Tattoo artist, traveler, and Staten Island native finally settled down six years ago to try his hand at entrepreneurship. The result was Bound for Glory, which Nick Caruso opened with the help of close friend and business partner Mike Bee. Under a black and gold awning on Forest Ave., the shop houses six artists who bring original, quality work to the table, adding a distinct cultural voice to a borough whose creative significance is often underestimated in the shadow of the capital of the world.
Q 1 || It must mean a lot to you to be able to live, work, and create art in the place where you grew up. How did growing up in Staten Island influence you as a child, as an adult, and as a tattoo artist?
That’s a great question. I guess growing up out here had both positive and negative influences. I was constantly reading comics and absorbing whatever pop culture I could when I was a kid. It’s a little behind the times out here, so I guess it forced me to start doing other things and leaving the nest, so to speak, to get more culture. But being in a small working-class community also taught me the value of working hard for a living and the importance of community and family. I also learned not to take shit from anyone. The tattoo scene out here was complete shit when I started, so I made my way to Brooklyn and Manhattan, and when I felt that the island was ready I opened up. I really love working so close to home and bringing something different to the island.
Q 2 || Is there anything about owning a shop that turned out differently than what you expected?
HAHAHA yeah, being a boss sucks!!! But I never could have imagined how close I would become to my crew at both shops, so in that respect it’s great, like a big insane family that I never prepared for…haha. Math and billing shit has never been my strong suit…and I swore I’d never have an “assistant,” but dammit I couldn’t live without him. I never expected things to get this way—I’m really happy though.
Q 3 || You’ve mentioned that you wanted the shop to have a different feel than most, especially with its emphasis on custom work. After a few years of being in business, how do you guys continue to differentiate yourselves from other shops, especially with the growing popularity within the industry?
Originally, yes—Mike and I set out to do what no one else had done out here. As I mentioned before, it’s sort of culturally a bit behind other places here. We wanted more of a modern feel, a nicer, more welcoming environment without all the stuck up artsy crap that goes along with it. It was a big hit, but slowly we made it more of a traditional style shop, with a few of us working by appointment and always taking walk-ins, no matter what. I feel that it’s very important to do all the stuff that comes in, BECAUSE of the growing popularity. I’ve been in the biz for 19 years and it’s always in the back of my head that it can all end tomorrow—and so far that attitude has worked for us.
Q 4 || How has your business model and/or philosophy changed since 2009? Did you guys make any mistakes that you later learned from?
It has changed. I made mistakes just like anyone else. I advertised a couple of times (complete waste of money in my opinion now) and hired a few idiots who will remain nameless; it was almost my downfall. I’m very careful who I let work for me now, and am of the opinion that good work should speak for itself. No matter how much you spend or how many people you hire, it simply cannot replace a quality tattoo.
Q 5 || When you do custom pieces, there must be a lot of profound interaction with customers to figure out exactly what they want done- what do you like most about this interaction, and what kinds of things do you learn about people through the tattoos they ask for?
I’m pretty in depth with consultations, but if it starts getting weird, I’ll remind them that I’m not a therapist, bartender or shaman or some shit. Sometimes I’ll say, “Sorry, I just can’t help you.” But that’s rare. Usually I enjoy meeting new people and hearing their ideas, and I really like improving on them and giving them different takes on their ideas. Sometimes I learn stuff I never want to hear again, and sometimes we become friends. So it’s interesting.
Q 6 || What has been the greatest learning experience that got you to the point you’re at now, and how do you keep learning and improving as an artist?
That would be my daughter, Koral. I had her very young (she’s almost 19) and that alone pushed me to work as hard as possible—tattoo everything, stay late, learn whatever I could to take care of her and give her everything I didn’t have. Now I’m at the point where I can just take all of that and do what I want (‘cause she turned out pretty damn good).
Q 7 || What do you think is the most important thing rising artists can do for the tattoo industry to preserve the culture and its originality?
STOP TAKING APPRENTICES.
Q 8 || Lastly, are there any projects, appearances, or guest artist visits you have coming up that you’re looking forward to?
YES! I love working at the Paris and London conventions, always a great time. The best people in the world working all around you! And I’m planning a trip back to Tattoo City in San Francisco…and lots and lots of painting projects coming up.