If you Google how to become a tattoo artist, the internet will tell you to find an apprenticeship which could be years of no pay just learning the basics and little time to actually tattoo people.
It doesn’t sound like a promising career when you have to plan to work for free for at least two years.
But that’s exactly what Cook Islands tattoo artist Hinano Wearing did at just 17 years old.
Wearing had a passion for art in school and design drawing skills and tattoo artistry seemed like the perfect path for her.
She had taken a portfolio of her work around to different tattoo shops until she finally found one with an opening.
When you are an apprentice, you are kind of like the shop boy, cleaning up the equipment and learning customer service, she says.
After training and observation in an Auckland tattoo shop, Wearing started tattooing two years later at 19 years old.
“Nobody's great at tattooing until they have practice, and you can't get practice without tattooing,” says Wearing.
Tattooing a nervous, sweating and vulnerable human being has its challenges but Wearing now 25, loves talking to people and forming relationships with her clients who come again and again.
There are two traditional tattoo shops, there are walk-in shops, where clients ask to get a tattoo on the spot, choosing from pre-drawn designs in the studio.
In the Cook Islands when you get a tattoo you can tell your own unique story and no tattoo is the same, says Wearing.
Wearing has a custom tattoo shop in Rarotonga called Wearing Ink with growing popularity where she works with clients to design something original. The process is incredibly rewarding says Wearing and her favourite part is seeing the end result of each creation.
Even though she sits hunched over and holding the same position for 6 hours a day, Wearing says tattooing doesn’t feel like a job.
She says the learning never stops and over the three years she has been tattooing in Rarotonga, her skills are constantly improving.
Most of Wearing’s clients are tourists and she encourages them to get something meaningful.
Wearing draws freehand Polynesian tattoos and a little bit of everything.
If you go to her for a tattoo, it’s always good to have an idea about what you want and where, but she’s open to helping you find a design that’s right for you.
She’s got a good body of work and like many other tattoo shop she has photos of almost every tattoo she has done.
There isn’t much competition between tattooists on the island, and Wearing will sometimes recommend another tattooist who has a better handle on a particular design.
She says sometimes people don't take care of their tattoos but that is the most important stage of the process.
She recommends Pawpaw ointment to keep a healing tattoo moisturized. The scabbing and peeling of a tattoo is normal and a good sign it’s healing she says.
For tourists taking advantage of Rarotonga’s beaches usually book to get a tattoo near the time they are going back home because you can’t go swimming until your tattoo is healed which takes around two weeks.
Wearing plans to stay in business in Rarotonga, where she was born and raised, for many years to come.