Only deaf tattoo artist in North America!


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By Mia Thomas, Burnaby NOW reporter

For Roger Desmarais, the writing was on the wall.

Or at least the writing was on himself, remembers the Burnaby resident who is, as far as he knows, the only deaf tattoo artist in North America.

"I started drawing on myself during high school, even though my parents were telling me to stop," said Desmarais through a signing interpreter. "I never really thought about becoming a tattoo artist until I went to university."

That high school art, created with a permanent felt pen and using his skin for a canvas, was no stick figures or simple sketches.

Desmarais shows photographs of himself richly decorated with a large, intricate design worthy of any tattoo artist.

The wonder is that it didn't occur to him for several years that this was a unique talent that could lead to a career.

"I had friends ask me if I would draw designs on them as well," Desmarais said, noting he used to wonder why his friends didn't just draw their own designs, even though they claimed he did a better job. "But I never really made the connection to my future."

Art was a passion throughout his early years, which he spent in Burnaby, graduating from Burnaby South secondary school in 1997.

"I spent pretty much all my spare time drawing," Desmarais said. "I took art in every academic opportunity that I had, and I took courses at community centres also."

After high school, Desmarais considered a career in art but decided he'd need something to fall back on, a more sure means of support as well.

He enrolled in the liberal arts program at Gallaudet University, a university for deaf students in Washington, D.C., with plans to become a teacher - the only thing he thought he could do, as a deaf person.

Fate came in the form of a touring tattoo artist from Guelph who stayed at Desmarais' off-campus apartment.

"He set up shop there and I basically apprenticed to him while he was there and drew his designs," said Desmarais. "Then he told me that if I could draw the designs, I could tattoo."

It might seem a natural choice, looking back, but Desmarais said he didn't leap on the idea.

"At first I was pretty resistant to the whole thing because of my deafness, but then I realized no part of tattooing required people to hear."

Communication only becomes an issue during the designing process, but Desmarais said he got past that.

Two years into his university career, his future in education faded to black.

"I stopped my studies when I decided that I wanted to get into creative arts and tattooing," Desmarais said.

Desmarais came home to Burnaby, bought his own tattooing equipment and started a business, using his initials for the name.

Desmarais also creates logos, web designs, cards and comics through RAD Designs, but it's almost a sideline.

"Tattooing is where my heart is," he said.

In his south Burnaby studio, the decor is bright red, white and black, with copies of his artwork on the wall, along with a poster of classic tattoo machines that resemble nothing so much as implements of torture compared to modern equipment.

He is appreciative of the recent upsurge in the popularity of tattoos because it has allowed him a creative career while avoiding the 'starving artist' stereotype.

"(It's) become pretty accepted by the mainstream, and people are always wanting tattoos," Desmarais explained. "It's like a rite of passage."

Desmarais has an appreciative clientele drawn from the deaf community because many would rather be tattooed by someone who is deaf as well to ease communication.

But being a deaf person who has carved his own niche in life has other ramifications.

"I think it's really important to be a role model to others, especially young people in the deaf community," said Desmarais. "If they have a dream, they can follow it and be independent."

Kristen Pranzl, a senior leader and program supervisor with Deaf Youth Today, said Desmarais and others like him can be an inspiration.

"It's really great to see a business that's doing well," Pranzl said through a signing interpreter. "It's harder to have a business because of the communication barriers."

Deaf Youth Today, operating under the Family Network for Deaf Children, provides leadership training and summer recreational programs.

It's organizing the 2002 Deaf Exhibition Fair as a fundraiser for the group and featuring organizations and individuals - including Desmarais - who are deaf or who provide services for deaf people.

"The real goal is to encourage more public awareness that there are people who are deaf and here are their businesses, and there are services and organizations out there," Pranzl said.

P.S. Burnaby is the outskirt of Vancouver, B.C., Canada.


New Member
Maybe he means first Deaf tattooist to run his own tattoo parlor?

I know several Deaf tattoo artists in San Diego alone, but none of them do tattoo for a living (they got kids and whatnot) and do it as a sidejob


I remember meeting tattoo artist who knows sign language but they were not deaf. So it's really neat to be able to meet up a deaf tattoo artist. Wish i can find one around here in Chicago. Does anyone know one?


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loveofwine said:
I remember meeting tattoo artist who knows sign language but they were not deaf. So it's really neat to be able to meet up a deaf tattoo artist. Wish i can find one around here in Chicago. Does anyone know one?

Not that I know of...

Hey, are you the First Deaf Winemaker ?

Cool !!!