Nick McMaster working on a painting at Cinder and Sea. (Cole Schisler photo)

Nick McMaster working on a painting at Cinder and Sea. (Cole Schisler photo)

Nick McMaster combines his passions for tattoos and art at Cinder and Sea

Cinder and Sea is a tattoo and fine art studio on Willow Street in Chemainus

When Nick McMaster was eight years old, he fixed a colouring contest at a video store in his home town of Beamsville, Ontario.

“There were 140 sheets submitted for the contest. 70 of them were mine,” he said.

Determined to win a VHS copy of Babe — the 1995 film about an orphaned pig (who was won in a contest in the film as well) — McMaster photocopied 70 colouring pages. He coloured the pages all different and dropped each one through the video return slot of FourMost video every day.

Needless to say, he won the colouring contest.

McMaster has always been a maverick. He passed up a scholarship with the University of Toronto, and spent two years at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario before he decided ‘art school was bull——’.

So he left school, and landed a gig at tattoo shop in Hamilton. A short while later, McMaster and a friend moved to Toronto in search of better opportunities.

“I sold my car. Sold all my stuff. I started applying to shops, and got into this little shop in the West End. I worked there for a little bit, then I met my girlfriend — she’s my wife now — I met her a couple months after I started tattooing.”

Young and in love, he managed to get a job just four blocks away from the house of his then girlfriend now wife — Agnes.

McMaster went on to work at several shops, rambling his way through Etobicoke, Hamilton, and Woodbridge. For a brief period, McMaster worked five days a week at one shop, and three days a week at another.

“I was doing thousands of tattoos a year — it was insane,” he said.

“Through tattooing you can either stick to one shop and be super loyal. Or you can be like me and be a vampire, work at a shop, learn as much as you can, then move on to another shop and learn as much as you can.”

Now McMaster is 31 years old, and owns Cinder and Sea, a tattoo and fine art studio on Willow Street in Chemainus. In the front of the shop, McMaster showcases his paintings, sculptures, and carvings. Much of his art features landscapes and animals of the west coast. In the back, he has a private tattoo studio.

McMaster’s work is inspired by the animals of landscapes of the West Coast. (Cole Schisler photo)

McMaster’s work is inspired by the animals of landscapes of the West Coast. (Cole Schisler photo)

A large cedar sculpture of a bear occupies the centre of the gallery space. (Cole Schisler photo)

A large cedar sculpture of a bear occupies the centre of the gallery space. (Cole Schisler photo)

Cinder and Sea opened in September 2019 after McMaster renovated the interior of the shop — which was formally occupied by Salt Spring Soapworks. Everything from the flooring to the shelving was put in by him.

McMaster says the new space has been positive for both his creativity, and his business.

“It’s easier to make stuff when it’s not piling up around me in a room in my basement. I get the chance to talk about it, and have people see it. I can judge people’s reactions more — I’m not just hoping and wondering if people like my art. I’m actually interacting with people,” he said.

“It makes the decision making process a lot easier. I’ve gotten a lot more sales and opportunities having a physical location. With art when you see it online — that’s one thing — but when you see it in person it’s another. A lot of people like having a physical store rather than buying random stuff off the internet.”

He originally intended Cinder and Sea to be only a gallery space. Prior to the pandemic, McMaster tattooed at Electric Umbrella in Nanaimo. When public health orders took effect, the shop had to close temporarily, which left McMaster and his co-workers left without a job. When restrictions were lifted and tattoo shops could operate again, McMaster opted to combine his passions at Cinder and Sea.

“It’s kind of half in between, which is what I like about it now.”

Although McMaster’s tattoo practice is frequently booked with clients, he has noticed a steep decline in foot traffic to his gallery. He estimates that foot traffic in downtown Chemainus declined 95 percent during the early months of the pandemic, and has only returned to about 35 percent of normal.

Since McMaster opened his doors in fall 2019, he did not have the one year of business history required to apply for government aid programs. McMaster did qualify for CERB, but it was quickly consumed through rent payments for Cinder and Sea and his home in Ladysmith.

Now that he can safely tattoo clients, his business is getting back on track.

“I’m still making an income — but it’s not what it should be, and what it should be isn’t provable,” he said.

Despite the challenges of COVID, Chemainus has proven to be a good fit for McMaster, and he’s hoping to remain in the community well into the future.

“I want to be part of the community… I’ve got the ability and the skill now to help people out. If I’m doing well and the shop’s doing well, then I can be free to do more around town.”

In the new year, McMaster plans to host a pair of art classes in Chemainus. One will teach landscape painting, and the other will teach imaginative wildlife drawing.

In the meantime, McMaster welcomes anyone who wants to talk about art or tattooing to visit his shop. Cinder and Sea is open 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 9748 Willow Street in Chemainus.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley was passed up for a cabinet position by Premier John Horgan. (Photo submitted)
Routley left off the list of NDP cabinet ministers again

Premier Horgan opts for some newcomers in key positions over experienced MLA

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement forecasting windy weather Sunday and Monday. (News Bulletin file photo)
More windy weather on the way for Vancouver Island

Environment Canada issues special weather statement for Victoria, east coast of Island, north Island

Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce has worked to support businesses throughout the pandemic. (File photo)
Ladysmith Chamber reflects on a challenging 2020

For small businesses looking to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19 one… Continue reading

49th parallel was an early adopter of Plexiglas shields, and required staff to wear face masks. (49th Parallel photo)
49th Parallel continues to grow in spite of pandemic

The biggest challenge of the pandemic has been keeping shelves stocked at 49th Parallel stores

Freighter anchored off Kin Beach in Chemainus. (Photo by Don Bodger)
MacGregor to host expert panel for virtual town hall on freighter anchorages issue

Residents can participate through MP’s website or Facebook page Dec. 3

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

The Nanaimo Rona location. (News Bulletin photo)
Rona home improvement store in Nanaimo advises that worker has COVID-19

Store re-opened Sunday after closing for cleaning Saturday

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

A small crash in the water south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon. Two men had to be rescued, but reports indicate there were no serious injuries. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Small plane crash in Comox Valley waters Saturday afternoon

Two rescued from plane that had flipped in water; no serious injuries reported

Most Read