Owner of Osborne Village Ink and Métis tattoo artist Cam Von Cook has been fascinated with tattoos for as long as he can remember. His first introduction to tattoos was through his uncle. In an attempt to frighten Cam, his uncle explained that the tattoo process was very painful. “My uncle told me it was done with needles, and that it ends up with a big scab. And when the scab comes off you end up with a picture,” says Cook, “but to me that was the most exciting thing I ever heard!”
At 15 years old, Cook recalls going to the mall in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with a friend where there was a display of confiscated contraband from Stony Mountain Penitentiary. “It was some sort of McGruff the crime dog ‘take a bite outta crime’ type of exhibit,” says Cook. “And in that exhibit they had a jailhouse tattoo machine, and when we saw it we thought ‘we can make that’ and so we did. It wasn’t a good way to start, but you had to start somewhere.” (Prior to 1989 tattooing was illegal in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and there was a $10,000 fine if you were caught tattooing.)
Cook was a bit of a troublemaker as a teenager, and started tattooing illegally. Labelled as a “troubled youth”, Cook was able to access certain programs through his high school. Classes like assertiveness training and job skills training were made available. “I was quiet (like most kids) and I didn’t want to talk to people, especially adults or anyone who looked official. I wanted nothing to do with them,” says Cook. “The assertiveness training helped me the most. It helped me to speak up and taught me to express myself, to get what I want – that really charged me up! As a kid in school, a lot of it didn’t make sense to me or I didn’t care about it because it wasn’t practical. The assertiveness training was practical and I could see how it could work for me.”
At 18 years old, Cook was struggling with old friends and old hangouts; the peer pressure to go out was a lot to handle, and his peers and family didn’t understand his vision. Following high school, Cook moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where it was legal to tattoo, in order to focus on his passion, get experience and learn more about the tattoo business. He received professional training from tattoo artists who had been in the business for over two decades.
Cook worked at numerous shops in British Columbia, but it wasn’t until one of his mentors encouraged him to start his own business that Cook returned to Winnipeg in the late 90s to open his own shop.
“My first shop only lasted 3 years – we closed due to poor location,” says Cook. “I learned a lot so it wasn’t a failure – I came away from my first shop knowing what to do and what not to do. We waited 6 months and started again with Osborne Village Ink in 2003, and we’ve been here ever since.” Osborne Village Ink started as a sole proprietorship, but the more staff that joined the shop the more it made sense to incorporate it. With three years of incorporation under their belt, the Osborne Village Ink team is more organized and the business is thriving.
Owning a business is not easy, Cook explains, and it took him several years to learn how best to work with people. “It
was difficult to manage expectations and different styles. It was tough to be the ‘boss’ because I also wanted to be ‘one of the guys’, but eventually someone ‘has’ to be the boss,” says Cook. “Fortunately, I’ve got really good people here in the shop – we all seem to be on the same page.”
When asked what advice he had for young entrepreneurs, Cook said, “You need to have a vision – a purpose. Know what you want to do, know what your goals are and put in the work. When I finally got the idea that I wanted to be a tattooer – then I had focus.”
“As a business owner and a boss, I have to think about my vision: How do I want my business to run? What kind of people do I want in my business? And what kind of vibe do I want for my business?” says Cook. “Before I just wanted to be a tattooer, but now I’m someone’s boss.”
Cook also recommends surrounding yourself with experts in the field you are interested in and who are succeeding in that business. “Absorb as much as you can. Listen and learn,” says Cook.
“Don’t be afraid to educate yourself – it doesn’t have to be a piece of paper from an educational institution. There are so many options now compared to when I was young,” says Cook. “If you don’t like to read, you have audio books and tools like YouTube. There are all kinds of things available to help you focus and get things done.”
Osborne Village Ink is located at 188 Osborne St., Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. 204-453-4850 http://www.osbornevillageink.com/