A new spasm of pain surges through a large man’s body lying on the thick padded hospital style table as a consistent buzz
resonates through the room. His face scrunches with each touch of the humming machine to the skin covering his ribs.
A man with blonde and black dreads leans in closer to note the exact spot he should bring the handheld device to next on the visibly nervous man’s rib cage.
The man lying down twists and squeezes a small rubber ball while he is stuck in a contorted position being scratched and stuck to seal ink into his skin. A crinkled smile crosses his face 90 minutes after he first laid down.
This wasn’t his first tattoo, but as he looked at the finished product on his ribs his eyes smiled a relief that it was complete and he was happy to see the fresh black writing of Psalms 27:2, a verse dedicated to his mother.
Edward “Poncho the artist” Davila wipes an alcohol covered paper towel over the man’s side as they both admire the end result.
“I feel like I’m able to help someone out, to create a memory for a lifetime,” Poncho said. “I think tattoos are great and I’m grateful to be able to make people happy.”
He didn’t have a real mentor tattoo artist teaching him how to actually ink a person. So he used Youtube to learn.
“So I would say when the whole phase of Lil Wayne and everybody was getting tattoos, I was just like, hey, I’m might as well try it out,” Poncho said. “It was just something that I stumbled upon. One of my friends was actually learning how to tattoo and she was like, ‘Hey, you should try it out.’”
He got his start tattooing in a shop in Long Beach for six months before he felt awkward and wanted something more.
“I was hopping back and forth from trying that out and a garage, and I just took the leap of faith and opened up my own shop,” Poncho said.
He opened his shop “Art is My Drug” five years ago in Torrance, Calif. It’s not only the name of his business, but his mantra.
“It’s my business identity,” Poncho said. “I started that when I opened up the shop and it was the beginning for me.”
Tattooing wasn’t what Poncho saw himself doing. He wanted to play sports, such as football and basketball, but a slew of injuries ripped that dream away, and his hobby of scribbling and sketching cartoons emerged.
“Growing up I was always like, not that I didn’t like tattooing, but I was like man, that’s just tracing, that ain’t drawing, that’s not real art,” Poncho said.
Pierce College adjunct instructor of anthropology Erin Hayes said that tattooing is interesting because it is considered a body modification that can date back at least 5,300 years to Otzi the Iceman.
Hayes said the reasons people get tattoos are probably similar in indigenous countries as well as in the West.
“One of the main reasons people do it is to show membership to a certain group or community,” Hayes said.
In the past, people with darker skin tones got markings that create crocodile style raised bumps on their skin and most other people were tattooed. Hayes said everyone that did it, wanted to show an accomplishment or a remembrance of an occasion, day or person.
Hayes said that the person that gives a tattoo in indigenous communities tend to be considered important and they take great pride in their role.
“People respect them and they go to them,” Hayes said. “They have this long term role. How to give tattoos, especially in indigenous communities, but as well as the West, is a specialized skill.”
Although in parts of the world tattoos have never lost their value or importance, in the West it was frowned upon because it was associated with deviant behavior. But Hayes said recently it has been reclaimed and associated with fashion and the counterculture.
Poncho wanted to help other people hone their craft and develop as tattoo artists, so he began apprenticeships. Chris “Bleach” Thomas, is one of the four people that are learning from and working with Poncho.
“I was customizing shoes and clothes next door to his shop and he said he was offering an apprenticeship,” Bleach said. “I hopped on it ASAP.”
Bleach said he has learned a lot from Poncho, but one thing stood out more than the rest.
“One of the most important things he taught me so far is to really handle business and take care of business,” Bleach said. “It’s cool to have fun and hang out, but always make sure that I’m being productive and getting something done.”
Bleach said tattooing is about confidence in yourself and your craft. He said it was the right time for him to start and he had the help and resources to do so. He said Poncho is a dreamer and not just an artist.
“He’s the type of guy that’s thinking of how he can take his brand to the next level,” Bleach said. “Always thinking outside the box as far as just changing the game for tattoo artist, or just artists in general.”
Before getting into tattooing, Poncho went to school for graphic design, but quickly figured out it wasn’t what he wanted to do.
“I just felt so confined in front of a computer, I didn’t feel free as far as creating.” Poncho said.
He said it took time to become business minded and still enjoy the little things and not feel overwhelmed, but he is happy where he is now and sees the future brighter.
“I think it just takes time,” Poncho said. “You can’t rush a lot of things, but you can not forget about what you really love to do.”