Though having only been at Sure Fire Tattoo in Crown Point for a few months, Cody Wallenius has been tattooing for 18 years. Originally from the South side of Chicago and now a Crown Point resident, Cody shared with LOCAL 219 more about how he became a Tattoo Artist, his personal and professional influences–as well as–what he enjoys most about the career.
LOCAL 219: My first question: be it circumstances, childhood events, or passions, what led you to this position in your life?
Cody Wallenius: I was always drawing or painting, you know, kind of always into art.
I was looking into being an art teacher coming out of high school. I wasn’t a great student, but it wasn’t that I didn’t do good in school; I just didn’t want to be there. I was kind of over the whole thing, and I had a couple of really, good teachers.
I actually talked to my art teacher in November on my birthday. He’ll still text me and we’ll talk. He’s the man. In high school he saw what I was doing and was like, “Dude, you need to be doing something else. You don’t need to be here.” I just hated school. I was always traveling and taking trips. Senior year I barely passed because of attendance. I was just not into it, you know. Him and my careers teacher were both like, “You just need to get the f*** out of here. You’re mentally older than all these other kids; you should be working. High school is just not for you, maybe college is.”
So, I ended up going to a semester of college. I paid for it and didn’t like it, but I was thinking I was going to be an art teacher. I had already started tattooing by that point. I was hanging out in tattoo shops when I was really young. I got my first tattoo when I was 15. Got to be in a shop around 16 and then had paintings hanging and was kind of running the show at 17; answering phones and all that kind of shit. By 18 they asked me to work there and it kind of took off from there.
L219: How cool that you were able to get started so young.
CW: I fell into it to be honest with you. I met the guy who owned the shop at a skatepark one day. He left his phone and I saved it from somebody stealing it. He came back and was like, “I own the tattoo shop,” and I was like, “Oh cool, I’ve got a tattoo.”
L219: Crazy how a simple, kind deed established such an important connection.
CW: Yeah, we just started shooting the shit and then many years later I ended up working for him. It was like a small world situation, you know? I think I was always gonna be tattooed. I had a couple tattoos and even by high school I had a big tattoo on my forearm, so it was one of those things where it was gonna happen one way or another.
L219: I feel like for the creative types, especially, that whole traditional lecture style, with a teacher standing up there for hours on end while you’re trying to absorb information, tends to be difficult.
CW: Yeah, I’m more of a hands-on kind of dude. My thoughts about being a teacher were that I could be in a studio, I could use all their equipment, and teach but also be in the studio all day creating art. Then with summers off I could travel, and my art teacher was the one that did the Europe trips.
So, I was like “Tight. I can go to Europe and go to these art museums.”
L219: Did you get to go?
CW: No, my family couldn’t afford it but since then I’ve traveled all over hell and high water, but yeah, it was one of those things where I had got thrown out pretty young, and my family couldn’t afford to do that. So, it wasn’t an option for me, but I thought that it would be cool as a teacher to be able to go on these trips and get around to see some things.
L219: What gets you out of bed in the morning? What makes you tick?
Definitely, coffee. My girlfriend and I have five kids combined, so family stuff. Getting everybody moving, getting everybody going where they got to go, and then being an artist.
I’m fortunate enough to have shed a lot of things that we’re holding me back or holding me down in order to get to where I’m at now. I do feel like I’m in a position now where I can travel, move around and tattoo where I want, which is nice. So, I feel like freedom, and then coffee.
L219: It sounds you’ve really been able to build a name for yourself being able to travel and tattoo in different spots.
It’s really just from being around. I’ve been tattooing for a really long time, and you just end up meeting people. Having been around so long I’ve met a little bit of everybody. They were young too, so now we’re getting into our 30s and 40’s, and we’ve built a rapport over many moons.
L219: Who do you feel has had the most influence in your life?
CW: Tattooing wise, I’d probably say a lot of the old guys. A lot of the older tattooers that I looked up to have passed on. There are so many good ones, sailor Jerry, Ed Hardy, or Stony Sinclair; these old guys that are dwindling down. Lyle Tuttle, who just passed away. Roy that was here in Gary. I started at one of Roy’s shops.
L219: What about in life?
CW: I would probably say my mom and dad. My mom has always been super good. So, like looking up to somebody would probably be parents or grandparents. My grandparents are still married and have been married for like 60 years or something crazy. They’re still around and awesome. They’ve had a good influence on me.
L219: What has been one of the biggest and most valuable lessons you’ve learned throughout your career that you feel could benefit others?
CW: If I had to put it in one sentence: stick to the f***ing script. Learn the basics and then take those basics and expand on them. Nobody called you and said, “Tattooing is broken, come and fix it,” because it’s not, you know? I mean it’s been going on long before you were here, and it will go on long after are here.
If you’re not giving something back to tattooing, or doing something like putting your artwork in shops, or really trying to get yourself out there, what are you doing?
L219: What do you enjoy most about being a tattoo artist?
CW: Seeing all the cool stuff. All the cool pieces coming out of this shop, other shops, and my friends. We’re all kind of doing the same thing but differently at the same time but in different locations. It’s kind of cool to reach into your phone, flick through Instagram and see, ‘Oh, my buddy did this today or this guy did this.’
What I enjoy is how tattooing has been accepted at some rate and now it’s a big thing. I don’t care that it’s a big thing, but that it’s accepted to the point where now it’s okay. It’s normalized.
L219: As with all art forms, with tattooing, there are no boundaries.
CW: Yes, it’s kind of been broken open, it’s out there. Everybody’s getting tattooed and there’s always something new. I do enjoy that. Where people are trying to do new stuff or break boundaries. They’re trying to take the art form and do something cool with it as opposed to doing the same thing over and over again, which gets old, it gets stale, you know, but that’s anything.
I do appreciate the good ones. The original ones. The people who paint or draw their own stuff.
That is kind of what I enjoy: to see the original stuff because I feel like at one point everybody was just kind of copying each other, and now different people are breaking off and realizing that they don’t have to copy necessarily. They can just kind of go their own way with it.
I feel like what I enjoy is moving around, moving and shaking, traveling, tattooing, seeing other tattoos, seeing other shops, and other things. You know, having a good time, putting my heart out there.