The buzzing sound of tattoo machines slowly turns into a hum. Music bumps throughout the room and the people inside crack jokes and tell stories. Paint and canvas has now become ink and skin as the storybook of one’s life is permanently inked onto their body.
This is the scene you might have found yourself in when receiving a tattoo from Air Traffic Controller 2nd Class Bruce Giulio, a native of Boulder, Montana, now a Sailor on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), who devoted the majority of his off-duty hours to being a tattoo artist while he was stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola.
Despite the fact Giulio is in the U.S. Navy and had to plan around duty days and often long working hours, he found a way to do what he loves and complete around 800 tattoos as an apprentice at Boneface Ink in Pensacola, Florida.
Giulio has always considered himself an artist. He found joy in the idea of the ability to use his artwork as a profession.
“My cousins and I were all born a month apart so we ended up drawing together and seeing who’s the best artist, and basically through high school we kept on competing and eventually I had people telling me I should be a tattoo artist,” said Giulio.
Giulio realized his dream and then began to take the necessary steps to succeed. He said he was turned down quite a bit when he first started looking for a mentor.
“My constant thought was ‘well it’s my artwork why are you going to pay someone a bunch of money and pay me 25 bucks for this drawing that I spent 15 hours on,’” said Giulio. “So cut out the middle man, if you want my artwork you come to me for my artwork.”
He practiced his drawing tirelessly and built up multiple portfolios to bring around and show off his artwork. As he started to struggle, Giulio came to the conclusion that maybe it was time to consider other options. That is when he made the decision to turn to the Navy for help.
“Being in the Navy as a tattoo artist will help when it comes to networking,” said Giulio. “You can be the best artist in the world, but really it comes down to who you know and who knows you.”
The Navy is known for its tattoo culture, and there can be a lot of possibilities to make connections as a tattoo artist.
It all worked out for him. During his time in Pensacola, Giulio had a fellow Sailor take him into Boneface Ink where he would eventually meet his mentor and begin to mold himself into the finest tattooist he can be.
“I went in and asked ‘would you be willing to take on an apprentice’ and ‘he was like well no, but can I see your portfolio?’ and since I had already tried before I knew to bring in my artwork,” said Giulio. “After he looked at my work, I ended up getting to work at the tattoo shop, but when I had duty I obviously I couldn’t work, and I had to work that out with him. It was like a week on week off according with duty.”
The process of being an apprentice for a tattoo artist was tedious. Giulio began by spending the majority of his time practicing drawing styles that are common in the world of tattoos like script lettering, traditional, and his favorite styles realism and neo-traditional.
From there, Giulio simulated tattooing skin by practicing with a tattoo machine on grapefruit, and as he got better, his mentor began to let him do some small lettering and walk-in tattoos.
After six months learning the ins and outs of being a tattoo artist, Giulio was finally allowed to do full scale tattoos that he would design and plan out with the customer. His first attempt went really well, but it may have just been beginner’s luck.
“My second one was really nerve-wracking, and I was constantly apologizing for hurting him because the thought of that was hard to overcome. A piece of paper doesn’t complain when you draw on it, but people do.”
Now that Giulio has left Pensacola and joined the Nimitz crew it is important to him that he is able to keep working on his passion of tattooing, especially as the ship is nearing its 2017 deployment.
“I practice my craft on board by drawing as much as I can and pushing myself with my art,” said Giulio.
It isn’t that difficult to recognize Giulio’s passion for what he does because every word he speaks about it shows the same level of devotion as his artwork.
“The whole idea behind tattoos is describing parts of your life,” said Giulio. “It’s all a storybook on skin. People should be proud of what they are doing in their life, and it’s a good way of paying homage to what you have done with your life.”
As the last tattoo machine stops buzzing and the ink is all set on the shelves for the day. The last customer looks into the mirror with a smile on their face, and they leave the shop. The music is switched off and the lights dim for the night until it’s time to write more stories in skin tomorrow.
Story by MCSN Ian Kinkead