Debra Yarian Tattoo Artist Magazine Issue #33 Interview Preview

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(Interview by Dawn Cooke)

Dawn Cooke: What was your first tattoo?

Debra Yarian: I wish I could remember the name.  It was a name on an older Mexican man’s hands, at a flea market in Phoenix, Arizona.  We were on our way back to California and he had a step van there that he had converted into a tattoo shop.  At the time people would set up on the weekend and tattoo at this flea market.  I mean, Peter’s Tattoos – who was Peter Poulos, a legitimate shop – would set up at the flea market too… 

That was pretty common in that time.

There was a big greyhound dog track and a big flea market there.  I bought a pair of cowboy boots and did my first tattoo. (Laughs)

alyssaPaul and debra

Is that what you bought with the money you made from your first tattoo?

My first cowboy boots, yeah.  I think they were like $7 dollars.  I’m from Brooklyn so being out west was a totally new experience.  But the man knew it was my first tattoo so I didn’t feel like I was…

And he was just fine with that?

He was just fine with that.  Probably because I wasn’t dressed.  No, I’m kidding!  (Laughs)


Topless tattoos by Deb?

You know what was funny?  I think the first tattoo I had ever seen being done was right before I did my tattoo.  It was a girl who had a fishnet top on and it just was so strange to me – it was the first tattoo I had seen.

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So the first tattoo you saw being done was right before the one you did?


On a woman wearing a fishnet top.

I saw it being done on the girl as she got tattooed – not by me, but by the nameless one – and I thought, oh, this is so strange.  Then this next customer that came in was this older Mexican man.  I say he was an older Mexican man because his English was poor and I wish I could remember the name.  I wish it was like “Esperanza” or something, but it wasn’t.  It was like Jilvia.  (Laughs)  I don’t remember how much I got paid but I know I got boots for seven bucks.  That was the first tattoo I did.

But I will say, coming from New York – because a lot of people don’t know what tattooing was like then – tattooing was illegal in New York City then.  So when I started tattooing it was halfway through the ban.  I think the ban was ’61 to ’97.  So when I turned 18 none of my friends were getting tattooed because there were no tattoo shops.

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Deb can be found at Eagle River Tattoo in Eagle River, Alaska. 


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