Cal Srere ’20 shifted from social work career to full-time American traditional tattooing in Southeast Portland studio
Cal Srere ’20 did not attend Lewis & Clark with the plan of becoming a tattoo artist. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology while he was involved with Palatine Hill Radio (KPH) and LC’s music scene. Now Srere spends 60-70 hours a week honing his craft at Powell Tattoos in Southeast Portland.
Always drawn to the artform, Srere started tattooing in 2019 to experiment with professions outside of the clinical psychology field. He would often sketch out tattoo designs on his tablet while taking notes in class. While finishing his bachelor’s degree, he worked as a floor staff member at a residential treatment center for underage girls in the custody of the state.
“I worked there full-time for eight months or so and this was while I was getting my undergrad,” Srere said. “I liked it a lot, but it was really heavy and I found myself getting burnt out.”
Srere found tattooing a more sustainable long-term career goal than social work.
“I do like the field (of social work) and I think it’s a good field, but I do think it’s a little heavy, career-wise,” Srere said. “I was doing both of them at the same time for six months, but I have since transitioned to fully tattooing.”
Srere started his tattooing career on his own, something he would not recommend to new tattooers.
“If I could go back and do it again I would have made an effort to find a mentor,” Srere said. “It’s a lot of responsibility because you are marking people permanently.”
While Srere hates the pain attached to tattooing, he loves the craft for its ability to foster self-love.
“The coolest part of tattooing is that you get to make people feel more at home in their bodies,” Srere said. “I think it’s a privilege. That’s why I was saying tattooing should be taken seriously.”
While Srere started with contemporary illustrative designs, over time he has been drawn towards American traditional style.
“I definitely didn’t start out doing traditionalized — it was not not how I first got into tattooing,” Srere said. “But the more I do it, the more I am coming to believe that it’ll last forever, it’ll look good forever and it will never go out of style.”
Srere is looking to take his tattooing on the road in the spring or next summer.
“After tattooing for three years I’m finally just starting to develop my own voice,” Srere said. “I’ve never traveled to tattoo, but the people who I’ve talked to about traveling say that they learn a ton when they travel.”
While Srere loves the artform of tattooing, he recognizes that his clients’ wants and needs come first.
“I think that like any sort of artistic scene, it’s really easy for ego to get wrapped up in it,” Srere said. “It’s cool when I get to have full creative freedom but, my job does not exist without my clients.”
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