There’s no looking back for this Myrtle Beach tattoo artist

For Weekly SurgeJanuary 28, 2014 

Miguel Valentin at Karma Tattoo in Myrtle Beach. Courtesy photo.

Miguel Valentin, 44, got his first tattoo in 1995, but he says it came out really bad. Because he had always been good at drawing caricatures and pen-and-ink pieces, he decided that he could do this himself. “I spent two years tattooing myself – working on my legs – and eventually I started working on other people,” he says. He was offered an apprenticeship in Harlem and strengthened his chops for six months before he did his first professional tattoo, which was part of a series of pieces he did that first night as a professional – until 3 a.m. Most of these were names and a kanji, or Japanese character tattoo. “I looked up and I had done like 10 tattoos. I was like, that’s it – I’m in.”

By way of a symbolic entry into the world of ink, Valentin pierced his labret (right under his lower lip) and quit his job at a bakery the next day. “I haven’t looked back and I don’t plan to,” he says.

Valentin moved to Myrtle Beach a year ago with wife, Alicia Pearlman, and daughter, Evalise, 11. “I wanted to do something different,” he says. “I scouted out this area and found a nice little apartment right off Ocean Boulevard.” His daughter attends Myrtle Beach Middle School. “I grew up in Fort Lauderdale, so I know how it is to be in a vacation town, but this has that homey and local feel.”

He works at Karma Tattoo - www.tattoomyrtlebeach.com - in Myrtle Beach, alongside owner Chris Abraham. “I started out in another shop, but it was kind of corporate owned, where the owner is not an artist. That didn’t last long – but then I met Chris and he took me on. I am really happy here – and I think this summer is going to be really good.”

Valentin notes the heavy legislation, unfair zoning regulations and “vigorous, almost Gestapo-type scrutiny from DHEC.” But despite all of this, he says the business is booming. “Although being zoned with warehouses and strip clubs, local tattoo artists believed in their art, paid their dues and hung out their shingles in the hope of beautifying tourists and locals alike,” he says. “I don’t mind the fact that we are on Tattoo Row – because you get to meet other artists.”

And there is a lot more busy work than meets the eye. “Although sometimes glamorously portrayed on TV, the tattoo artist’s workday is anything but. [The] day usually starts at 9 a.m. with sweeping and mopping the shop, followed by disinfecting countertops and work areas.” Then the equipment is sterilized and any necessary paperwork is done before the shop opens at 10 a.m. “And then we wait – for that new customer looking for a lasting memento of their wonderful vacation in Myrtle Beach – or for that return customer who’s been saving up to finish that Japanese sleeve.”

He considers himself fortunate to practice the craft he loves while providing for his family – and has noticed a paradigm shift within the industry. “The days of drug-ridden, gang-related drifters is gone,” he says. “Nine out of ten tattoo artists have local roots with families to support – and put 100 hundred percent into their art.” He adds that he and his colleagues live by the creed, “You are only as good as your last tattoo.”

Downtime includes spending time with his family at the beach, hitting up the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk or going to the water parks. “It’s a great place for a kid to grow up,” he says. He can be spotted grabbing a bite at Locals Corner Restaurant & Bar on Seaboard Street.

Valentin is working on an art show in connection with Doctrine of Ethos drummer, Corey Holden. “I talked to a few of the artists who are really cool here on the strip – and we’re putting together a show focusing on tattoo art but also other mediums that these true artists work in every day.”

Is this South Florida guy laying down roots on the Grand Strand?

“I’m planting my flag and plan on being here for a while,” he says.

Know of a local with an interesting job or career that should be given the Working 4 a Living Treatment? Contact Roger Yale at rgyale@gmail.com.

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