Danny (PainfulPleasures): As a well-rounded artist practicing all genres and styles, how would you define your own signature style?
Angel Caban: I am an artist without a specific style… weird, right? I am sure that’s not something that you would hear very many tattoo artists say, especially in the 21st century. Now, don’t get me wrong… I have certain styles that I like to tattoo and certain styles that I feel allow for more creativity. But not having a specific style is something that I feel makes me unique and more well-rounded instead of putting myself into a classification.
What is the history of Guardian Art Gallery?
After years of working as an artist at other shops, I finally decided to take the step that most artists dream about and open a shop of my own. So, after many months of planning, my wife (Alexsandra Caban, Manager) and I opened the doors to Guardian Art Gallery on May 2, 2015. We decided on the name “Guardian Art Gallery” because we wanted the first impression of our shop to feel safe and welcoming to all customers. We decided to open in Orange, Connecticut because we wanted to stand apart and join a town that was untouched by the tattoo industry while still respecting surrounding shops in the local area. And though it was a rollercoaster of a ride, we are proud to say that we are the very first shop ever in Orange, Connecticut.
What’s Orange, Connecticut like? Did you receive any backlash bringing a tattoo establishment there?
Orange is a small Connecticut town with a population of about fourteen thousand people. Orange is known for its fairs, oxen/tractor pulls, and a company that you might have heard of called PEZ Candy!
Now, why would we want to open a shop in Orange? Well, it is one of the only towns in Connecticut that has not been touched by the tattoo community, though its surrounding towns have many shops. We also live close to the town and have family and friends who either work there or have lived there for many years.
At first, we received some backlash when we decided to open the shop, such as a town ordinance, denied sponsorships and donations (from us to them) etc. But there was NO WAY we were giving up. I think the stigma still surrounds the tattoo industry, but mostly for lack of understanding and being reluctant to change. As time went on, I think people became more intrigued versus hesitant. I think as more and more people came in to either get tattooed or view the artwork, their walls began to come down. Not to mention, we always pay our taxes on time [laughs]. Today, we have a much better relationship with our town and we look forward to continued growth and success in 2019!
I love that the name for Guardian Art Gallery is meant to inspire a feeling of safety and protection for your clientele. Could you talk a little more about that protective aspect and what you do to make every client feel safe? For instance, how do you handle a customer who's getting his or her first tattoo or is feeling nervous and apprehensive about the entire process?
YES! Nowadays, people from all walks of life are getting tattooed. To me, this means that I not only have to be a well-rounded artist, but also an insightful and compassionate person. For example, [when it comes to] someone who is getting their first tattoo, I make sure that everything is explained ahead of time so that there are no surprises. I make sure to set up and open all of my supplies right in front of them (needles, ink, wrapping my machine, ointments etc.) and encourage my client to ask any questions that they might have. I also explain the stenciling process and will drop a stencil 100 times as long as it makes the customer happy. Once everything is set up and my customer is happy with the placement, I start with a little line and check in with them multiple times to make sure they are as comfortable as possible.
I don’t believe that you should have the same feeling sitting in my tattoo chair as you do at the doctor’s or dentist’s office. I want to make sure my customers have the best experience possible, no matter if it’s their first tattoo or their 50th tattoo.
How would you define Guardian Art Gallery's mission and what makes it distinctive from other studios?
What makes Guardian Art Gallery distinctive? Well… pride aside, we faced adversity by being the first shop ever in Orange, Connecticut. We are clean and use quality equipment. We take the time to know and care for each of our customers, from the tiniest finger tattoos to the full sleeves and back pieces. We have core values that we hold our staff members responsible for, which is to always be fair, compassionate, and respectful towards their customers and co-workers. Because at the end of the day, an artist’s name is their reputation, and having a good reputation is what will set you apart in the ever-growing industry.
What's the work environment like at Guardian Art Gallery?
With a shop owner’s perspective, I try my very best to make my employees feel as though they are treated with respect, and they are given the tools necessary to have a successful career here at Guardian Art Gallery. I would say respect, trust and the ability to draw or have an art background are the foundations of our shop and everything else comes as a bonus. I understand that no one’s perfect, but I truly take the time to get to know both my employees and customers to the point where many have become my second family.
How do you choose your staff at Guardian Art Gallery?
We choose our staff [based on] portfolios, artistic skills, clientele and vibe. You don’t have to be the next Michelangelo, but if you do decent, clean work that’s what matters to us!
The portfolio [is important] because you need to be able to show off your talent and show your potential customers what you bring to the table. Artistic skill [is important] because you have to be able to create the client’s vision. [We consider an artist’s] clientele, too, because we feel it is important to have somewhat of a following so that you have a constant flow of work (to help you grow). And vibe [is important] because you want to enjoy the people you work with and vice-versa… once hired, this will be a place that you will spend quite some time (we hope) and it's important for both parties to have a good working relationship.
Could you talk a little about the artists on your team?
This is a difficult question to answer because 2018 was a learning experience for us. As a small shop, we have to be selective of our employees because our space is limited. Up until the end of last year, we had two rooms and two artists. But, after extenuating circumstances, one of our artists had to leave. We took this opportunity to give the shop a makeover so that we are able to have up to five artist versus two. We are currently working with new talent, but we are still in the trial phase. As I mentioned in another question, we want to make sure that everyone’s happy before anything is finalized.
Long story short: 2019 new logo, new design, new faces, same heart, same values and same love for art!
Comic book inspiration has played an important role in your artistic career; do you ever get the opportunity to channel your love for comics through tattooing?
Absolutely! Comic books are great inspiration because they are saturated with color, dark contrast and straight lines, which are fundamentals that I try to translate into my tattoos. Besides the story (obviously), that is what attracts me to comic books and what I hope attracts people to my tattoos/artwork. I also like to tell a story with my pieces (especially pieces such as sleeves and back pieces) whether that be through a cover-up, memorial or even a fun little banger. I am giving my customer a piece of art that will be with them for the rest of their life, and I want their piece to bring them as much joy as a comic book brings me.
What changes would you like to see made and what impact would you like to have on the industry?
I want to first start off by saying that I believe that the tattoo industry is heading in the right direction and finally receiving recognition that it deserves as a true art form.
As far as change: As a Marine Corps Veteran, who has both seen and learned firsthand how working as a team is more successful than trying to do things on your own, I know the value of help and support from your fellow men and women; that is the impact I would like to have: TEAMWORK. To be able to help smaller artists grow and learn from the artist I look up to. Everyone has something to bring to the table and no one’s ego should get in the way when we all should have a common goal.
What are your favorite subjects to tattoo?
I pride myself in being a well-rounded artist so that I can tackle any piece a customer brings to me. But, if I had to choose a favorite style, it would be geared towards the horror and dark styles due to their wide range of interpretation. I also enjoy heavily saturated color pieces because I really enjoy color theory and bringing a piece to life.
How did you come to know about PainfulPleasures and what led to you becoming one of our sponsored artists?
PainfulPleasures has been my go-to, one stop shop! Back in the day I would have to go to to sometimes four, five, to six websites just to order all the supplies I needed then have to pay multiple shipping charges and pray that I got everything in on time. Once I found PainfulPleasures, not only did they have the quality products, but they had such a wide variety of products and their customer service was awesome! The convenience of buying all your supplies at once (ink, cartridges, caps, paper/plastic goods, machines, aftercare etc.) was a win-win! Our relationship grew from there. I reviewed a lot of the products on my YouTube channel and the rest, as they say, is history.
What are your favorite products to use, including but not exclusive to machines, needles, and aftercare?
Some of my favorite products are:
Machines: FK Irons Spektra Xion
Ink: Eternal, and black and grey Empire Ink
Needles: Precision cartridges (3liner, 7round shader, 7mag curve, 15mag curve)
Aftercare: Recovery Derm Shield, Tattoo Salve, and Soap. [I also frequently use] INK-EEZE Purple Glide
Medical Supplies: Precision Grip Sleeve Barriers and Recovery Stencil Lock; There are also new products always being created and I have no problem trying them out, reviewing them and giving my opinion.
Check out more of Angel Caban's work on his Instagram account @angelcabanartwork. Read about Angel Caban's shop Guardian Art Gallery here.