Gary Olson was born and raised in Grand Rapids until age 14, when his father moved the family to mine for gold in Alaska. As a teenager, Gary found that drawing was a great release from teenage stressors. It was when Gary first looked at an old Easy Rider magazine that he fell in love with the biker scene, part of which included tattoos.
Back then tattoos were taboo, but then, my whole life at the time was taboo. My first tattoo was done by a professional with no moral compass as I was only 15 years old. I just had to get my Harley wings. Then I ran into an old biker dude who seen the tattoo. He asked me if I owned a Harley. I told him no, but my dad did. He informed me that I should get it covered until I owned one or I wouldn’t be righteous. Later, I figured that if I did get it covered, I would be harder pressed to get a bike. It worked. Now I have an even better Harley tattoo.
My first tattoo happened when a buddy looked at my drawings and found a snake that turned into a woman at the waist. He informed me he knew how to make a tattoo gun and wanted me to tattoo the design on him. I asked him what if I messed it up. He declared that if I could draw like that, that he was sure I could tattoo. Well, he was right and wrong. I picked up the process of putting the ink in his skin real quick, which gave me a great deal of confidence. But, I also learned that too much detail in a woman’s face that small can make her pretty ugly. As with most self-taught tattoo artist, each tattoo provided its own lesson. Looking back, I wholeheartedly subscribe to the belief that anyone seeking the tattoo profession should serve as an apprentice. Where I lived, that wasn’t an option at the time.
I started my first tattoo studio twenty years ago in Fairbanks, Alaska. I’ve been back tattooing in my home town now since 2006. Looking back over the years as a tattooist, I have been able to meet the most interesting people, do some incredible artwork, and make a decent living doing what I love the most. The dream life that I aspired to as a teenager has been the life I’ve lived. Sometimes I think with amazement, at how many people are wearing my ink. I owe each one my gratitude, for without them, I would not have been able to live this life.