Nick Wagner has lived in Jacksonville his entire life and for nearly half of that life, he has been a tattoo artist who’s so skilled, he has a waiting list that goes well into 2015. Like many tattoo artists, Wagner started with an appreciation for drawing.
“I remember when I was in 5th grade and this kid in my neighborhood gave me the comic book, Fantastic 4 #260, and there was an artist by the name of John Byrne whose artwork blew my mind,” explained Wagner. “That’s when I made the decision that I wanted to draw for a living.”
But Wagner faced a dilemma as he got older: he didn’t see himself working for a comic book company and on someone else’s schedule. It wasn’t until he got his first tattoo at the age of 20 that he realized his true calling in life.
“As soon as I got my first one [tattoo] I thought to myself, ‘Wait…you get to earn a living and you get to draw? ‘How can I do this?’ So I hung around the tattoo shop and went to conventions with them,” he said. “I didn’t have any money so I was the guy who slept on the floor and had the worst seat in the car. When they eventually needed an apprentice, they called me because I had been around the shop for two years.”
After his apprenticeship and working under several tattoo shops in Jacksonville and Gainesville, Wagner built up his book of business enough to open his own tattoo shop in Riverside dubbed, Black Hive. Coined from the base color Wagner uses for every tattoo, Black Hive symbolizes artists working toward the greater goal of the store – drawing tattoos people will admire for years to come.
It’s this care and consideration for the work performed that has Black Hive on a years-long waiting list. While Wagner has many of the same clients for years, when a new customer is given a call back, the consultation starts almost immediately.
“Some drawings will take me a few hours while some will take me a few weeks,” said Wagner. “I’ve got one I’ve been working on two months. I actually canceled the girl’s appointment the first time around because the drawing just wasn’t good enough. When I told her the appointment had to be pushed back, she was a little disappointed because she had been waiting for so long. But I just explained that you’ve already waited a year; do you want the best tattoo I can give you or do you want the best tattoo I can give you today? She just stopped and said, ‘I just want the best tattoo you can give me.’ And in a few weeks, I had her a new drawing.”
It’s this kind of customer service that keeps clients coming back to Wagner and his team at Black Hive.
“I don’t care if you dig ditches for a living or give tattoos,” he said. “You have to love what you do and want to get better at it every day. It’s a huge compliment when someone is on a waiting list for so long for your work. When I first started out, there only a handful of [tattoo] shops in the area. Now, there’s more than 50. But when customers keep coming back to have you continue to work on them, there’s no greater feeling than to know someone respects the work you do as an artist.”
Wagner sees himself giving tattoos until he physically can’t perform the task, but he always keeps one thought in the back of mind for every tattoo he crafts: “You may not see the person you’re tattooing ever again. But numerous people will see your work for years to come that has your name attached to it. So as a tattoo artist, you better make sure you’re proud of it.”