As a Canadian company, we like to inject a little #CanCon into our posts whenever we can, so this instalment features Paul Jeffries owner of the Smilin’ Buddha tattoo shop in Calgary Alberta, a globally-respected tattooer, historian and Canadian living legend.
Born in 1953, Jeffries grew up in the blue collar area of Vancouver’s East end. His father wanted him to become a mechanic, but Jeffries had always been drawn towards art. He was also getting tattooed at the age of fifteen, when he was in high school
“...that was a big deal, like, wow, look at this guy. My teacher said that I should be drawing my own stuff, instead of letting those frigging pirates do it on Hastings street.” - Paul Jeffries (The Vanishing Tattoo - Top 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing)
This was in the era of Doc Forbes and Circus Lee, when tattooists used stencils and black charcoal powder.
“They put the Vaseline on and then, when you wiped, your design came off. That’s kind of how Pinky Yun got his name: he’d put Kleenex around his pinky finger, so he wouldn’t erase the whole design.” - Paul Jeffries
Jeffries graduated from high school with a scholarship to go to art school, but a disgruntled rival student’s sabotage cost him his entrance.
“When I got ready to go, they said I needed thirty-six pieces of artwork to get in, but it had all been destroyed. I had my art teacher phone them, but they said, ‘No, it doesn’t matter. You don’t get in.’” - Paul Jeffries (The Vanishing Tattoo - Top 101 Most Influential People in Tattooing)
Jeffries eventually ended up painting cars. He began tattooing in 1975.
“I was probably on that first wave of young Canadians to tattoo. It used to be all those old guys, the old kind of sailor-type guys. I don’t know how old they were, because I was only twenty. But they all looked to be in their sixties, you know.”
He stayed in East Vancouver for twenty-five years, and after apprenticing in Long Beach California, he moved to Calgary to set up his own shop in 1978. There were no shops in Calgary at that time. Jeffries recalled to the Calgary Herald in an interview from February 14th, 2000,
“There were seven shops in Vancouver and none here, and I’d done some market research. People were going to Edmonton and stuff to get tattoos, so I had a big market and could be a big fish in a little pond. Plus, it was the oil boom time here, so it was the perfect time to be here.”
Over the years Paul Jeffries has become known for his depictions of Japanese mythology, and recognized by the Japanese association of tattoo artists. He's travelled the world, meeting many of the legends that inspired his craft; Horiyoshi III, Ed Hardy, Bob Shaw, Johnny Two Thumbs to name but a few. The Smilin' Buddha has seen many artists and customers pass through its doors but Jeffries has never been tempted to expand his operations to other locations.
He explained to the Calgary Herald in 2000,
"There's lots of guys in this business who have gone out and opened multiple shops, but I'm more into the quality thing than the quantity thing" he goes on to say "People have said why don't you open one in Edmonton or Saskatoon? Because it wouldn't be the same thing"
The Smilin' Buddha has since moved from their location, a former house in the Marda Loop, but business is still thriving, and Jeffries can still be found there tattooing.
To get the complete story, in 2005 Paul Jeffries put out a book to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of Smilin' Buddha. It chronicles the history of the shop, and also shares the stories of Jeffries' travels, and experiences - Definitely worth picking up if you can get your hands on it.
"Smilin' Buddha - A 25 Year History” (Paul Jeffries with Robbie McDonald) - 2005
Calgary Herald Archives