Every tattoo artist has their own origin story. Some know from the minute they see their first tattoo that they’ve found their calling, while others find their way to the industry after becoming disillusioned by other careers. Tom Kraky is the rare artist to say, “Why not both?” Kraky attempted to start his tattoo career during his teen years, but before he started his apprenticeship fate took him down a different path. In those years Kraky thrived working in the gaming industry, hiked across the United States and rock climbed throughout Southeast Asia. In the end, the path brought him right back to where he started and now he’s perched to take the tattoo industry by storm.
Tell us about your upbringing and how you became interested in art.
I grew up in the woods outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, a place that surprisingly existed before “The Office.” Most of my time as a kid was spent playing sports, adventuring through the forests around my house and being a gaming nerd. I think the origins of art for me was copying the characters and weapons from SNES game manuals and Magic the Gathering cards.
We know that you took a circular path to get where you are today, what can you say about your journey?
During high school, I was hooked on the idea of tattooing. So much so that I brought my shitty high school drawings (a zombie screaming out bees, a blue whale with sideburns... WTF?) to the best local tattoo shop to try and get an apprenticeship just before graduation. They weren’t terribly impressed, and I was already heading to college, so financially it was never going to work at that time.
I went to school for illustration, then became fascinated with classical art and switched my major to oil painting/drawing. I spent several months in Florence, Italy, studying Renaissance art at a school with students who were extremely motivated, which really kicked my focus to another level.
What made you decide to become a tattoo artist and how did you go about it?
After years grinding in the game industry, I started to get a bit burned out. Drawing on a computer eight to 12 hours per day on top of coming home to do my personal work left me wanting to get outside and enjoy life. After watching my dad pass away from cancer, I got a sense of how short our time on this planet is. So I quit the job I’d spent years getting into, sold almost everything I owned and traveled across the country hiking and rock climbing in a bunch of national parks. It was the first time I’d taken a real break from art in 10 years, which definitely brought some mental clarity. The time I spent in Southeast Asia felt like being a Lost Boy (from “Hook,” not the ’80s vampire punks). Every day I was climbing sea cliffs, hiking jungle trails, drinking in treehouse bars or sucking down a mushroom shake at midnight surrounded by bioluminescent sea critters on an abandoned island.
Traveling for months on end tends to make you feel like a consumer, going places to eat and see stuff, but not contributing to the world. After six months in five different countries, I started to feel the need to work on something meaningful. I was on a small island off Bali scuba diving and having some “mind-expanding experiences” when I had a dream. I was raking leaves in Conor McGregor’s yard and he said, “Aye, it’s time to do the fookin’ tattoos, mate.” I know that’s the most goddamn bizarre thing to instigate a career change, but at the time, it was absolutely clear. The next day, I messaged my future tattoo sensei Mike Frenchko to see if he would be interested in an apprentice.
If you had to start your tattoo career from scratch, would you change anything?
Not really. I was fortunate enough to have been working as a full-time professional for years before picking up a tattoo machine, so the art aspect wasn’t as much of a challenge and that allowed more focus on the technical application of tattooing. If I’d gotten an apprenticeship when I first attempted back at 18, I can’t imagine I would’ve been forced to rise to the level it took to get into the game industry. Looking back, everything happened in the best way possible.
What else should our readers know about Tom Kraky?
I love intellectual chats and mystical talks. But honestly, I just appreciate clients who are down to tell weird stories and do super dumb impressions until we’re both cry-laughing.