“That kid in the back of the classroom, doodling in their notebook?” said Circle, local tattoo artist and owner of Evolved Art Tattoo in Wailuku. “Yeah, that was me.”
Circle, who prefers that we just call him “Circle,” said he’s always been into art. Back then his work consisted mainly of “black and gray stuff,” using pencil, graphite and charcoal drawings. Later, he took on colored pencils, figure drawing, light composition and so on.
Years before Circle ever picked up a machine, he was living with a tattoo artist in Phoenix—a guy who was doing tattoos out of his house.
“The first tatt I ever did was on him,” said Circle. “It was some lettering on his wrist that said ‘NEUROSIS.’”
Three years later, Circle was on welfare, taking art classes at a college in Eugene, Oregon, while also taking care of his daughter. It was too much. He needed to do something to make money. Tattooing started as a sort of side project.
“I would tattoo all my drunk, punk friends,” he said. “They were my canvases. They didn’t care.”
A couple years later, Circle walked into a tattoo shop in Eugene and met Doug, a crusty old tattoo artist who lived in the storefront and had been slinging ink for 30 years. He offered Circle an apprenticeship.
“He taught me a lot,” said Circle. “If it wasn’t for him, I would’ve been doing something else.”
Doug taught him how to build machines, mix pigments, paint flash and eventually got him licensed in Oregon—one of the hardest states to get officiated. Soon Circle got an offer to go to Corvalis, another college town an hour and a half north of Eugene.
It was the only shop in town and it was right across the street from the college. The shop did very well. And a lot of big names in the industry came through to guest-ink there, like Jerry Ware, Jennifer Billig and Corey Miller.
But after a couple years, Circle needed a change.
“I wanted some place chill to raise my daughter,” said Circle. “The neighborhood we were living in was really bad—junkies, thugs, thieves—it was just bad.”
So in 1999, they moved to Maui. Circle started working at tattoo shops right away then went to New Zealand for three months. In Auckland, he learned about Maori and traditional tribal designs. When he came back to Hawai’i, he worked in Hilo for five months, which was tough.
“Hilo’s a slow town and the locals had no money for tatts,” Circle said. “People kept trying to trade me chickens and shit.”
A few years later, he bought the Evolved Art shop—formerly called Alley Cat Tattoo—in Wailuku.
“The best thing about tattooing is the feeling of accomplishment,” said Circle. “When I draw something I’m proud of and I see it on someone walking around.”
Now tattooing since 1994, Circle admits some days he’s inspired and excited, even dreams about tattooing. Other weeks he struggles with it. Of course, when you do too much of anything, it can wear on you.
“I am grateful I’m not stuck at a desk in front of a computer all day,” he said. “Or slinging burgers in a hot kitchen. I get to do art and make money at it.”
Circle’s latest tattoo project is a large Hawaiian tropical scene for a California guy’s calf. The piece has taken four days—six hours each day—to complete. And he’ll probably put in another three to five hours to touch up and refine the piece.
As far as his hired artwork is concerned, Circle says he does “pretty much everything but old school,” though he’s known mainly as “the tribal guy.”
This seems to be an understatement. A large portfolio on the coffee table in his shop reveals a slightly more organic style: lots of colorful Japanese and Polynesian-inspired iconography, portraits, swirling water backgrounds, heavily shaded biomechanics and realistic nature stuff.
“It sounds gay but I like doing flowers,” he said. “Floral is fun.” MTW