Graphic designer and tattoo artist Abraham Cordova's mobile tattoo studio only lasted a year, but that doesn't mean he failed. Unsatisfied with the direction of his life, the 31-year-old took the leap to start Cordova Ink, a rolling tattoo studio in a repurposed COTA bus that promised to bring "Art to the people." While the business was gaining momentum last year, Cordova was forced to shut down his inventive concept after losing the day job that supported his family. But now, the husband and father of three is ready to take on the challenge again, starting a GoFundMe page to finance his new vehicle, and a fresh start. Armed with a deeper understanding of his artwork and the obstacles ahead, Cordova hopes to bring his artwork straight to the street again.
Graphic designer and tattoo artist Abraham Cordovaís mobile tattoo studio only lasted a year, but that doesnít mean he failed. Unsatisfied with the direction of his life, the 31-year-old took the leap to start Cordova Ink, a rolling tattoo studio in a repurposed COTA bus that promised to bring ďArt to the people.Ē While the business was gaining momentum last year, Cordova was forced to shut down his inventive concept after losing the day job that supported his family. But now, the husband and father of three is ready to take on the challenge again, starting a GoFundMe page to finance his new vehicle, and a fresh start. Armed with a deeper understanding of his artwork and the obstacles ahead, Cordova hopes to bring his artwork straight to the street again.
My older brother tattooed himself with a homemade tattoo machine when he was 18. I thought it was so cool; I started tattooing myself during my senior year at CCAD. I went to CCAD for graphic design, which I still do during the day. I grew up on the West Coast around Low-Rider culture and Chicano art. Everybody I knew was tattooed. I tattooed here and there for about three years, then I apprenticed at Fat Lip Tattoo on High Street for about a year. From there, I went back into graphic design because as a Christian artist, I had a hard time fitting in with tattoo shops. I got a job at Skin Deep tattoos in Reynoldsburg for a little while, about that time my wife and I got married. She has a son, and it seemed like I was never making enough money tattooing. When you have a creative passion itís hard to finance.
When I turned 30 last year, I realized I was working every day toward nothing. It was like a pre-mid-life crisis. So I decided to do something about it. I came across the Ed Hardy fashion line, and saw they did a big fashion show in L.A. During the show two tattoo artists were working out of an Airstream camper, giving people who attended the event free tattoos. I thought that was a cool idea. When I was working at shops and trying to get people to come in, I found that [tattoo enthusiasts] typically have a specific person theyíve been going to for years, or they go to people they know personally. Average people who work 9-5 jobs found it intimidating to go into the shop. Columbus is a big tattoo city with a lot of reputable artists and Hell City Tattoo Festival. There has become this attitude among artists that if the tattoo isnít big enough or the artist doesnít like idea they get turned down because the artist has plenty of business. I think anybody who wants a tattoo should be able to get one no matter the size or the relevance to [the artist]. With the bus, I could go anywhere and avoid that intimidation.
The first time I approached the health department they said many people had approached them with the idea, but nobody had made it happen. I could only get temporary permits because one of the health codes requires a bathroom. Since the bus didnít have one, the health department had to come to the site and make sure the bathroom at the site met the criteria. I basically had to get the permit the artists at Hell City use, which is a lot easier to get once a year rather than for each event. We first set up at the July Moonlight Market last year. We treated it like a soft open, because we werenít sure how the logistics would work out. The organizers didnít even know what to think. I had a friend volunteer to get the first tattoo. As it got darker, people could see inside the bus, which inspired a few people to get flash tattoos right there. It was a fun experience to be the entertainment Ö I donít know how many times people would say to the person in the chair: ďAre you really getting tattooed right now?Ē
The whole thing was a shot in the dark. The mobile tattoo studio was successful for a while. We didnít have a lot of money saved up, and my graphic design job had let me go. Our rent was too much, so we had to move into my parentsí house with two children and my pregnant wife. It was getting winter and we didnít have the heat situation in the bus worked out ó so everything just fell through all at once. I didnít want to have my baby at my momís house, so I made the flash decision to sell the bus. I made enough to get us into our new place, but I regret it. I feel like if I had stuck it out things would have been different. Go for broke, but at the same time I donít feel bad for making choices that were better for my family and not my business. We are in a better place now, and Iím looking for a new vehicle. I think the process will be a lot shorter this time since Iíve already jumped through all the hoops. People are all about Ohio pride and supporting local, which creates a unique community for everyone. The next time around, Iíll be better at networking.
Photo by Meghan Ralston