In our new series, Growing Pains, we take a look at all of the hard work and sacrifice apprentices put in on their journey to become tattoo artists.
There are many things that make an apprenticeship a stressful and trying time in a young artist’s life, but Sam Perry, the resident apprentice at Fleur Noire Tattoo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, can add one more to his list — co-owner. As one of the three owners of Fleur Noire, Perry’s circumstances are unlike any we’ve heard before, but he’s somehow found ways to manage each unique hat he wears at Fleur. “It’s really strange because it definitely feels like it’s sometimes a farce,” Perry says. “It’s like, ‘ok... you’re co-owner as well,’ almost like a pat on the back and a little patronage.
Perry and tattoo artist Laura Martinez have been married for a little under four years, and in that time he’s seen her make the transition from freelance illustrator to co-owner and artist at a bustling Brooklyn tattoo shop, so it seems only fitting that he would follow in her footsteps. While he’s always considered himself an artist — constantly sketching and even tagging a wall or two — he never considered tattooing as a career path until he encouraged Martinez to pursue her art.
Inspired by his wife’s journey, Perry found himself vying for a chance to pursue his dreams and become a full time artist. “When we opened up the shop, it was just a very obvious opportunity to step away from bartending, actually put my head down, and focus on drawing and learning how to tattoo,” explains Perry. “It definitely opened up a lot more doors for me to see what that life was like, and what the culture was about in more of a real sense.”
From an outsider’s perspective, Perry’s role at Fleur Noire might seem a bit strange if not completely bizarre — why should a seasoned artist listen to the advice of a greenhorn that’s only been tattooing for a mere two months? As a part owner of Fleur Noire, he’s technically the superior of the artists that are training him. And while he might not know everything there is to know about the technicalities of tattooing, he does know a thing or two about customer service — the meat and potatoes of running a shop. “I stick to the areas of the business that I know I handle well. I know art well enough, but I would never give someone advice about needle usage and depth. So in that aspect, I’m stepping back and just being an apprentice, and learning every day from them.”
But as he continues to practice and hone his skills, Perry can already feel himself developing his own distinct voice within the art, everyday edging closer and closer to his own personal aesthetic — a hybrid of American traditional and Japanese work. “I ideally would find myself in a place where I’m utilizing all of those things while still understanding the subtlety of the negative space that’s involved,” he explains.
Sam Perry is not your average apprentice, he still questions his undeniably unique situation on a daily basis — but if there’s one thing he knows for sure it’s that no one, not even a co-owner, can skip paying their dues. “Put your head down, be humble. You’re learning from dudes who know what they do, and have been at it for a long time. Sometimes you’re gonna have to do things repetitively, and think that it’s fucking dumb, but stick at it.”
Regardless of what hat he’s wearing, apprentice or co-owner, Perry does know this — he would be nowhere if it weren’t for the unwavering support and guidance of his team.