FACES A Change of Heart

“Without my heart taking a crap on me, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Kyle Blackburn, head piercer and tattoo apprentice at True at Heart Tattoo Shop. (Photo by: Jenna Sergeant)

When Kyle Blackburn was 26, he began having dizzy spells that got progressively worse. At first, he didn’t pay much attention to them, just gritting his teeth and bearing it. However, it got to a point where he could no longer ignore the symptoms, and when he finally went to the doctor’s, he found out that he had suffered a heart attack.

“One of my arteries was completely blocked and another was halfway blocked,” recalls Blackburn.

Since his first heart attack in 2014, he’s had three more, as well as getting three stents put into his heart. He says that doctors could come up with no solid explanation as to why his heart was malfunctioning, only being able to point the blame at his genetics. In high school, he wrestled and rode his sportbike in his free time, and he maintained an active lifestyle after graduating. Unfortunately, after his first heart attack he was advised by doctors to not overexert himself.

“Basically since I’m prone to heart attacks, I can’t stress out my heart. It weakened my heart to the point where I can’t do physical labor anymore,” says Blackburn.

He turned to drawing as a form of release from the strain of his health issues. He began getting tattooed by the owner of True At Heart Tattoo Shop. They formed a relationship over the weeks that he was getting work done on him.

They talked about Blackburn’s interest in art and body modification, and “one day [the owner]called me out of the blue and asked if I wanted to come hang out at the shop to see what a day in the life of a tattoo artist was like. A little over a year later and I’m now apprenticing here and loving every minute of it,” Blackburn beams.

Kyle Blackburn’s favorite tattoo style is Illustrative Japanese. (Photo by Kyle Blackburn)

He was only 15 when he got his first tattoo of a cross in memoriam of his late mother in a garage . A year later, he got his first piercing with a friend, a lip ring, that he plays with between his fingers while fondly recalling the memory. Since then, he’s collected more tattoos that he can count, covering the span of his chest, stomach, arms and legs. He has also gotten his lip and tongue pierced.“I can remember being intrigued with tattoos and piercings for as long as I can remember, but I grew up in a household where a pursuing a career in body modification was never entertained, so I brushed it off until recently,” says Blackburn.

Early on in his apprenticeship, Blackburn assisted the head piercer by organizing jewelry in the display case, and setting up before piercing appointments. Eventually, the head piercer started focusing solely on tattooing, and Blackburn took over as the next in line. He became a certified body piercer in mid 2016 and has been the resident piercer at True at Heart ever since. From ears to belly buttons to lips to noses, he’s done just about everything. According to him, he’s even made quite a name for himself as a popular nipple piercer. He laughs under his breath as he admits that he’s had a few strange requests that he’s had to turn down.

Blackburn is a full time piercer at True At Heart, but he’s still working towards becoming a tattoo artist. His favorite style is illustrative Japanese.

“I love it simply because it’s very dynamic and it tells a story. It’s timeless and there’s a lot of detail involved in the design which makes the drawing part fun,” he says. Blackburn attributes his current position in life to his heart malfunctions.

“Without my heart taking a crap on me I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m extremely happy with where I’m at in life and I cannot wait to see what the future has in store.” He has a few months left as an apprentice, but until he starts tattooing you can find him everyday at True At Heart poking holes through people’s skin.