Inside the Ink Trade

Miguel Valentin, 44, got his first tattoo in 1995, but he says it came out really bad. Because he had always been good at drawing caricatures and pen-and-ink pieces, he decided that he could do this himself. “I spent two years tattooing myself – working on my legs – and eventually I started working on other people,” he says. He was offered an apprenticeship in Harlem and strengthened his chops for six months before he did his first professional tattoo, which was part of a series of pieces he did that first night as a professional – until 3 a.m. Most of these were names and a kanji, or Japanese character tattoo. “I looked up and I had done like 10 tattoos. I was like, that’s it – I’m in.”