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Warrior Tattoo Studio: Where the body is the canvas

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.”

Warrior Tattoo
Warrior Tattoo Studio is located at 83 NE Carefree Ln in Waukee.

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.”

Warrior Tattoo
An example of a tattoo done at Warrior Tattoo Studio in Waukee. Photo courtesy of the Warrior Tattoo Studio Facebook page.

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.”

Warrior Tattoo
One of the tattoos done at Warrior Tattoo Studio in Waukee. Photo courtesy of the Warrior Tattoo Studio Facebook Page

Military impact

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.

Warrior Tattoo Studio also donated to Children and Family of Iowa through their “Toys for Tats” program. Hintz said they collected over 300 toys for underprivileged families in Central Iowa.

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.


  • John
    Posted November 2, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    This was a great article! Thank you so much!!!

  • Gayla
    Posted November 7, 2017 at 11:40 am

    Very interesting article and the tattoo workmanship is superb!

Comments are closed.

Warrior Tattoo Studio: Where the body is the canvas | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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