Electrician-turned-tattooist Craig Bazan sketches a tattoo for a client.

Electrician-turned-tattooist Craig Bazan sketches a tattoo for a client.

Drawing on his passion

After a frightening workplace accident, an Abby electrician takes a new career path

The electricity surged through his 6’9” frame, locking his jaw and scorching his flesh and hair.

Abbotsford electrician Craig Bazan was switching over a transformer at a job site in Burnaby when he was electrocuted.

He’s still not exactly sure how it happened, but he likened the sensation to being hit by a sledgehammer.

After the violent jolt, he could only see small dots of light.

He smelled burnt hair, and when his vision finally came back into focus he looked down.

“When I saw my hands I didn’t know what to think. [They were] really burned,” he said, adding “from fingertips to elbows… charred marshmallow.”

He was terrified, but alive.  “A lot of guys aren’t so lucky.”

It was an autumn day in 2012 when the accident occurred. He had left his home early, with his family still asleep, to drive into work. Bazan was in his mid-30s and his decision to pursue a trade straight out of high school was looking like a smart one. He already had his journeyman ticket and had just purchased a house with a yard for his young family, which had recently welcomed a second baby girl.

But now he was in an ambulance speeding to the burn unit at Vancouver General Hospital.

All he could think about was his family, his job and his future.

He had a mortgage and his wife was on maternity leave.

There was also the intense physical pain. In one procedure, doctors had to peel the burnt skin from his hands and arms.

His wife, Jane, a nurse, arrived and stayed at his bedside.

Later, as he thought about returning to his job as an electrician, he felt reluctant.

“For me with my young kids, I was struggling with the idea of going back to electrical.

“I was never anxious before.”

After the accident, Bazan spent six months attending physiotherapy.

One day he asked his physiotherapist if drawing would help his ongoing hand therapy. The answer was yes: gripping the pencil would help his recovery.

Growing up Bazan was always drawing, something he’d do at school or with his mother, who was passionate about painting watercolours.

But he never thought about pursuing art as a career. “It’s hard to make a living as an artist.

“I thought to myself, I’m a big, physical guy, I thought I’d get a trade.”

His penchant for drawing quickly resurfaced.

“Once I picked up a pencil I got right back into it.”

As he rehabbed, Bazan decided to order a $200 tattoo kit online.

Not long after, he tattooed a small revolver on his leg — a tribute to John Wayne.

He started spending more time drawing tattoo-style art and inking his friends and family.

Bazan said his wife fully backed him on his career shift and even volunteered to be tattooed early on — she got a symbol depicting the birth signs of their two young daughters.

On his forearm, Bazan’s got an inky family narrative, all of it his own handiwork, including three roses for his wife and daughters and a paint brush and pencil for his mom Jenni.

“It’s really the only way to learn,” he said about his self-tattoos.

“Then I decided I wanted to approach it as a job.”

So he contacted veteran tattooist Brian Martin, owner of Brian’s Tattoos in Abbotsford, who liked Bazan’s portfolio and later gave him a job at the shop.

“I was incredibly nervous,” Bazan recalled about tattooing his first paying client.

The art seemed simple enough: a square with an arrow inside — but putting straight lines on flesh is tricky, especially on the ankle, where his client wanted it.

Despite his nerves, his hands remained steady.

“The client was happy.”

And with every tattoo comes more confidence.

Recently, he tattooed his first animal portrait, a detailed grey and black piece with script that was a heartfelt memorial for an owner who had lost a dog.

“As a tattoo artist I make some neat connections (with clients).”

“I just love it,” he said about his decision to become a tattoo artist. “It’s been so good for me.”