When Kyle Johnson decided to branch out on his own as a tattoo artist, he wanted to break free of the old cliches that come with the profession. So, when you walk into Sarnia’s The Hive Tattoo, don’t expect to hear music blasting with dim lighting and photos of tattoos plastered all over the wall. “My goal was to change the way people think about the tattoo industry,” Kyle explains. “I wanted to make our shop more comfortable for everybody – especially for people getting their first tattoo. I didn’t want it to seem like an aggressive place when people first came in. We have comfortable couches and the whole place is open and clean.”
Indeed, the front room at The Hive Tattoo looks like it would be right at home in Downton Abbey. Kyle started his own business in 2021 and has now expanded with a second shop in London. “I wanted to be a cop when I was growing up, but when I took police foundations in school, I found myself always doodling in class,” says Kyle. “I expressed an interest in doing tattoos, but my parents told me I would never make it a career and I wouldn’t make any money. They said I would be selling drugs out the back door and I would turn the place into a biker hangout. With all the negative, I stuck with it and I’m glad I did.”
Kyle’s first business was in Strathroy with two partners, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the shop closed. Kyle used the downtime to plan for his own shop in Sarnia. Doing tattoos is his passion, but he admits there is a real learning curve when one first starts. “You are a little nervous and shaky on your first few tattoos,” Kyle says. “But eventually you find your groove. On your first tattoo, it’s like you instantly forget everything you have learned, but eventually, you focus on the art instead of thinking it is going to be a permanent thing on somebody’s body. The body becomes like a canvas.”
When it comes to tattoos, Kyle not only talks the talk; he walks the walk. “My parents are not the biggest fans of me getting tattoos,” Kyle says. “They don’t want me getting any on my face or neck. I have tattoos on both of my arms and legs, half of my back and on my full stomach and chest. Just not on my hands, face or neck because I want to respect my parents.”
Kyle and the six other artists at the Hive understand the permanence of tattoos, so when a teenage boy asked for the words Bonnie and Clyde to be tattooed on his face, Kyle refused. He did, however, do tattoos of frogs on a mother and daughter’s rear ends. One of the goals for the shop is to get more involved in the community. “On Mother’s Day, we donate some of the proceeds to the Breast Cancer Society and we do pet portraits and donate to the Sarnia Animal Shelter.” They also participate in First Friday events, and features guest artist for special occasions.