His dark skin slightly conceals his tattoos, but a closer look reveals the variety of art forms chiseled on his body. In the same way, shaggy dreadlocks, thick rimmed glasses, and an easy smile that glistens like the shiny stud below it, conceal the extreme talent vested in tattoo artist Newton Omondi Wasonga.
Newton, who travels around East Africa and recently, South Africa to draw fine detailed tattoos on body art lovers, is easily one of the Kenya’s finest in the trade.
After eight-years of dedicated service for Barclays Bank, Newton hung his white collar and donned a Tusker T-shirt, ready for what life would throw at him.
“My parents were not amused, especially since I did not know what I wanted to do when I quit the bank. I began work as a hairdresser and used to help a lady who worked at the salon, doing tattoos,” he told Capital Lifestyle.
“I soon realized that I could do it on my own, and that’s where my career started.”
Newton did not know how things would go at the time, but looking at his records now and the work he has done since he started in 2004, he knows that he should have a ‘Lexus hiding somewhere’.
“I slowly got better at what I was doing. I would always be drawing and teamed up with my brother Abraham, to be among the first tattoo artists in Kenya. We both learnt how to tattoo by hand and we do a lot of online research, to keep up with the trends and techniques.”
Newton loves his job, but sometimes regrets being away from his home in Malindi, where he lives with his girlfriend of seven years.
“She was my assistant for about two years at some point. As I get more exposure, I travel a lot more. I often come to Nairobi to visit clients; I go to Mombasa, Lamu, Diani and even Jinja, Uganda. I was also the first Kenyan (and black) tattoo artist to participate in the annual Cape Town Tattoo Convention this year.”
Newton was among hundreds of artists at the Cape Town get-together, which was in its 4th year, and said his exposure, work and networking with big names at the venue was invaluable.
The Kenyan artist, who was featured in the Rolling Stone magazine in SA, will also feature in British artist Anne Stokes’ new book, showcasing tattoos that have been drawn from her paintings.
Newton’s work on Detlef, which took about a week to complete, made him qualify for that honour.
Newton’s formula is to trace the design from the screen of his laptop, place the trace on a stencil and replicate the design on his client’s skin, before starting work. He uses machines and special ink imported from the United States.
“The ink is called kurosumi, which just means black ink in Japanese.” Horiyoshi III, 66, is Newton’s all-time favourite tattoo artist.
After a tattoo by Newton, clients are advised to firmly apply Vaseline on the design two-three times a day until it heals. Asked whether he was worried about the market getting too crammed, Newton simply said: “The extra mile is never crowded.”
(To catch up with Newton on his mile and see him in action, call 0720 878 602).