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Black Ohm Tattoos mark 20 years

Owner Dave Petko reflects on two decades of ink
ink art (From left) Steve Kretz, Scott "The Incredible Amoeba" Johnston and Dave Petko are the tattoo artists at Black Ohm Tattoos. The shop is celebrating its 20th anniversary next year. PHOTO submitted

Twenty years ago, when Black Ohm Tattoos opened up shop in Function Junction, the view across Millar Creek Road was a little different.

Rather than seeing the bustling Whistler Brewing Company, tattoo artist Dave Petko looked out the window at the building that housed Whistler's transit service.

"During the Olympics they were washing buses around the clock," he recalls. "Function has definitely gotten busier."

The tattoo shop is celebrating two decades in that space heading into 2019. Petko, who is also well known around Whistler for his art, has been with the business since its first incarnation as Til Death Tattoos, which was set up in the Blueberry neighbourhood.

Later on, it moved into the Blackcomb Barber Shoppe during the evenings, but with three tattoo artists and an apprentice, it quickly outgrew the space. Under the ownership of Robin Dutcher, who took over from original owner Sonja Prevost, the tattoo shop moved into the space above Purebread, where it's been since 1999.

"When Sonja retired from tattooing and went to go to nursing school in 1999, she left Robin the studio," Petko says. "Then (two years ago) Robin left it to me. She said, 'I'm going to close it down or you can have it.'"

Petko chose the latter option.

"It was getting busier and steadier almost every year," he says. "I figured, I'll keep doing what I'm doing, but do regular hours. Before that, it was just appointment only."

There have been some memorable clients come through the doors over the decades, he says. With a clientele of half locals and half visitors, people from around the world have come in to get inked—particularly during the Olympics when the Athletes' Village was just across the highway.

"We got to tattoo some of the Russian skiers and the Irish bobsled team came in," Petko says.

One of those Russian skiers walked through the door with his coach hoping to get a tattoo—only they had to overcome a language barrier to figure out what, exactly, they wanted.

"They spoke no English," Petko recalls. "There was a lot of pointing at reference material he brought in and drawing and redrawing."

Trends have ebbed and flowed as tattooing has moved from underground to mainstream. Equipment has also improved and Petko himself has honed his art with over 20 years behind the needle.

"The first five years I was tattooing roses, barbed wires, crosses also went through a phase," he says. "The last five years, it's been really small, black tattoos—almost like stick-and-poke tattoo look. Traditional Americana or traditional tattoos will never go out of style."

Looking ahead, he foresees clients shopping around to find a tattoo artist whose style they find appealing. To that end, he recently brought on an apprentice who Whistler art fans might recognize—Scott "The Incredible Amoeba" Johnston.

"We were in art shows together a very long time ago," Petko says. "We developed a friendship and last year I asked him if he'd be my apprentice ... He's picking it up so fast."

Also working at Black Ohm, alongside the pair, is Steve Kretz. "He has his own custom style," Petko adds. "It's different than mine."

The shop is gearing up to celebrate their 20th anniversary starting next month with monthly draws featuring items from neighbouring businesses in Function Junction—ranging from the Whistler Brewing Company to Coast Mountain Brewing, Functional Pie Pizzeria, Purebread, Camp and Willd Wood Cafe, to name just a few.

"We're having a monthly draw every month from January ... until June. The first 20 people to book in a tattoo appointment and get a tattoo get entered into a draw and at the end of the month we'll pull a name," Petko says.

While he might be reflecting on the last two decades, it feels like no time has passed at all, he adds.

"If you love what you're doing, time can pass pretty quickly," he says. "It blew my mind when I realized next year will be 20 years, especially in one space."

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