Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ink-redible JOURNEY

Guy who does Kaepernick's tats has come a long way from shack in Philippines

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RENO, Nev. -- When Nes Andrion finished Colin Kaepernick's first tattoo in 2007, he told co-workers Kaepernick was going to be a special player. And they laughed.

But now those who work with Andrion at Endless Ink are booking appointments for his crush of new clients.

"I've had a lot more visits, a lot more calls," Andrion said. "The more they show it on the news, the more calls and emails I get."

Kaepernick's tattoos have been a topic of much discussion since the San Francisco 49ers quarterback first filled in for injured Alex Smith on Nov. 11.

Kaepernick flew under the national radar while playing for Nevada despite being the only Division I quarterback to pass for more than 10,000 yards and run for more than 4,000. But after nine mostly spectacular starts in the NFL, he has become a household name.

Kaepernick's entire back is draped in ink. His shoulders are covered down to his elbows.

And after each touchdown he scores, Kaepernick kisses his tattoo-covered biceps, drawing attention to Andrion's work.

Andrion, who works in a small building with no parking lot about two miles from where Kaepernick played college football, has seen his business rise along with Kaepernick's stock. It didn't hurt when a columnist disparaged Kaepernick's tattoos, saying the quarterback is the CEO of the team and a CEO shouldn't have tattoos. In fact, it has helped.

Andrion's waiting list for an appointment is nearly three months, which is about double the time it usually takes to get in.

The tattoo artist has received requests for interviews from news media across the country. In that same time, he said roughly 15 customers have come in for tattoos because they heard Kaepernick got his ink done by him.

Andrion, an artist for 18 years, also has tattooed fellow NFL player and former Nevada tight end Virgil Green of the Denver Broncos and former Nevada center JaVale McGee, who plays for the Denver Nuggets.

Some clients have even asked for a replica of Kaepernick's tattoos.

A matter of character

Tattoo artists have a knack for judging character. They can get a strong sense of someone by the tattoo selection and by the ample time spent next to them as the work is done.

Andrion, 35, needed four hours to inscribe the Book of Psalm scripture 18:39 on the quarterback's right shoulder: "You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me."

But it was while drawing angels and demons on Kaepernick's back, requiring 18 hours -- and a lot of ink -- spread out over two visits that Andrion got the full taste of Kaepernick's mild-mannered nature.

"He was a real quiet guy, real humble. He didn't have much to say," Andrion said. "He never really explained every tattoo that I've done for him, but they all have really personal meaning."

Andrion said his favorite was "Let God lead the way" on Kaepernick's left shoulder.

"That's the one I like the most. It has really strong meaning," he said.

Robert Gonzalez, an instructor at the Denver Body Art School of Tattoo and Piercing, said the negative perception for tattoos, even if they feature biblical references, was flawed.

"We've tattooed cops, judges and grandparents," Gonzalez said.

But he's excited for March, when he will set up shop at the Body Art Expo near San Francisco. It's billed as the largest tattoo expo in the world.

And if the 49ers win the Super Bowl, Andrion, who moved from a dirt-floor home in the Philippines to the USA when he was 10, could be in even higher demand.

"Sometimes I amaze myself because of all the great things that have happened to me," he said.

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2013 A1

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