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Hitting the Road with Kyle Dunbar

Former Ink Mastercontestant Kyle Dunbar has packed up his tattoo equipment and hit the road looking for adventure. With his family in tow, Dunbar will be traveling the country and trying to make a living as a roving tattoo artist. Over the coming months Dunbar will share his tales of the road with us here on

After losing my house (and all of our possessions that were inside of it, including our car) while appearing on the third season of Ink Master and my controversial exit from the fourth season my beautiful wife Candy and I decided to do something crazy. We decided to take our family on the road and start living from guest spot to guest spot, state to state, and tattoo convention to tattoo convention. Hitting the road would satisfy our wanderlust and our sense of adventure. It had been something we had dreamed of doing for many years but we were held back by our obligations at home. Those obligations disappeared with the fraudulent foreclosure on our home and now we are free to travel. It is our hope to share these experiences together as a family and grow closer too. Now we are going to find out if home really is wherever the heart is.

We started by packing up the belongings that we had left and grabbing our calendar to start planning. We're fortunate to have become friends with a lot of truly amazing tattooists who have been tattooing on the road for the last several years, all of whom have offered to let us guest spot with them at their shops across America. We’ve even had some offers to tattoo abroad, which we would love to do if we can make the cash. Who knows? Maybe we will find a place we like and eventually settle down.

 Kyle with Romeo Lacoste

Kyle with Romeo Lacoste

Life on the road does bear a lot of problems though. I didn't get any money out of my two seasons of Ink Master, and the logistics of traveling can be costly. Plus, you never know what you’re going to make at any guest spot. Sometimes the spot goes great and other times business is really slow. We decided that by doing a guest spot at a local shop both before and after each city’s convention that we would maximize business, so we try to plan our trips around the conventions as much as possible.

My wife and I are not alone on this voyage; we have children including a seven-year-old son. We are planning to bring our 19-year-old daughter to help babysit him while my wife and I are both busy tattooing. In the time that we aren’t busy tattooing we are going to have to make the time to home school our son. That's a lot of mouths to feed plus the teenager is going to need some compensation for taking her away from her life. And how will we manage when she goes to school in the fall? The ultimate payoff is the bonds and relationships we'll strengthen and the knowledge we'll gain about our art of tattooing through this experience.

For our first stop we had originally planned to head to Las Vegas and tattoo at my friend and fellow Ink Master contestant King Ruck's shop, Red Elephant. While we were in town we wanted to catch up with another friend, all around great guy and Ink Master Season Three champion Joey Hamilton. We were also planning to meet up with Walter "Sausage" Frank, finalist of Ink Master Season Four who was robbed of a win by the judge’s doe-eyed man-crush on another artist. (Just my opinion as a biased non-journalist.) Meeting up with my friends would have to wait, as I was offered an interview I couldn’t refuse in New York City.

Kyle and Joey Hamilton

Kyle and Joey Hamilton

I had been scheduled to fly to Las Vegas with the family on July 5th, so I did everything I could to return from New York by the third. The new plan made it so I could celebrate the Fourth with my family but it didn’t work out thanks to what the airline called “an act of God.” I think it was just the weather, but either way I was stuck in New York unable to watch fireworks with my family or make my flight to Las Vegas.

Since I was stranded, my wife posted on Facebook that I needed a place to tattoo somewhere near Newark. A few friends reached out to help. The first two, Cisco and his wife Nicole, were nearby but in the middle of remodeling their shop, Tattoos Are Forever. I couldn’t tattoo there due to the construction but they did take me out to their favorite bar for a great time.

Thanks to another friend who had reached out my wife arranged for me to tattoo at a shop in Staten Island called Ink Couture. I had only met Frank Russo, the shop’s owner, a few times but that didn’t stop him from treating me like part of his family. He even picked me up and drove me to his shop where he works with his family. Ink Couture is home to a couple of friends; Mark Mathews (an Ink Master contestant from Season Two) and Johnny Nobody (he takes care of all the realism and horror tats at the shop). Mark and Johnny were both traveling but Sinister Mr. Syxx and the Diabolical Dr. SeVen welcomed me with the highest levels of generosity. The two brothers are not only traveling tattooists but they are also magicians who perform as Inkllusionist. They both opened their work stations and let me pilfer through their equipment to tattoo with. Thanks guys, I can't wait to see you on the road again soon.

After word got out that I was in town, I got to tattoo Pam, a beautiful hairdresser. I was able to start a Medusa chest-piece for her and on my next visit we’ll get in a second session. After that I did a few more tattoos and made enough money to catch a flight to meet my family in Vegas. Before I left town Frank got a chance to show me some of the most beautiful spots in Staten Island, including the Marina Cafe for a delicious meal and drinks with the crew. Crisis averted. Thanks to everyone for helping me squeeze those lemons into margaritas. This is what the tattooing community is all about and a situation like this really helps you to appreciate being a part of it. Now on to our Vegas adventure.

 Kyle messing around with Josh Payne

Kyle messing around with Josh Payne

When I arrived in Vegas my family had been there for a day already and my son was excited to show me the Excalibur pool for some leisurely fun. I didn’t want to leave, but time was short and I had to get cleaned up to go and meet my next tattoo appointment. I was supposed to tattoo at Red Elephant, but Vegas is congested and so was the Red Elephant. Instead I had the client join me at Ruck’s other shop, Black Spade. The shop is located on E. Carson just a block from the Fremont Experience, or old Vegas. When you’re on the road some minutes you live like a king and others like a pauper. At the pool I was king, however, I had to take a bus to Black Spade to save money and I was no longer felt like royalty. On the other hand, taking the bus did allow me to cut through the Fremont enclosure and casinos. It was cool to pass by magicians, ventriloquists, that guy that floats holding onto a walking staff, and many other street performers before you go into work.

I did several tattoos while in Las Vegas but the most memorable one was the one that I did on Jose, a lifeguard from the Excalibur who had recognized me inside the casino. He let me tattoo whatever I wanted and he got quite an impressive tattoo for a damn good deal. The next time I see him it will be very easy to finish his lower sleeve.

Candy and I headed out to the airport to rent a car and put an end to our Vegas adventure. While it may seem like a lot, the trips to Vegas and New York were just the beginning of my adventure. I’ll be checking in with more of my tales from the road in the coming weeks, I can’t wait to share them with you.