Lifer Tattoos opened its doors on the Danforth at the end of last summer, and from what I can see, the shop comes by its name quite honestly.
Lil Mamma J, or Jessica, and her colleague Big Daddy Boucher tattoo at the the shop just east of Coxwell. The duo mysteriously tells me they keep to nicknames to keep their past out of the present, and out of their work.
Lifer has been in operation for a couple of years, but it didn't operate out of a storefront until August 2013, when owner Sean Chou decided to open up shop on the Danforth. The result is a smallish parlour with a family vibe, and a crew of specialized artists.
Mamma J tells me Lifer is probably not the best place to go if you're looking for traditional work that's already been done a thousand times over. (I tell her I'm in the market for a "mom" tattoo, for example, and she gives me a bit of a side-eye.) The lifers focus on custom work. They're got a script guy and a fantasy art specialist, and Chou's specialty is Japanese and intricate Polynesian pieces.
When it comes to the work itself, it looks like Mamma J's assessment is true. The specialties promised by the cast at Lifer shine through in the portfolios we leaf through.
There are beautifully intricate, precise mandalas done by Sean, alongside colourful kois that look like they're almost done in watercolours that show on the skin. There are carefully woven waves of script arcing across chests, and a magical rose done by Boucher that looks like it's pixellated.
In addition to doing tattoos, the staff at Lifer also teach their craft in a five-hour course. Mamma J teaches noobs about the different layers of our epidermis, how deep to go, and how to be optimally hygienic, alongside other necessities of the craft.
I get her to let me peer in the drawers of her work station to confirm that things are as hygienic as she says, and not full of bloody needles and bits of hair from clients gone by. It was full of individually packaged needles and cleaning supplies, good enough to satisfy even the most paranoid germophobe.
The only thing that strikes me as odd about the place during my visit is that there's not as much art on the walls as in other shops. Normally, the walls of a tattoo parlour are wallpapered with drawings and/or photos of tattoos, (or flash). I can only assume it's because the place is new (ish).
Those seeking piercings are out of luck - for now. While they don't do piercing right now, Mamma J says they might expand to include it in a year or so.
Photos by Jesse Milns.