Inking a strong bond

Washougal tattoo shop owner, Camas EMT-turned-artist forge solid friendship

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer

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WASHOUGAL — About a month into his time working at 3rd Heart Tattoo, Brandon Hozack asked his boss if he remembered when the two first met.

Ryan Boomhower, owner of the Washougal tattoo shop, didn’t. They briefly met three years prior, when Boomhower was working at Painless Ric’s Tattoo in Camas, and Hozack came in to ask about a possible apprenticeship. Hozack, 32, didn’t have an art background, and in the previous year had started teaching himself to draw, paint and tattoo.

Boomhower, 37, took a look at Hozack’s portfolio, which included photos of tattoos he did at home on his wife and a friend, and offered a blunt assessment.

“I really think you should stop,” Hozack remembers Boomhower telling him. He told Hozack to focus only on drawing and come back to the shop in about 10 months.

Hozack didn’t listen. He walked out, muttering some words that can’t be reprinted in a family newspaper, and kept at it.

They laugh about the exchange now, and Hozack admits Boomhower was right.

And they’re thrilled their paths crossed again.

“I was happily embarrassed when he told me,” Boomhower said. “I was worried I was a jerk about it at the time, but Brandon said I was nice. When he stopped in, he looked familiar, but I didn’t know from where.”

Boomhower opened 3rd Heart — nestled between a brewpub and hardware store on a redeveloped block of Main Street — in October 2014. He had a few other tattoo artists in his shop over the first few months, but none of them stuck. But when Hozack stopped in to inquire about working at the new shop, both felt an instant connection. They talked about tattoos and family.

“It was maybe a 20-minute conversation, and it ended with a handshake and a hug,” Boomhower said. “It just felt like he was supposed to be here.”

That was in April. Since then, the two have not only left their mark on Washougal, as well as plenty of Washougal residents, they’ve made quite the impact on each other. Both are married with children, and their families spend time together. Boomhower has four kids, two girls and two boys, ages 1 to 12, and Hozack has a 3-year-old son. They hang out regularly after work, oftentimes going to one of their homes and painting together.

“We put on some good music, our families are in bed, and we just chill out and paint,” Boomhower said.

Late-blooming artists

They both came to tattoos a bit later in life, and had other careers they left behind to pursue art. Boomhower worked as an automotive service adviser and grew up in a conservative Christian household thinking tattoos were ridiculous.

“Art isn’t easy to make,” Boomhower said. “You’re naked. You’re putting yourself out there. To make the decision to give up an honorable career to go do something that’s a bit more edgy, it’s not an easy decision to make.”

While working, he started drawing, painting and sculpting. In 2007, he started tattooing as a way to further his art.

“I had the responsibility of a blue-collar job, but it wasn’t for me,” Boomhower said. “If I was going to tell my children to pursue something they love doing, I couldn’t be a hypocrite and not do that myself.”

Hozack had to make a similar decision a few months before he first met Boomhower. Prior to getting into art, Hozack was a firefighter with the Camas Fire Department, as well as an EMT. He said he liked fighting fires, but working as a paramedic wore him down.

“Telling families I couldn’t do anything more to saved their loved one and seeing their reactions, it was just too much for me,” Hozack said.

He still gets choked up thinking about his time as an EMT. It got so tough he went on leave from work. By that point, Hozack had started painting and was posting some of his work online. One of his captains at the fire department, Larry Sarri, saw his work and called to meet him for coffee. He told Hozack that a tattoo artist, Donovan Andrews Jr., married into his family and asked Hozack if he ever considered that line of work. He put the two in touch, and a few weeks later, Hozack went to Black Label Tattoo in Vancouver, which Andrews owned, and watched him work. That led to an apprenticeship.

“I got lucky with people helping me,” Hozack said. “I had a lot of people who were very supportive.”

One such person is his wife. It’s hard for Hozack to look at his wife and not see his progress as an artist, mainly because it’s literally inked on her skin. When he first took up tattooing, he put a sparrow on her, which, he said, does not look good. He’s proud of his more recent work on her, though.

Another person who Hozack tattooed before he started working in the industry and who still comes to him is Ron Nickles, a Camas firefighter for six-plus years. Nickles and Hozack were in an EMT class together, and frequently worked the same shift.

“Brandon was a good paramedic,” Nickles said. “He always took care of business. You didn’t worry about anything when Brandon was on duty.”

After seeing some of Hozack’s art, Nickles went to his house for tattoo.

“That one tattoo turned into a whole sleeve,” said Nickles, who is now having Hozack cover his other arm fully. “I’m proud of him. He found his calling.”

‘It’s an honor’

Hozack recently starting picking up the hardware to prove it. On Sept. 25, Hozack and Boomhower traveled to Kennewick for the Three Rivers Tattoo Convention. It was Hozack’s first convention, and the first night, he picked up a first-place finish in the Best Small Color Tattoo competition. The next day, he beat out more than 40 other artists for Tattoo of the Day with his detailed work of a skull with leaves wrapped around the jaw. The Tattoo of the Day competition was a nine-plus-hour marathon, where Hozack had to sketch out and color the tattoo fully.

Coincidentally, six years earlier to the day, Boomhower won the Three Rivers Tattoo Convention Tattoo of the Day competition at his first-ever convention.

It’s just another reason the two feel as though they were meant to meet and tattoo together. Or tattoo each other.

“It is an honor,” Boomhower said of a tattoo artist asking for ink from another artist. “When you get asked, it’s a big deal. It’s the ultimate respect to give another tatoo artist.”

Boomhower tattooed the phrase “The road less traveled” on Hozack, who said the phrase has personal significance to him, but declined further comment on it. Hozack has given Boomhower a few tattoos, including knuckle tattoos that read “3rd Heart.”

The name of the shop has a few meanings, Boomhower said. He came up with it because he has three loves in his life: God, his family and art, so he considers art his third heart.

Because of his religion, Boomhower said he doesn’t tattoo demonic images on people. He also said if younger guests come into his shop, he asks them to think about what they want done. He has told people to take a sketch of the tattoo they want and hang it on their bathroom mirror for six months. If they can look at it every day for six months and still want it, he’ll tattoo it on them.

Boomhower said he feels privileged people want his art on their bodies.

“It’s an honor for us to do this,” he said. “It’s an honor to have someone gives us a piece of their body for the rest of their life.”

As for Hozack, he feels like it’s an honor not only to share his work on people’s bodies, but also to work at 3rd Heart.

“I used to think about what I’d want my own tattoo shop to look like,” he said. “When I walked in this place, this was it. It’s so open and inviting. It’s what I imagined my shop would be like. I can’t imagine working somewhere else.”