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Youth making a killing from tattoo business.

Art is the expression of an individual’s creative skill in either painting or sculpture to convey a message for aesthetic appreciation.

Tattooing as an art although frowned upon by religion has gained currency as popular culture and has been embraced by millennials making it a lucrative enterprise for tattoo artists.

Samuel Wainaina (aka) Amaze, a 25-year-old Kiambu resident has made this his source of bread for two years now. He has devoted his entire life to inking the human flesh and this has been paying all his bills.

“This is a passion that has developed into a talent and now the job I do daily. I began drawing when I was young and I always knew I would become an artist”. Wainaina who is popularly known as Amaze, says the name comes from the definition of Samuel, which is amazing and awesome.

He says the concept was taken from the amazing part, because he believes he does amazing things. “In this era of social media, people find fancy names and amaze is not an exceptional,” he explains.

Amaze is the second born in a family of three, he has a younger brother, aged 20 years, studying Mass Communication at the Nairobi Institute of Business Studies who he says is also enthusiastic and passionate about art.He says that he sees the same blood flowing in his family.

Amaze dropped out of university months before the completion of the course he was pursuing, Tours and Travel Operations, a diploma in 2012 at the Zetech University.

The subject did not tickle his fancy hence the drastic decision and he was ready to break every rule in the book to achieve his dream of becoming a stellar artist.

“I clashed with my mother, she did not understand what I was doing and how I could make money from this,” he says adding that he was heavily criticised by relatives who linked tattoos to demonic power.

“Some of my uncles are pastors; they have never been convinced that a tattoo is beauty and not demons as often stereotyped. My mother and I did not talk for a week, I understood her because African parents have not adapted to tattoo being a serious business”.

This came to change later and both of them found a common ground. His father on the other hand was never at odds with him, he championed for happiness and wanted him to express himself the best way he can. He recalls when his mother would often ask his father to talk him out of his queer fantasies, “my father sat me down and told me that as long as what you do never makes you regret, I will not stand in your way”.

This skill according to him requires a high level of creativity and not suitable for the faint hearted. Amaze has trained himself with limited sources to rack up skills that will earn him an extra coin. Training from established artists like him will cost you a fortune. Amaze’s beginning days were not rosy and he admits that his never-ending love for art has sustained him through the stormy days.

“If you want a tattoo artist to train you, then prepare to part with roughly 30,000 shillings per month for three months and this also depends on how fast you can learn”.

He said, he began as a graphics designer, a course in a university that he learnt by himself online, he sold clothes and shoes for a while before beginning his journey as a freelance print on demand (P.O.D). “We would get online requests from around the world to design logos and decorate t-shirts and get paid depending on your creativity”, this catapulted his efficiency and delivery.

The Muguga high school alumnus says a month after quitting his tertiary education he met Mutua arts, an artist who has travelled to South Africa and Canada courtesy of this talent. Mutua took him to the coast for a job for a month and a half to learn the ropes. Amaze says that was his turning point because after that experience he made up his mind about making money from this gift he had.

Thomas Merton a poet, social activist and writer once said art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time and for Amaze, art is therapy that gets him off thinking and somehow building castles in the air.

People his age who have not decided on what to do have indulged themselves in abusing drugs, crime and illicit alcohol as witnessed in the various parts of the county. Art helps him focus and keeps him happy which he agrees contributes to his mental stability. “Family members who force you to do what they want are being selfish, and denying you joy by caving in to societal pressure will take a toll on you”.

Amaze runs his business from a shop with three other friends, they have rented a room and pays 25,000 shillings monthly. He charges for his service according to the design and the area you want a tattoo on but an artist is paid by how skilled they are. Amaze relies on referrals and social media to market his job. “The art industry is transforming, I have seen great change and strides made over the years and this is bound to also improve in future, people now can depend on art” he says.

Tattoos are naturally painful because it involves pricking the skin with pins and needles. By virtue of piercing human skin, Amaze ensures he has the best machines and the precautions taken to prevent causing infections on his clients. He has also accumulated so much knowledge on the human skin and his priority is his clientele.

“Before a session begins, I take time to talk to my client, explain the amount of pain they will experience because there are parts of the body more painful than others, so they are prepared to undergo the inking”.

A good tattoo artist is fast because nobody wants to feel the piercing for a long time, hence how they get referrals and recommendations from previous customers. His target audience is between the ages of 20-25 but once in a blue moon, persons over 40 seek his services.

Amaze believes that an artist has the capability of doing just about anything that involves drawing and he doubles up as a graffiti artist too, he is invited to decorate walls by people in their residences and streets too, this is a side hustle for him and he still makes money from it.

“The size of the wall matters a lot, a big one can cost up to Sh300,000 and the small one at least 5,000 shillings”.

He is fully aware that people his age succumb to peer pressure and advises that he has escaped that by loving what he does, “I go to work because I love it, I did not allow myself to be trapped in by opinions of naysayers into doing what does not align with my dream” he advises people his age to pile up skills and be positive.

As an artist, Amaze is also discriminated against for also having tattoos around his body but he said he is already used to it and it no longer bothers him or makes him upset but advises people to get decent tattoos. He has full support from his family and that he says keeps him going.

People holding back on their gifts and could easily turn it into a money-making venture should take a cue from him, he says adding he used the resources that he could reach and was eager to learn.

Amaze hopes in the future to own a studio displaying various forms of art and paintings, he also hopes to recruit and train other artists and have even more machinery to expand his business.

Amaze is a sports lover and enjoys skating, he hopes to own a stadium and a skating park, and he also believes his love for traveling will take him across the globe.

by Lydia Shiloya/Anthony Muli

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