Everyone has a story filled with trial and tribulation, but not everyone is asked to share that story. A really interesting interview is filled with the right questions. So in order to get to know Justin Murabito, tattoo artist, tattoo aching builder, and new shop owner, READ ON!
When I sat down with Justin, I was intrigued. He has a certain aire of confidence and competency. I suppose you have to have those things as a person requiring patronage from strangers. I have often wondered how you could trust a stranger to mark you but I trusted him.
His appearance is what you might expect of any small town tattoo artist; baggy jeans, a t-shirt, baseball cap, and covered in tattoos. And I would be remiss to not mention the formidable dark beard that is past the collar of his Black Rose Tattoo shop t- shirt. When I asked him about the shirt that did’t bear the name of the tattoo shop we were at, full of enthusiasm he explained to me, “The tattoo community is a strong one. even stronger in the age of Facebook and Instagram. Any artist who has any will and drive to succeed makes it a point to buddy up with other artists all over the country. The world.”
Justin explained to me that part of his success is due to his membership in many forums, including builder’s forums but he started in tattoo machine sales and trade groups. That is how he got that t-shirt. The guy he traded with sent it along with the machine he was trading. I asked if that happens all the time and he said, “Oh! Yeah!” So it seems to be part of the etiquette between people in this industry . Without these connections made in the groups he would have never again come across the opportunity to change his path in life forever. He went from tinkering with his own collection of tattoo machines and the machines of the other artists at Jinx Proof Tattoo Emporium to finding a serious interest in something he felt he had a special talent.
As we segwayed into machine building Justin let me know that in the world of builders there is a difference between building and assembling. The difference being pretty self evident. But if there is any doubt let us set the assemblers straight. A true build is from scratch, a side plate design and some welding or braising. And in those sales and trade forums it is important that you give credit to whom it is due if using parts that were created by someone else.
Being a builder is having a workshop because it takes a fair bit of machinery to create a tattoo machine and that brings us back to the great opportunity from the forums. A builder in Jascksonville, North Carolina, a six hour drive for Justin who lives in the mountains of East Tennessee, had agreed to trade a machine with Justin and then mentioned that he was a builder and was thinking about selling everything. Justin would have everything he would need to start building himself.
Justin found himself entertaining the idea. He would just have to find a way to come up with all the money to buy what had become his dream. But he had to decide soon. Recently he had felt he was behind in life. You see those trial and tribulations I was speaking of was a three-year federal prison sentence.
He was released December 27th 2012. When I asked him about it he assured me but even though his sentence was most horrible, taking him away from his children, he would not change anything about what happened or how it happened because it has brought him to where he is now. It gave him the opportunity to get his GED, to get clean, and he made the most of his talents drawing and tattooing to get him through.
Justin started tattooing in 2000 under apprenticeship in Jefferson City, Tennessee. From there he went up to New York and returned for the birth of his first child. Not long after there was a hiatus to Sacramento, California, Denver, Colorado, then he moved to Louisiana be with his older brother. At last returning to Tennessee once again. all the while continuing to tattoo everywhere he went. Then he caught the charge that sent him away.
Being shipped from one prison to the next he kept tattooing. For it was his currency and as he refined his art was single needle tattoo the day of his release finally came. Lucky enough, once in a half-way facility, he got a job and was allowed to leave Knoxville Tennessee to be in Johnson City Tennessee on house arrest. Reunited with family he worked as an illustrator and helped out with screen printing for a small company he had briefly worked for before his incarceration. For the first time in a long time he wasn't tattooing. You can plan your life all you want but Justin’s story is like most. A story you might be familiar with, he fell in love and it changed everything. There was a designer at his job and even though he planned to be with the mother of his second child, his time away had changed him, changed them both. His feelings for the woman who had fell into the scene drove him to change his course.
To make a long story short they were in love and he proposed. She pushed him to give tattooing a chance again. It would be hard. He had been gone a while. He would have to build his clientele up again. An old friend and owner at Jinx Proof Tattoo Emporium--A traditional tattoo shop with graphattied exterior and open concept interior with lots to look at.--offered him a spot to work by appointment. And boy did it pay off. It wasn't easy but he was soon taking walk ins and doing his best to put himself out there with business cards and the almighty social media.
These days Justin pours himself into machine every hour he can find, after work late at night and on the his days off. In his workshop at his house is where all the magic happens. Making it a priority buy more tools and supplies and in the past six months he's gone from an unknown to Twisted Ink.
When I asked what advice he would give to someone who was thinking about being in the tattoo industry his reply was, "Find something else to do." When I asked him which profession he enjoyed more he said, "Machine building. But I want to continue tattooing for as long as I can.”
If you look through his facebook and Instagram you'll find a lot of rave reviews about his machines. They talk as if he possesses some kind of special powers. When I asked what his customers say most often it was, “AWESOME! I couldn't be happier.”
I laughed and he said, "I give them what they want. Something to make their jobs easier. A tattoo machine built by a tattooer for a tattooer."
Presently Justin has opened a brand new tattoo shop at:
1352 Milligan Highway
Johnson City, TN 37601
Make sure to follow him on social media for grand opening deals and gift certificates.
Facebook @aviditytattoo @murabitomachines
a.k.a. longtime lover of the morbeats empire
To see more visit Justin's pages on the web.