The human body is Andrew Schmah’s canvas.
Indeed, his own body is covered in tattoos from head to toe. Although several were done by other artists, Schmah inked many of them himself, especially on his legs.
“When I was 17 I got my ex-girlfriend’s initials on the back of my arm,” said Schmah, the owner of 100 Mile Tattoo Studio. “That’s all covered up now and I didn’t learn my lesson because I did that two more times. My favourite tattoo is my ram’s skull on my knee. I did it myself too.”
Schmah has a lifetime love of art. He grew up in a home filled with his mother’s watercolour paintings of flowers, sparking him to take up painting scenes of nature with bold colours before he found himself drawn more towards comic books and dark fantasy paintings. He was inspired by the late comic book artist Frank Frazetta, known for his work on Conan the Barbarian.
After leaving the South Okanagan for the Lower Mainland, Schmah continued turning his body into art with more tattoos. These includeed skulls, gothic script, Viking runes and animals, including the outline of a flying owl on his belly.
It was during one of these sessions about a decade ago that his tattoo artist in Langley noticed Schmah’s interest in art and graphic design and suggested he give tattooing a try.
Schmah jumped on the idea, taking a job in a studio and learning from several “amazing” mentors who helped him develop his own style. After a few years, he chose to go independent and open his own studio.
“I just worked how I wanted to, at my own pace. That’s the one thing I didn’t like about working for another artist, they would be rushing me all the time,” Schmah said. “When you slow down and take your time, you’re just sitting there, drawing and making sure that tattoo turns out perfect.”
A tattoo design usually starts with an idea or image his client brings him. Schmah then takes this initial concept and transfers it to his tablet where he uses the program Procreate to flesh out the design and make it unique. Once the design is finalized, he prints it out onto a stencil made from thermal paper before applying it to the client and adhering the design onto the skin.
Although his work is based on his clients’ requests, Schmah said he prefers doing realistic tattoos.
These can range from copying the likeness of a beloved pet to more creative work, like skeletons with flowers growing out of them. Comic books have remained a source of artistic inspiration for Schmah, whose tattoo parlour is covered with posters and even original pages from Dungeons and Dragons comic books.
Schmah said he loves doing detailed work that will stand up to the tests of time. Bodies metabolize ink, making the original image become blurred and distorted and Schmah said the real skill comes from being able to plan ahead for that.
“I can do colour, but I would say I specialize in black and grey,” he said.
The time each tattoo takes varies on the recipient. An important part of Schmah’s job is communication, ensuring he knows each client’s pain threshold.
While some can do an entire piece in one four-hour session, others prefer spreading it out over the course of several days.
“If they’re not happy with it, I’m not happy with it, but that never seems to be the case now,” Schmah said. “You’re always nervous because they get up, look at it, go over to the mirror and then go ‘damn, it’s killer.’ It makes me really happy.”
Moving up to 100 Mile House during the pandemic last year was something of a gamble. A father of two boys, Schmah said he and his partner Kaitlin wanted to return to the small-town lifestyle and be closer to nature. After finding a unit on Birch Avenue, he decided to take a leap of faith and open a tattoo parlour.
“It was a total chance, we didn’t know if we were going to flop right away, especially with the COVID stuff happening. Instead, we just got busier, and busier,” Schmah said. “I think if you’re good people and do a good job, you can make a tattoo parlour work (anywhere).”
Since opening his doors, Schmah has had between three to four clients a day. He’s taught Kaitlin how to tattoo as well and she’s now almost as busy as he is, in addition to helping him run the business. He’s had a lot of requests for bears, bulls, eagles, animal skulls, axes and logging trucks.
Schmah is available by appointment only currently and can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org.