There’s nothing quite like the experience of getting your first tattoo. People who haven’t had the experience of being laid out under a tattoo gun for hours at a time will commonly ask, “Does it hurt?”
Speaking from personal experience: Yes, it hurts. But pain plays a relatively insignificant role in the tattoo process as a whole. For many tattoo artists and enthusiasts, there is much more to tattoos than blood and ink.
“The experience of getting tattooed is like meditation,” says Troy Coh, owner of Lambadi City Tattoos in Fairfield. “It’s a spiritual thing. When you’re getting tattooed, you are focused. It’s calming. You aren’t thinking about anything else. You just experience that moment. It’s so gratifying.”
Coh has worked as a tattoo artist in Cincinnati for the last eight years, and pieces of his portfolio are now scattered across the country, permanently inked on roughly 4,000 bodies. He specializes in neo-Japanese designs and is perhaps most recognized for his organic black and gray designs distinguished by superbly adept shadowing and clouding techniques.
During the course of Coh’s career, he's worked in numerous shops in and outside of Cincinnati alongside handfuls of artists who have helped and inspired him on his path to success. But before finding his success in the world of ink, he found inspiration in the world of Rock music.
Coh’s interest in tattoos was sparked as a third grader when he was introduced to KISS and first noticed the rose tattooed on Paul Stanley’s upper right arm.
“For some reason I thought that was the coolest thing I had ever seen,” Coh says. “I was captivated by the whole process of having something permanently drawn on you.”
Coh gave himself his first tattoo when he was 18 years old using the “hand poke” method, a risky process involving only ink and a single needle — all done by hand. Oddly enough, he didn’t get his first professional tattoo until he was 30. Luke Budard at Ink Incorporated Tattoos, located in Cincinnati, drew the tattoo.
“I got that one, and I was hooked,” Coh says.
He became good friends with Budard, and after hanging out for some time Coh started working at Ink Incorporated doing odd jobs to make money and continue getting tattooed. Eventually he asked Budard to teach him some fundamentals of tattooing.
Coh then met Jamie Edwards, another local tattoo artist, who helped “push the rest further” by teaching him technical aspects of tattooing. After Coh was hired as a tattoo artist at the shop where Edwards worked, he started to notice nationally known tattoo artists and realized how far the art could be taken.
“I discovered that tattoos didn’t just have to be traditional, they didn’t just have to be solid bold lines or one color,” Coh says. “From here, I went on a journey to discover what sorts of tattoos I wanted to do.”
The next stop in his journey was Lambadi City Tattoos, where he met former owner Chris Behne. Coh and Behne combined efforts to take their work on the road and opened a shop in Denver. The plan ultimately failed, due in part to their location and lack of connections in Denver. After six troubled months, they closed the shop and returned to Cincinnati.
Back here, Behne decided to sell Lambadi City to Coh and Kevin Combs, another highly regarded local tattoo artist who's been featured in Savage Tattoo. Coh bought Comb’s half ownership a year and a half ago and now acts as the sole owner.
Throughout the trials and tribulations Coh faced in building his career from the ground up, he's gained a unique perspective on tattooing and explicitly details his commitment to the art.
“We live, eat and breathe this stuff,” he says. “It’s our passion — it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. If you truly love tattooing, it takes you over.”
He also shares insights on what distinguishes the lifestyle of a professional tattoo artist from the lifestyle of someone who works a more “typical” desk job.
“The overall freedom of working as a tattoo artist really sets us apart from (other careers). You can be as weird as you want to be and express yourself however you want to express yourself. It’s almost expected that we be a little bit peculiar or different from the average Joe. If you look like a guy who works behind a desk at P&G in this industry, you look weird.”
In addition to his devotedness to his career, Coh maintains an admirable set of family values. Since the birth of his 2-year-old daughter Ila, he and his wife, pregnant with their second child, have formulated a plan to move west for an undetermined amount of time in an effort to raise their children in a different, fresh environment.
“Once we decided we definitely wanted to move, it became a search for what place overall offers the healthiest living environment and the most open minds,” Coh says. “Portland (Ore.) backed it up. Nature is there. It just surrounds and engulfs you. I think that would be a pretty sweet place to live and raise our daughter.”
Coh is set to work at Blackbird Tattoos, situated just north of downtown Portland. He plans on keeping ownership of Lambadi City and coming back once a month to take care of shop business.
“(Lambadi City) is home,” he says. “I have great clientele here. I can’t imagine giving this place up. We’re a family.”
His dedication to both families, nuclear and work, creates an overlap that's mutually beneficial. He discusses the potential of passing the shop onto his daughter if she were interested in pursuing a career in tattoos — one that he believes to be unique and full of opportunities.
“This career path is free, it’s open, you can travel, you meet so many people, you make your own schedule and it’s extraordinarily rewarding,” he says. “Would I want this for my kids? Absolutely. Will I push it? No. If they show interest, then of course, I’ll be 100 percent behind it. But whatever they get into — knitting, sports — I’ll totally support them no matter what.”
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