From the West Coast to the East Coast: Meet Our Newest Artists
Written By Darabeth Childers & Blair Shiff
In the spring of 2021, we posted an ad, calling for “talented artists” and all we can say is “Wow.”
We were amazed at who we were able to get to join our team. We had to know why they chose Charlotte and, specifically, Canvas.
Dennis — who has been tattooing for 16 years — joined Canvas on April 20, 2021, by way of San Diego, California, but the way he found out about the job posting was nearly incidental.
“My wife is the one who actually saw Jason’s post on ‘tattoo jobs’ or something, and she tagged me on Instagram,” Dennis said. “He checked out my tag and reached out to me. I had never even been to North Carolina. I figured, ’What the hell, I’ll fly out here and see what’s up’.”
Dennis was astonished at how “nice and green” Charlotte was, not to mention the dramatically different cost of living.
“We decided, if we don’t take a shot now, we are never going to,” Dennis admitted. “We moved because we both pretty much came to the conclusion that California was a dead end. We would just keep running, but we would never get anywhere.”
The cost of living in the Golden State kept going up, and Dennis said he was struggling to make ends meet. So he and his wife started looking for different places along the East Coast. All signs were pointing to Charlotte, it seemed.
Canvas had something he was really looking for, too: Passers-by.
“It had a lot of traffic, and I needed a place with some movement because I was not coming to a place with no clientele,” Dennis shared. “I came from a very small shop, with very little foot traffic. A fairly neglected, little hole in the wall, basically. Canvas actually has the artist’s back and things.”
When he was young and broke, Dennis slightly fell into tattooing.
Figure 2. left to right: Dennis Hamilton and wife April
“My friends all wanted free tattoos,” Dennis said. “They all liked my artwork. They said, ‘You should just tattoo, you draw better than most of these people they were seeing on TV at the time’.”
He somehow convinced them to buy him some tattooing equipment so he could compile a portfolio to take around to all the tattoo shops to see if anyone would take him in as an apprentice.
“Honestly, tattooing is a means of a career, but art is more of a means of a lifestyle, I guess,” Dennis admitted. “I like doing all different kinds of artwork and experimenting with different things.”
Dennis enjoys tattooing things like animal portraits, biomech, Celtic, color, lettering, Mandala, nature, realistic portraits, black-and-gray realism, script, and watercolor-styles tattoos.
“Realistic or my own style,” Dennis said of his favorite style of tattooing. “It depends on the subject matter and the client. I prefer realism. It’s just the way I illustrate. I can do a bunch of different styles. I don’t like American traditional. It’s just not my flavor. I respect it for what it is, but it’s just not my thing. Japanese, I’ll do my interpretation of Japanese. I’m not a traditional Japanese- style tattoo artist at all. I am very diverse in all the different things I can do. The space monkey is my favorite.”
As a self-proclaimed non-people person, in his off time, he likes to draw, paint and play videos.
“I am really into dinosaurs and paleontology,” Dennis admitted. “I can actually talk about it, the actual science of it. I understand the geological structures. I can talk about all the elements of it. I can talk about the speculative stuff as far as behavior when it comes to dinosaurs. I wanted to be a paleontologist when I was younger. Now, I just read paleontology books and such.”
Figure 3 “Space Monkey” by Dennis Hamilton
Jorge (pronounced George) came on board on March 21, 2021, after Mandi — his partner and tattooing protege — got her gig. He was taken by the Queen City after participating in the Charlotte Tattoo Convention in October 2018.
“It was surprising how beautiful I thought Charlotte was,” Jorge said. “It is not only a very beautiful city but also very clean. The people were friendly. The city was not too big and not too small. I had no second option.”
After touring the nation and tattooing in 15 states and knowing he always wanted to leave Florida, it was obvious to him: Charlotte was the best option for him. He had made some great connections and had his best tattooing show while here, so he took a leap of faith. His friends told him about how popular Canvas was.
“It looked busy, even the streets were busy during the pandemic,” Jorge recalled. “It was a cool little neighborhood, and I liked it a lot, so when Mandi came on board, I took the opportunity, as well. I like the ambiance. It’s cool.”
Jorge came about tattooing in an unconventional way.
“I studied political science in college, and I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and French.,” Jorge said. “I have always loved learning languages and learning about the world. So, after I graduated college, I studied in France for three months. I worked corporate jobs here and there before I got into tattooing. I have always been interested in international relations, geography, history, world history, international affairs, and languages.”
Figure 4 “Cryptkeeper” by Jorge Quintana
But his first passion was drawing and art.
“I have drawn consistently since I was 5 five years old,” Jorge shared. “Even in college, while I was studying political science, on my days off, weekends, whenever, I was still drawing as a hobby.”
He never intended for tattooing to become his career, but his love of art infiltrated all aspects of his education, even his love for other cultures and languages.
“There is a lot of politics in art history because, take, for instance, ancient Egypt. the art not only shows you the art itself, it shows you their political status of that time, what they viewed as beautiful and not so beautiful,” Jorge explained. “Also, in Greece, they loved the way the body looked, so their art was reflective of the body. So, you can learn a lot about a culture through their art; it’s fascinating.”
After tattooing for seven years, Jorge finds that he enjoys tattooing animal portraits, biomech, color, fine line, Japanese, nature, neo trad, realistic portraits, realism, American traditional, and watercolor.
“I love tattooing realism,” Jorge shared. “Mostly because that is how I draw, and it is what I am best at doing. That is what people hit me up for the most. I love other styles like neo- traditional tattooing, but I realized after traveling and doing conventions for three years straight, I noticed people were gravitating towards my realism. Not towards my Japanese or my traditional, and I found what type of tattooer I am based off of what people like of my work.”
Jorge admits he loves most styles of tattooing, but there’s one piece he’s particularly proud of.
“My most favorite tattoo I’ve done is the Cryptkeeper from Tales from the Crypt,” Jorge recalled. “I’m a big fan of horror imagery and, at the time, it was the most challenging tattoo of my career. I did it in 2019, and I did a lot of planning and homework to figure out what colors and techniques to employ. I set up my station the night before in anticipation. I stenciled it two to three times to practice. When it was completed, I was happy with the result. Best of all, it healed perfectly. It looks just like the first day it was done.”
Despite his accomplishments thus far, he wants to keep pushing himself.
”I can do a lot more than the work I push out,” Jorge admitted. “I do love Japanese tattooing. I love most styles of tattooing, so it’s not just about pushing out realistic style of tattooing.”
Amanda “Mandi” Barnard
Mandi — who’s relatively new to tattooing — started at Canvas on March 14, 2021 after getting her toes wet in Miami, which she said was a good place “to really cut your teeth.”
“My boyfriend loved Charlotte from when he was traveling with a tattoo team,” Mandi said. “I lived in the Carolinas for a brief period, and they were some of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. It just made sense.”
She’s lived in Miami, South Carolina, Texas and now, here.
“I’ve been a little gypsy,” Mandi explained. “Combine that with how much I love Esmerelda, — she’s my favorite bitch, — and that is my tattooing name @emeraldgypsytattoos.”
Figure 1. left to right: Jorge Quintana and Mandi Barnard
She made her way over to Canvas after a mutual friend of hers and Jorge suggested it to them because she was ready to find a place for herself. Jason, the owner, made her feel instantly comfortable.
“The people who I originally went to did not want to take a chance on me because I was still kind of new,” Mandi shared. “So, I came in and interviewed with Jason and absolutely adored Jason. I adore the people I work with, and I think that this was the best thing that could have happened. I have made a lot of really good friends and have met a lot of really good people. I don’t think I would have had that at any other place. I am just happier here than I have ever been.”
Always feeling like a “nerdy, loner kid,” she felt enveloped by artwork and tattooing.
“I actually went to school for professional wrestling for a little bit, but then I got two concussions and had to stop,” Mandi divulged.. “When I started tattooing, I was called ‘assbackwards’ from my first boss in Miami because I couldn’t do simple things, but I could do really complicated things, which doesn’t make sense to anybody.”
She’s wanted to be a tattoo artist since she was 15 years old. She felt at home in the tattoo community.
“I have been trying to get my foot in the door for about 11 years, since I turned 18,” Mandi admitted. “I feel like tattooing is for the people who will not fit into the regular job world, into a niche. People that want to do art that will be valued.”
Her partner Jorge recognized that spark and talent in her.
Figure 5 “American McGee’s Alice” by Mandi Barnard
“I think it’s cool that we work together,” Jorge said about mentoring his partner, Mandi. “I did teach her how to tattoo. She was my apprentice. I brought her under my wing. Funny enough, August 2020, she did her first tattoo. The rest is hers. She put in the work.”
She took a risk becoming a tattoo artist.
“I quit my actual job and was starving,” Mandi shared. “I couldn’t even buy chicken nuggets.”
But she said she held onto the love for tattoos themselves, and for the art itself. She said that’s what pushed her through all the hard times she encountered while learning.
“It’s hard to explain, but I want to succeed in it, and I have a love of it,” Mandi said.
She has some advice for females who are looking into getting into tattooing.
“Make sure that you love tattooing before you get into it, and you’re not just in it because you think it’s cool,” Mandi said. “You have to have thick skin but not so thick that you seem rude. Tattooing has turned into a customer service thing. Have faith in yourself. It’s gonna be hard no matter what gender you are.”
She’s been working for this goal for almost 10 years.
“It’s not easy, but it’s definitely worth it,” Mandi said. “Little boys, little girls, adults, it’s never too late — I’m 30 — and I am just getting started. It is one of those things that you get what you put in.”
Mandi, who has been tattooing for almost a year-and-a-half, likes to tattoo animal portraits, color, fine line, neo trad, realistic portraits, American traditional, and watercolor.
“I like illustrative, black-and-gray, and realism,” Mandi said. “I also want to do more surrealism. Dark surrealism, like Cthulhu, warping it in a disturbed way. Salvador Dali surrealism. Like nightmare fuel.”
She admits she’s always been drawn to “spooky, want-to-go-to-Salem things,” as she finds beauty in what most people find creepy.
“Vampires are my favorite thing,” Mandi said excitedly. “If I could do more lady-face vampires, like every single day, that would be awesome.”
When it comes to Mandi’s favorite tattoo, she has trouble choosing. All she could come up with was: “Every new one that I do and none of them at the same time.”
In her off time, when not obsessing over improving her craft, she plays bass and is trying to get more into singing.
“I would be interested in someone who would let me sing at their kids’ Bat Mitzvah. Anything,” Mandi joked.
Battle of the coasts: Bringing West Coast and East Coast together
With two tattoo artists reppin the East Coast and one storming strong across the country to the West Coast, bringing different tattooing styles under one roof, they each admitted, while there are distinctive approaches, there’s a bit more overlap than you might think.
“West Coast tattooing has more of a stylized look to it, whereas the East Coast tries to be more realistic, tries to push more styles of realism,” Jorge outlined. “The West Coast has a Chicano, Mexican look to it. So, you will see some line work even within the realism.”
Jorge noticed that type of preference while he was tattooing in Miami, where realistic-type tattoos were extremely popular, especially among the Latin American men.
“They love clocks; they love lions; it is very masculine,” Jorge outlined. “Traditional work is not that popular in Miami. So, for me to survive, and bring in more clientele, I realized I had to push more realistic work out because no one would get traditional there.”
But Dennis doesn’t see as much of a divergence between the American coasts.
“Now that there is the internet, those kinds of styles don’t seem to be very different anymore,” Dennis explained. “Everybody just ends up doing the same Google searches, the same Pinterest pictures. If anything, the internet has kind of reduced uniqueness, or at least environmental differences.”
In a world of sameness, Dennis tries hard to distinguish himself.
“I like to draw and design each and every thing, so at least I know I haven’t done it on someone else, and I am doing something new each time,” Dennis acknowledged. “Otherwise, I would just be copying someone else’s artwork onto another person, and it gets boring.”