Here at Colossal we run an apprenticeship program that trains artists in the craft and skill of hand paint. The two-year program is extremely fast-paced and demands grueling hours, heavy lifting, and intensive work regimens. One of our newest apprentices Erik has lived many lives: from serving in the Marine Corps, to tattoo internships in the Virgin Islands, to finally settling in with our team here at Colossal. This guy’s been all over the world, and man does he have some stories.
Apprentice since: June 2013
Tell me a little bit about how you got from where you were with that hat to where you are now.
It’s been a long and crazy journey. I got out of being the Marines as an active duty infantryman and kind of was a lost soul. I wound up just traveling like a gypsy for quite a while.
What was that like?
Pretty wild. I found myself in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands for 3 ½ years. I started losing my edge after I got out of the Marines and got home, so my mother thought it would be a good idea for me to go down to a beach and blow off steam. I learned how to bartend down there, and I also did my first tattoo apprenticeship down there.
[After that] I came home for a bit and found myself in Florida for 5 ½ years. That was an interesting experience.
What does traveling like a gypsy entail?
Really having nothing. I basically didn’t know what I was doing with myself. I traveled as bare-minimum as I could and tried to start a new life wherever I went. I moved down to St. Thomas with two bags of clothes and that was it. I just went with it.
I spent a little over a year [in Florida] working in a shop for next to nothing for my apprenticeship, making like $50 a week and trying to survive on that, and couch-surfing and just trying to get by. It took a couple of friends [suggesting I move buy my own equipment and move back to New York]. Once again I closed my life up within 10 days in Florida, got a ticket on the train, and that was about 3 ½ years ago.
Did you learn how to be an artist while you were doing your tattoo apprenticeships?
No, I’ve actually always been an artist. It runs in my family. My dad was an artist, my mom was an artist, and my aunt from my dad’s side is an artist. She’s actually a sign painter out in Washington State. She does more like cars and stuff like that.
So how’d you end up in the Marine Corps?
I went to school at The Art Institute of Philadelphia, and the School of Visual Arts for Media and Animation Arts. And then I ran out of money for school and wound up working a full time job and getting into trouble, and that’s how I wound up in the Marine core. Before I wound up dead or in jail, I decided to take a chance and jump and straighten my life out. So, I joined the Marines, traveled the world, see interesting people…you know, carry a rifle.
Did you enjoy it?
I did. It was a love-hate relationship because especially when you’re in the infantry, you spend a lot of time in the field training to do your job as a ground guy. But it’s a brotherhood. That’s one of the things I like here at Colossal, is that it’s a big brotherhood.
I’m constantly working on learning new skillsets and advancing myself. It’s one of those things where I came in for the interview and started working here, and you know it was very much one of those ‘either you’re gonna make it or you’re not gonna make it [situations], and if you’re not gonna make it decide early on.’ I’ve decided that this is what I want to do. The only way to go with [Colossal] is forward.
I think it’s interesting that people come into this job as skilled painters, but they’re unprepared for the technical and physical aspects of this job. You’re kind of the opposite scenario. You must have learned a lot.
Oh, yeah. If you had asked me anything about brushes, lettering, or what linseed oil was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. But as I’ve gone through the last 4 ½ months, going from doing a pattern and doing it in the room, to doing a pattern and being on the wall and seeing how it correlates has been an eye-opener. And everything’s always a test. You have to be on your toes at all points. Anything can happen.