It all started with a grapefruit.
That’s how John Hintz learned the art of tattooing 17 years ago. And 17 years later, he’s the owner of the Warrior Tattoo Studio in Waukee.
“I was an art guy and thought I would be working as a graphic designer and illustrator after graduating from college,” Hintz says. “I went to school for art and didn’t plan on tattooing, ever.”
Hintz did two tours of duty in the Army from 1993-1997 and again from 2001-2015. But between 1997 and 2001, he learned the art of tattooing as an apprentice under Earl Ramey at the “Sacred Skin” tattoo shop in downtown Des Moines.
After retiring from the Army in 2015, Hintz opened the Warrior Tattoo Shop on March 14, 2016.
He is now training two of his own apprentices, with his own grapefruits.
“I taught both of them how to tattoo the same way I learned, by tattooing a grapefruit,” Hintz says. “You spend three to six months watching and learning, while at the same time tattooing on a grapefruit. Then the girls would run in—just like I did back in the day— with their grapefruit like look at how awesome my grapefruit is.”
From apprentice to owner
When he was an apprentice, Hintz said it took him a year before he started tattooing for money.
“There was probably a period there of like six months where I basically was tattooing for tips,” Hintz explains. “Where if you liked my work, you gave me money and if you didn’t, well that means I suck.”
Now at the Warrior Tattoo Studio, he’s scheduling appointments two months in advance and says no two days are ever the same. Hintz says he will work anywhere from six to ten hours a day, seven days a week.
“I did a tattoo that took me a year to complete that was a Walt Disney sleeve,” Hintz says. “I want to say it took 12 sittings on that arm to get it completely colored, all done. It was badass.”
Then he will have someone who wants the Mickey Mouse ears.
“Took me maybe five minutes,” Hintz says laughing. “You never know what you are going to get.”
Hintz says a lot of the work they do at the Waukee Tattoo Studio is, “memorial based” and that he appreciates being part of that story.
“What’s cool is you create a bond with this person because your hands are on them,” Hintz says. “You are breaking this barrier. When people get tattooed, they want to talk and not only the good things, but the bad things.”
It’s a custom shop
Customers can’t come to the Warrior Tattoo Shop, look on the wall and pick out a tattoo.
“We don’t have tattoo flash all over the walls where they can say we want number 73, which is something 40 other people could have,” Hintz says. “We try to be as custom as possible.”
But what makes being a custom tattoo shop more challenging Hintz says, is Pinterest.
“Everybody goes to Pinterest to pick out their tattoos,” he says. “So when they come in with those, the goal is to take whatever that tattoo is and tweak or change it so you aren’t doing an exact replica.”
He says his customers are very knowledgeable and do their homework before coming to the shop.
“People know what they are talking about and will get online and search the artists and the shops,” Hintz says. “We have so many people who come in here because they saw our rating on Facebook. And I put work online on Facebook every day, just to make sure people are continually seeing the work we produce.”
During his time in the Army, Hintz says they’d work 14 hour days in extreme conditions.
“So when somebody says to me, ‘You did nine hours of tattooing today? That’s crazy,'” Hintz recalls. “I’m thinking that’s easy.
“I sat in a tattoo shop, hanging out with people and drawing on their skin.”
Hintz said Warrior Tattoo Studio offers discounts to police officers, firefighters, and first responders.
He says the “Toys for Tats” program will be back in 2017.
“We try to just not be a tattoo shop,” Hintz says. “Which is straight from the military. You ingrain yourself into every community otherwise they look at you as outsiders. So you’ve got to work hard to become part of the community.