Starting a tattoo business while studying at the age of 19 seems like a pretty cool idea for a liberal arts kid anywhere in the United States.
But for a Malaysian, that's probably our parents' biggest nightmare.
Unsurprisingly, Esther Choong's parents were neither prepared nor happy to hear about this path she chose 2 years ago.
"I'm still surprised that I honestly wasn't beaten," she said.
What came as a shock and horror to her parents back then has now turned her own living room into Poking Duck's tattoo parlor.
Poking Duck's Makeshift Living Room / Image Credit: Poking Duck
Before tattooing, Esther worked intensively on drawing and painting.
Wanting to explore more of this eventually led to her love for tattoos.
"I had half the point of leaving university and doing a tattoo training!"
"But after doing some research, I found that a lot of tattoo artists came into the scene through self-study using the hand-pierced method, so of course I was really drawn to it," she said.
At this point, she realized that indulging in her passion while she continued her studies would be a win-win for her.
Your first "quack" to tattoo
Just starting from scratch meant hours of research on Google and Youtube before she got a tattoo kit.
While there were plenty of handpicking videos for beginners, Esther still had to filter out sketchy videos.
These videos involved using sewing needles to hand poke and cleaning the materials with just soap.
Therefore, it was important to her to reach out to several established tattoo artists before she started coloring.
After learning what she needed, Esther began to practice on her body first.
Eventually she started tattooing her friends when she became confident of her procedures and techniques.
6 months later, Poking Duck was born in her living room.
Your home makeshift studio contains all of the basic things a tattoo parlor has, like a tattoo bed and proper storage for your tattoo supplies.
The Tools for Work / Image Credits: Poking Duck
Esther also takes notes of the strict SOPs that most salons have and applies them to her own.
Customers must wear masks and disinfect during this time, and the number of people in the room at one time is limited.
"A lot of my clients say they feel like they are going to a friend's place to get a tattoo as opposed to going somewhere unfamiliar, which makes them more comfortable." I'm glad, ”said Esther.
Coloring on skin and paper
Studying while tattooing makes Esther's schedule different than that of full-time tattoo artists.
Her schedule changes every few months depending on the semester, although she usually works 4 to 5 days a week.
With her classes switching online due to the pandemic, it has made juggling between the two a lot easier for her.
Her normal working days now are online classes until noon, printing her tattoo stencils outdoors, and tattooing for two sessions until 6pm to 7pm.
She will have dinner afterward and do her chores at night.
Whenever she has the time, she works on custom designs for her clients.
When she starts out as a student tattoo artist, she can't have a fixed turnover or fixed number of clients per month.
She cannot afford to take clients in during exam seasons as she has to take a week or two off to prepare for her tests.
In some ways, this pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse for Poking Duck.
In good months like the last when she didn't have a lot of business, she earned RM3,500 by taking on 25 to 30 clients.
Some of Esther's designs / Photo credit: Poking Duck
In bad months like these, she made about RM 700 when she only took in a week's worth of clients.
This was due to her preparing for halftime and canceling several appointments due to the recent CMCO.
That being said, Esther has already made up for it with her business.
It took a while, however, as their prices are relatively lower than full-time tattoo artists and they don't charge a deposit.
While she understands the hard work that goes into the art and leads to its price, she shares a different feeling.
Your target group are mainly students. As a student who works part-time herself, she knows how demotivating it can be to get ink when you consider how much you have to save and save for it.
"When I started tattooing for others, I wanted to make tattoos a little more affordable for people who were in the same situation as me."
"The ability to appreciate, own and support art should be available to everyone," said Esther.
Beyond the living room
Although her parents are now backing her journey as a part-time tattoo artist, they still hope that Esther will get a traditional 9-to-5 job in the future.
This goes against her dreams of pursuing a full-time career as a tattoo artist in order to support herself and her family.
She wants to be able to travel the world and work in tattoo parlors that she has admired for years.
Given the conflict of interest, she just takes life as it comes as she is still torn between her ambitions and makes her parents happy.
How she would like to breed Poking Duck is her main goal to find her personal style.
"I'm pretty moody so my style changes every ten minutes! But it would be amazing if someone saw a tattoo that I did and could recognize it without asking who the artist is, like" Hey, I know this style! "It's from Poking Duck, isn't it?"
- You can read more about Poking Duck here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured image source: Esther Choong, founder of Poking Duck