that Justin found his “ah-ha” moment: he didn’t want to teach, he wanted to tattoo. Art was something he wanted to pursue on his own. Sure, teaching appeared to be a stable, secure job. But it wasn’t something he pictured himself doing for the next 25-years. So he walked away from his master’s program at Regis University and his teaching position and found an apprenticeship at a shop in Denver.
Justin was 27 at the time, and that made it difficult to get an apprenticeship but an artist named Sugar Bear gave him a chance. However, his wife was offered a great career opportunity at a VA hospital, and Justin had to leave that apprenticeship, moving back to Grand Junction, CO. Justin tried several other apprenticeships, but nothing panned out. He began to think he made a mistake. His friends wouldn’t let him believe that, though. They encouraged him to pursue his passion and so Justin taught himself and took all the necessary OSHA classes to learn about cross contamination and blood borne pathogens.
It was a struggle, and Justin does not recommend being a self-taught artist. He said, “sometimes you just have to pave your own way. So that’s what I did. I have never denied it, but would also never recommend it to another. I truly believe learning from a reputable artist is always the way to go.”
In 2008, Justin opened The Raw Canvas. What started as a small studio is now a beautiful 2,000 square foot building with a prime spot on Main Street in Grand Junction, CO. Justin works with six other amazing artists and loves sharing the space with them. “I love going to the studio every day to work with some of my very best friends,” he says, “I look up to them all, and we have such a great working environment.” The artists all provide each other with feedback and strive to grow into the best artists they can be. When artists have this attitude, it makes for a healthy and happy shop. It also allows artists to blossom into their own unique styles.
Most commonly referred to as a watercolor artist, Justin describes his style as “expressionistic” or “fine art” tattoos. Inspired by many different artists, paintings more so than tattoos (because he doesn’t ever want to mimic another tattoo artist’s style), he works to develop his own unique style. He enjoys that his clients give him the freedom to pursue his style, “I love that I really look at them as a walking canvas, so deciding how the tattoo should move or flow with their bodies is so important. I love that I can get lost in my work, just like I do when I paint on a canvas in my painting studio.”
Justin was an early part of the watercolor movement who has worked to perfect his technique and step away from the “traditional” watercolor process. Borrowing techniques from other styles and applying it to his watercolor is what really sets Justin apart from other artists. Justin’s admiration for the artists in the industry is what both humbles and encourages him to be better and he loves seeing this style take off stating, “I’m just honored to be a part of the movement.” We’d say he is more than just a part of the watercolor movement, but a leader as many artists pursuing this style look to him for advice and inspiration.
When he’s not tattooing, Justin is enjoying the outdoors. He loves camping and hiking. Colorado is surrounded by nature, so it’s not easy to stay inside. And of course, Justin’s art doesn’t stop with a tattoo machine. He’s also working on a new project called “Beyond the Canvas.” Elated by the idea, and not wanting to reveal too much, he told us, “I am hoping this will take off as a new way of expression and commitment to the art of tattooing. I’ll be posting YouTube videos, live streams, and photos of this journey in hopes of it taking off in 2017. I’ll have more information at my booths at the conventions I’m attending this year as well as on my page and website. I’ll also be posting small teasers to social media to keep people interested in the coming months.”
What advice do you have for someone planning his or her first tattoo?
If you’re looking to get your first tattoo, don’t price shop. My biggest suggestion is to find an artist that their style speaks to you. I see so many often just getting a tattoo to get one or because it was cheap or they could get in quicker. This isn’t shopping for new jeans that you’ll drop $200 for and in a year grabbing the next pair. This is something that will last a lifetime and so find someone who wants to honor that with you. It’s a great deal of trust to give someone to change your appearance, so find an artist you believe in, love their style and wait for them! In the end, its 100% worth it.
What advice do you have for a tattoo artist who is just getting started?
[Tattooing] is very competitive. It’s not easy to make your mark and stand out [from] the hundreds of thousands of artists in this industry. Look for someone that is reputable and will take the time to teach you. I feel lucky to have picked it up rather quickly and taught myself, but I feel that is a pretty rare scenario. It takes an unbelievable amount of dedication and time as you understand how it works. It isn’t a get rich program and for many, many years you will have to supplement your income. I also think, [while] not necessary, having a fine art degree or at least a background in the arts helps with your understanding of basic art elements and color theory.
Contact Justin Nordine
For appointments and consults visit his website at www.justinnordinetattoos.com
Images © Justin Nordine