North Branford Patch: How long have you been a tattoo artist? How long at this location?
Stephen Maler: Between seven and eight years. I've been here [Taboo Tattoo Parlour] for maybe five months.
North Branford Patch: How did you become involved in body ink?
Maler: One of my friends was a tattoo artist and he used to see me drawing and he offered to apprentice me. He liked my artwork and it was kind of all his idea, so it's pretty cool how that worked out.
North Branford Patch: Is there a certain piece of which you are particularly proud?
Maler: Well, this Richard Nixon one was really unique [see photo]. The guy came in and he was really drunk so I took his number and called him the next day when he was sober and asked if he still wanted to do it and he did. *laughs* It was pretty cool. Nixon's arms are on the guy's shoulders, so when he raises his arms, Nixon raises his arms. It's sort of grafitti style.
North Branford Patch: Did you go to art school?
Maler: No, I never did. I've only taken honors art classes in high school. I've thought I might want to take a few classes here and there because it will only help. I've never had any formal art training besides a tattoo apprenticeship.
North Branford Patch: Do you have a specialty?
Maler: It's hard to say. I think as long as it's custom and original, I enjoy doing it more. I do like color and black and grey equally, though.
North Branford Patch: What's the most challenging aspect of your job?
Maler: One thing is just every person and part of the body and types of skin are completely different to tattoo. The same tattoo on a different person could take double the time, so it took a lot of time getting use to skin, texture, consistencies. I'm pretty comfortable tattooing though. Obviously, they're permanent so you can't be hesitant if you're going to do this. There's no eraser on a tattoo machine.
North Branford Patch: What do you love most about your job?
Maler: I've always loved artwork, it's just art in general. That and I can be tattooing forever and always learn new styles and techniques. You can always learn from just looking at other people's artwork or working with other people, whether they've been tattooing more or less than you, you can always help each other with techniques.
North Branford Patch: What's a day in the life of a tattoo artist like?
Maler: A good day, well, every day is so different. It's definitely slow season right now. This business is so up and down depending on the time of year. You never know what you're going to make each week. I usually get here a little before noon and we stay open until eight, sometimes later if it's busy. Usually right before each holiday it slows down a bit. When I'm not tattooing, I try to do other artwork. I like to paint. Painting and tattooing, to some extent, go hand in hand. You can get better at tattooing from painting and vice versa, a little bit at least.
North Branford Patch: Who is your clientele?
Maler: Business people come in with tattoos that you can only see when they take off their shirts. I've given 80-plus-year-old people their first tattoos now that it's more acceptable in society, I guess. Within the last 10 years, those tattoo shows have really helped with the popularity, showing it's not just bikers and gangs who get body art done. It's people of all walks of life now. Even families come in and get bonding date tattoos and stuff like that.
North Branford Patch: What can you tell me about tattoo acceptance in the workplace?
Maler: It's probably more acceptable than it used to be, but there's still many people who want to judge by the looks. It's not even one specific type of business, it's people in general. They can be jerks and they're really quick to judge. Some people look at you like you're crazy, but that's just people.
North Branford Patch: What's it like being a tattoo artist in this area?
Maler: It's a little slower out here. I've spent most of my tattoo career in Florida. I grew up in North Branford and learned tattooing in New Haven before spending a good four years down there, so I've only been here so long and it takes a little bit to build up your clientele. There are certain businesses that are similar, like stylists. It's more of a luxury thing that people don't need to have but want.