WHAKATANE man Rich Nielsen says it is faith, rather than fate, that has led him to what some might consider an unlikely career diversion.

A plasterer by trade, and worship pastor at the Liberty Life Church, Rich has added a new dimension to his work life, recently becoming an apprentice tattooist at Evolution Ink in Whakatane.

“I’ve always loved the art of tattoo and art has always been there in the background for me,” he says. “I’ve always painted, always drawn.” But he says the main motivator for working in the new field came after realising that all the people he spent time with were, like himself, Christians.

“I wanted to be in contact with a broader spectrum of people, I wanted to remind people of what is out there, to remind them that they are loved.”

A self-taught musician, accomplished in a number of instruments, including guitar, mandolin, ukulele and vocals, Rich has also worked as a music tutor in Eastern Bay schools. In his role with his church, he is responsible for all church services and music events and is a member of the church’s band.

“I’ve always been creative,” says Rich. Though still working part time as a plasterer, he now spends most of his working hours tattooing.

He says approaching the owner of the tattoo studio, Elisha Woodman, he learned she wasn’t planning on hiring anyone new. “But I guess she took a liking to me and eventually she said, ‘you’ve got a thigh, prove to me how much you want a job here, show me how much you want it’.”

Rich’s thigh today bears the signs of his first attempt to self-tattoo, but he says he found he couldn’t do it. “I learnt quickly that if I try to tattoo myself, I go into shock pretty quickly. I can do shading, but not any intricate line work. It just causes my hand to start shaking.”

He says shock is a typical reaction for anyone receiving a tattoo. “Most people go into shock at some point of the process. Not necessarily the pass-out kind of shock, though that happens, but shock that causes shaking, and causes the tattooed area to start bleeding due to increased blood flow.

“Once bleeding starts, you really can’t usually continue tattooing for much longer because the quality can be affected.” Consistently, he says, in his experience, men go into shock long before women. “Women have higher pain thresholds than men.”

Practising his tattooing needed to take place using different means, but, he says, there are several options. “People practice on skins made from latex, and some people use pig skins, too.”

With art having always been part of Rich’s life, his step into the world of tattooing surprises him less than it has proven to surprise others. “I’m loving it. Working as an artist and getting paid for it at the same time is great.” But it’s his contact with a broader spectrum of people, he says, that he is truly finding joy in.

“I believe God has opened the door for me to be doing this,” he says.

By Lorraine Wilson