From bankers to buskers, it seems everybody these days has a tattoo. But despite their growing popularity, tattoos still carry a negative stigma, according to local artist Casey Hepburn.

It’s something Hepburn wants to dispel through his work, which he considers permanent art etched in skin.

Growing up in Calgary, the 26-year-old initially focused his artistic talents on spraying vibrant paint decals on train carriages, something that influences his style today.

“A lot of people critique it [as art] — even me as a tattoo artist. When I’m out in public and I see other people’s tattoos, I’ll critique the artwork of it, but not the meaning of it. Everybody has their meanings and their reasons why they go to each tattoo artist.”

The devoted artist began his career by working out of Human Kanvas, a tattoo and piercing shop in Calgary. Realizing his potential, Hepburn went on to complete a challenging two-year apprenticeship within shops located in Banff/Canmore River, later moving back to Calgary and landing his current spot at Strange World Tattoo.

But, he finds from personal experience that there is still a lot of grief that comes with having tattoos.

“Hand tattoos, face tattoos, neck tattoos. There’s that stigma behind them that once you have a hand tattoo there’s still all these people that think you’re a criminal or you’ve been in trouble or you’re not a good person,” Hepburn says. “Even nowadays just going out in public and stuff like that, you definitely get [judged] with the tattoos.”

Despite tattoos becoming further mainstream over the years, they are still misjudged according to Hepburn.

“[Tattoos being more acceptable] will all come in time. It’s a lot of the baby boom and the older people that are really set on their ways of how life was and what tattoos meant to each person. “But now it’s becoming more of a fashion statement, almost like a trendy thing [to have tattoos], and it’s going to become more and more acceptable until the day where if you have hand and face tattoos they can’t discriminate you from jobs.”

However, according to Hepburn, his three-year-old son Bryce, whose name he has tattooed above his right eyebrow “loves ‘em.”

And now, six years after trading trains for skin, Hepburn still loves that his job doesn’t feel like work.

Hepburn says the best part of the day is seeing people’s reactions to their new tattoos.

“You gotta do yourself. If [tattoos] make you happy it doesn’t matter what anybody else is gonna think about you, as long as that tattoo speaks to you and it has something that pulls you to it. I have tattoos that people don’t like and are offensive to other people, but they mean something to me and that’s why I get tattoos. It’s for you and it’s not for somebody else. If somebody doesn’t like it then that’s their opinion.”