Gleaming plaques frame Erik V’s head as he leans over his client, eyes sharply focused on the needle.
Best Tattoo of Show, 2005. Best Back Tattoo, 2016. Best Overall Male, 2022.
But these accolades are not on Erik’s mind when he’s at work. For Erik, the art of tattooing lies not just in creating a masterful final product, but in the process he took to make it. If it’s not comfortable and engaging for client and artist alike, it’s probably not worth doing.
His perspective derives from 23 years of experience as a tattoo artist during which Erik witnessed varying approaches to tattooing, not all of which felt right to him. Now, as the owner of Parlour Tricks Tattoo in Golden, he can ensure that every client coming through his door is treated with respect and kindness, and walks out with a quality tattoo.
“[Clients] are subjecting themselves to both pain and subjecting themselves to being marked for life,” Erik said. “I can’t overstate the idea of the sacredness of that process enough.”
But for a time, that process was affected by trying to keep up with the online world. A few years ago, Erik made the decision to delete his social media accounts, pare back his website, wear a bane-style mask in photos and use a pseudonym — Erik V — for public-facing work.
The decision allowed Erik to maintain more personal privacy and stop manicuring social media accounts, constantly checking his email and worrying about protecting his art from plagiarism or digital manipulation.
Despite not advertising his work online, Erik has more clients than he has time to tattoo them. Erik works 36 hours a week tattooing clients that he knows and likes, and has been consistently booked for the last 17 years.
“I certainly don’t ever really get an opportunity to tattoo new clients unless I’m making the choice to bring them into that world,” Erik said. “Now, my new clients are always referred to me by somebody I trust.”
Many of Erik’s clients have been coming to him for tattoos for decades, allowing them to become close friends through hours of meandering conversation while under the needle.
Jeff Hurlburt, owner of Clancy’s Irish Pub in Wheat Ridge, stumbled across Erik’s work in 2001 and was so impressed by the tattoo he received that he hasn’t strayed since. He still comes in every month or two to get tattoos refreshed and catch up with Erik, Hurlburt said.
They talk about anything and everything, Hurlburt said, from politics to music to each other’s personal lives. For someone as busy as Hurlburt, getting a tattoo done is one of the only times he can be completely disconnected from work and relax.
“Tattooing isn’t just about the art, it’s about the relationship with the artist, and I think me and Erik just formed this unlikely friendship over the years,” Hurlburt said.
Erik’s style draws inspiration from the dark, demonic themes of heavy metal album covers, horror video games and HR Giger-esque art. He combines that with bold, comic-book style linework and grayscale shading to create his unique designs.
Erik knows his work is challenging for some audiences, but it’s the evocative nature that makes his art feel worthwhile, even if people’s response is distaste or disgust, he said. He wants his work to confront people with darker aspects of life and identity.
“[Psychologist] Carl Jung would talk a lot about cultivating a relationship with the shadow self, and I do believe that that’s an important part of our journeys,” Erik said. “Rather than suppressing darkness or denying darkness or darker themes, to not necessarily embrace them, but not be afraid to explore them.”
When Erik started learning to tattoo in the 1990s, there was an industry-wide sense that there were too many tattoo artists competing for clients, making it hard to find apprenticeship opportunities. Now, as the owner of a tattoo shop, Erik tries to create opportunities for other artists, whether it’s giving them a space in the studio or taking on apprentices, he said.
When apprentices learn from him, they gain insight into his style and artistry, but what they really take away is how to make a client feel involved in the tattoo process and hold themselves to high ethical standards, Erik said.
Because without the trust and respect of their clients, they wouldn’t be artists, Erik added.
“The ethics that are brought to [tattooing] I think are the most important thing in the industry, without a doubt,” Erik said. “The treatment of people, and to put a person’s own ego aside and just do a good job. That’s ultimately, what I strive for and what I ask my employees to strive for.”