Nick Chaboya

Published: 19 September, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 203, September, 2011

He was about to become an art teacher when when he realised the travel potential of being a tattoo artist. Today Nick Chaboya works in one of San Francisco’s most respectable studios, Seventh Son Tattoo but he hasn’t closed the door on teaching just yet.

As a kid I hear you knew you didn’t want to work 9-5 and wanted to travel and see the world. How did you come to realise what you needed to do to get along in the world?  

“I had some friends in high school that got tattooed, so I got introduced that way and I saw the opportunity to travel and do art at the same time, he says. While I studied at an art college I felt that I didn’t want to become a teacher just yet. If you paint you sit in your own studio, by yourself and there’s no unity among the artists. I saw the tight community of tattooists. Once you get tattooed you can’t hide it. It’s a unifying mark. Also a lot of the teachers I had never had time for their personal art. What they did in class was their expression of art. I had some great teachers but their personal art always came second to teaching.”

“I was living in San José, going to school in Oakland and San Francisco depending on where the class was and working full time at Metamorphic Tattoo. For two years I got like three, four hours sleep per night, and I had roommates. Sometimes I’d come home and step over passed out bodies on my way to the bedroom. I was always the guy who went to bed a little earlier.”

Sounds to us like your life hasn’t changed much at all.

“It’s still the same, although now I work six days a week and on the seventh I do emailing and stuff. I also have an art studio across the street, so like this morning I went there to paint for a while. Now I’m tattooing this guy and after that I’ll probably go back and paint some more.”

After concentrating fully on tattooing since you started, you seem to have picked up your old pursuit in the fine arts.

“I started like a year or a year and a half ago. I did like 30 art shows before I started tattooing and now I’ve got a couple coming up. I don’t see it as a potential side income. Painting is my thing. It’s not representative of my tattooing. As a painter I don’t like to do commission. The commission I like is someone saying that they want to buy the next thing I do. I don’t want to take the fun out of it. I’m doing what I’ve been doing all my life. I just try to make it read into tattoos and make sure it ages well.”  

You’re currently a week away from going over to Denmark and Germany - does the travelling suit you well?

“I do quite a bit of travelling but you always want to do more. I’ve done shows in Australia, Canada, Europe and all over the US, although I don’t do the American ones so much anymore. They’ve become predictable and don’t have the same appeal. I like meeting clients in other countries, to see what they want. Also I love food and to experience new things.”

So, what’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten?

“Lamb brains in Australia. Not my thing. For them it’s not strange and the taste was ok, but the texture was not what I’m into. I love Thai food in Thailand, pizza in Italy and so on. Another thing with travelling as a tattooist is that you sit down with your client and they’ll tell you to go to this or this restaurant or bar. You might just be there for a week but you get into the place really quickly.”

You prefer new conventions to the established but are there any you’re particularly fond of?

“The one in Calgary in Canada is awesome for us tattoo artists. The organiser puts everything in consideration and you have to show up with the minimum amount of stuff. Then you have conventions like Barcelona, London and Milan. The amount of people who come, they’re like the Wrestlemania of conventions, or the Super Bowl.”

Tell us a little about working at Seventh Son.

“Look around, right now there are eight of us tattooing at the same time in this beautiful, light studio with these open spaces, and everyone’s got their own style, their own strong points. There’s no way you can be in this environment and not be influenced by the others. You’d have to have your head so far up your ass not to.”

Is teaching well and truly off the cards?

“I’m doing some seminars at conventions now and from time to time it’s pretty cool, but it’s a huge responsibility to teach and I don’t think I’m there yet. I’m on my way but I don’t think I know enough yet. And if I never teach, that’s cool too.”


Text & Photography: Simon Lundh