Disclaimer: The location of Denton’s tattoo business will not be mentioned for his security.
Next time you’re thinking of getting a tattoo, consider seeking out APU’s very own Abe Denton
Abe Denton, a senior finance major at Azusa Pacific, isn’t only into numbers. In an undisclosed location near campus, Denton operates his own tattoo shop. Perhaps it is a bit overzealous to call it a shop — rather, it is a modest yet professional setup occupying a small, cramped dining room area.
Denton put his skills to test on Friday, Sept. 13, when he hosted a flash session with first come, first served $13 tattoos and personal designs ranging from $20-$40, depending on size. The humble location was packed with eager students waiting to receive a unique tattoo — each one designed entirely by Denton.
Denton’s company, Level Tattoo, has been operating for a little over a year. It all started on the floor of his apartment in the Shire Mods when he began inking friends as a sophomore at APU.
Denton has always been creative when it comes to drawing. He took five semesters of art in high school and has been drawing ever since. Upon entering APU, Denton used his creative mind and steady hand to make the transition to tattooing instead — and it has paid off.
“It’s crazy how far I’ve come, because when I started, if people wanted a rib tattoo or hip tattoo, I’d just have them lay on the ground — which is the scariest thing ever,” Denton recalled.
Denton’s brother, Sam, was the driving force behind motivating him to become a tattoo artist. The brothers got their first tattoos together three years ago. A year later, they got another set of tattoos together. Abe Denton would go on to get one more a month or so after that.
During his second semester of sophomore year, Denton left to study abroad in South Africa, but tattooing never left his mind.
“I had everything I needed sitting in a cart online for my entire time in South Africa but I was just too scared to order it. I came back home for a month, thinking, ‘I can’t order it. This is too scary, but I might as well just do it because what’s the worst that can happen? I can just give myself tattoos for free.’ So I did it,” Denton explained.
He learned the basics of tattooing from watching YouTube tutorials. He then moved on to performing preliminary tattoos on fruit and fake skin. However, he soon learned that these surfaces would not help him develop his craft.
“Fruit and fake skin are nothing like real skin,” Denton said. “With fake skin, it takes a lot of work and takes multiple passes to get the ink to stay. Fruit is immediately dark no matter how deep you go. Both of them are completely inaccurate.”
Denton realized that the only way to learn how to tattoo a real person was to do just that. He proceeded to tattoo himself … several times. The first time he tattooed himself, upon wiping the ink away to examine his progress, the entire tattoo disappeared. That was his first lesson, realizing the needle must go a bit deeper. His second attempt was better, but did not come without hesitation, sweat and lots of nerves.
After giving himself and his brother lots of tattoos, friends started reaching out to him for ink of their own.
“Probably for the first three to six months, I was super nervous before every tattoo. I was shaking. I would go to dip the needle in the ink and was shaking so bad I couldn’t even get the needle in the ink container,” Denton said.
It took awhile for Denton to gain enough confidence to ink other people; however, he has now become a seasoned artist that averages about four tattoos per week.
Casey Tran, a senior business marketing major, got her first tattoo from Denton about two weeks ago.
“He was super kind and reassured me the whole way,” Tran said. “He was straightforward, saying, ‘This is what I’m going to give you and this is how it’s going to look.’ You always know what you’re going to get when you come in so you’ll never leave dissatisfied.”
Denton’s parents have been very supportive of his business. They encouraged their sons to get their first tattoos, which Denton found funny and unexpected. However, they aren’t quite as supportive anymore.
“Now that I have 25 [tattoos], my family is like, ‘Okay, stop now.’ But I don’t think I can stop now,” Denton said. “They are still super cool about it, and think it’s great that I started my own business.”
Since Denton’s business took off, he reinvested his profits into buying professional gear. The entire set up, consisting of a tattoo bed, standing lamp, chair, power source and tool drawer, is estimated to cost more than $2,000.
His convenient location near campus has driven a lot business to his door. Denton grew in popularity by the tight knit word of mouth culture that APU provides. He attributes his success to the quality of his work and affordable prices.
“People are very satisfied with what they get from me. I don’t have to do any marketing. People just tell all their friends about it,” Denton said. “It used to be just people that I knew and friends from APU, but then it transitioned to people I didn’t know who didn’t go to APU. After that, I started getting people from APU that didn’t even know I went to APU. It got passed so far around that they just thought I was a local artist, which is crazy.”
Elle Pierce, a junior kinesiology major, felt it was important to support Denton as a local artist.
“My friend, Allie Hauptman, had been sending me images of his work since forever and I’ve loved all of them,” Pierce said. “[Denton] is a start-up, I suppose, and it’s an awesome experience to support him rather than go to a professional that has being [tattooing] forever.”
Managing a tattoo business may seem like a risky move as a student; however, Denton’s business has thrived without any difficulties.
Although Denton’s tattoo career is sustainable for the time being, he is unsure of what the future holds for him.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to support myself on the amount of clients I can get when I graduate. I’m a finance major so I don’t know if I want to do finance or tattoos and it feels hard to do both,” he said.
Regardless of what lies ahead for Denton, he is doing something meaningful by leaving his mark on the APU community.