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Narratives of the Nish started with a very simple thought. How have businesses here in Antigonish been dealing with the pandemic? This is a simple idea that came about while scrolling through Instagram, viewing the many businesses who were forced to shut down. The shutdown, however, did not always mean that business owners remained stagnant in their work. Some took the time to help others, to get creative with their work, and to adapt their businesses to the new reality. Dane Hiltz of Freedom Electric Tattoo is one such person who has re-reacted his business in interesting ways and with great new ideas. In fact, seeing his work sparked this idea! 


Originally from Hubbards, Dane, and his high school sweetheart, now his wife, came to Antigonish after high school to pursue an education at St.FX. These fellow Xaverians pursued a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science degree respectively. Dane’s wife, Brena, finished her time at StFX with a degree in Biology. She then moved on from St.FX to work at the Credit Union, where she worked for 8 years. At the moment, Brena cares for their two children Frankie and Marlowe, and Dane emphasizes that she is a wonderful mom. Though Dane notes his time at X was enjoyable, he ultimately decided to transfer to NSCC to complete their welding program. During this time, Dane recalls getting tattooed regularly. This in turn led to his start in tattooing. 


“It was a natural progression,” Dane recalls, “the guys knew I had an artistic background, and one day I left behind a doodle at the shop. The next time I came in, the guys asked if I had any more of those drawings – I had a bunch, I ran back home and got them all. The guys took a look and that’s pretty much how I got my start.”


The guys Dane had been referring to were none other than  Sean Brophy and Josh Dobbs from Three Thirty Main. Three Thirty Main was the tattoo shop which used to sit directly beside Dane’s current location on Main Street. When Three Thirty Main closed, Dane felt that the only option for him at the time was to open up his own shop. Dane says that he was rooted here in ‘Nish, and, at the time, there were very few tattoo shops to work at. He recalls that he saw Antigonish go from one small tattoo studio to an explosion of shops shortly after he opened his own shop, Freedom Electric Tattoo. He says that the community has always been very supportive, and he feels like the shops all have their own style, which keeps demand high and in turn keeps him busy. Dane likes to keep things interesting. All of his work is based around traditional tattooing. Whether he is doing black work or color, all his work has some element of traditional artistry. Dane notes that he serves clientele from all the Atlantic Provinces, and you can often catch him doing guest spots at other tattoo shops within those provinces. 


During COVID, of course, those guest spots and his shop shut down. Dane says the mandatory shutdown and the stoppage of physical tattooing actually freed him up to pursue other aspects of tattooing. He says that the shutdown ultimately gave him time to ‘stay on top of drawing’. Having an artistic background, Dane says that he used to do a lot of watercolor painting. Though he still did some painting, distancing gave him a great opportunity to try out new ways to draw and collaborate. 


“Digital Media became a huge part of what I do. With an Ipad, you can do so many things now. You can design prints, gift certificates, and even do split sheets across provinces. I ended up doing split sheets with a couple other artists across the province, and you can just send the files back and forth to one another. It’s super helpful for collaborations.”


These collaborations and work with new digital avenues resulted in prints being made. This of course also allowed Dane to generate revenue while the shutdown was ongoing. Other initiatives included ‘Corona Cash’ Gift Certificates and raffles for a tattoo session, which also showed success. 


Though his art did not suffer, when asked if anything during the pandemic hindered his ability to continue running his shop post-pandemic, Dane recalls that there were obstacles. As someone who works two jobs, running his own tattoo shop and working security at St.FX, Dane unfortunately did not qualify for any of the government funding being distributed to small businesses. This could have been a huge issue, as Dane says he feared that he was going to have to move his shop elsewhere due to not being able to afford rent for the space where his shop sits. Luckily, Dane says “my landlord is an angel.” Unbeknownst to Dane, his landlord had decided to waive the fee for renting the space during COVID, and when Dane found out he was surprised and relieved. Without the pressure of having to worry about rent, Dane could continue to focus on his work.


Luckily for Dane, now that his shop was allowed to reopen, things have been going extremely well. He is booking into October, and things seem busier. Procedure-wise, Dane diligently cleans and disinfects his shop while also always masking-up, as Dr. Strang requires. He has, however, changed the shop from walk-in and appointment to appointment-only for the time being to ensure social distancing. 


One thing is for sure, I know where I am getting my next tattoo. Dane was great to work with and I’m sure we will continue to see this type of creative work coming out of Freedom Electric for the foreseeable future. So, WEAR YOUR MASKS EVERYONE, I’d like some new ink!

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