Myke Chambers carefully selects the tattooers he wants working for him at his shop, Seven Swords Tattoo Company in Kensington.
“Getting a tattoo is an experience people will remember for the rest of their lives,” Chambers said. “I feel it’s our job to not only give them a great tattoo, but also a professional and pleasant experience.”
Jake DelBene is one of the lead tattoo artists at the shop. Originally from New York, DelBene knew he wanted to become a tattoo artist at a young age.
“The only class I really cared about when I was in school was art,” said DelBene, now 38. “It was all I really did.”
DelBene left New York and moved with his family to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. After high school, DelBene worked at a heating and air conditioning company. The position did not satisfy him, and DelBene decided it was time for a change.
He started teaching himself all he could about tattooing. He realized years later, he still had a lot to learn. Delbene then moved to Arizona, but came back to Pennsylvania and settled down in Allentown for several years before moving to Philadelphia.
“I tattooed for about 15 years before I started working in Philly,” Delbene said. “Within the last two years, my work has changed so much from being here. Just working around these guys every day has made me a better artist.”
One of his colleagues, Jeff Miller, finds inspiration from DelBene’s work.
“Jake is a great fit at Seven Swords because of his dedication to his craft,” Miller said. “His tattoos are timeless and flawless. Those are traits that make him a perfect fit here.”
DelBene said he gets a variety of emails every day about covering up tattoos and trying to schedule appointments.
“I want to make sure that I’m going to be 100 percent satisfied with the tattoo when I’m done, or I don’t want to do it,“ Delbene said. “People are going to ask where you got it. I want me and my client to be happy.“
A customer of his, 26-year-old Amber Pierro, had a problem with a tattoo she received from another tattooer. She was thrilled that DelBene was up for the challenge.
“I saw a lot about Seven Swords on Instagram about two years ago when they were first opening,” Pierro said. “Originally, I had a breast cancer ribbon on my foot but I wanted to get it covered up. Jake and I worked together to find something and we decided on a rose. I couldn’t be happier with it.”
The team at Seven Swords also travels around the world to different tattoo international conventions. They have traveled to Italy, Greece, Spain, London and Switzerland.
“Jake and I both started drawing digitally at the same time last year,” Miller sai. “In the early months of digital illustration, we were constantly teaching each other tricks and shortcuts. We later compiled these techniques into an illustration seminar that we host at conventions around the country.”
When traveling, DelBene is exposed to a variety of different artists and is inspired by their work. He strives to be better at his job and to always move forward.
“There are a lot of really good tattooers in Philly, so every tattoo I do has to be top-notch or the customer would go somewhere else,” DelBene said.
Since DelBene taught himself how to tattoo instead of going through an apprenticeship, he highly recommends that tattooers take the time to learn from someone who knows what they are doing.
“I probably could have gotten to the point where I am at in my career now a lot sooner had I went through an apprenticeship,” Delbene said. “But I got here now.”
DelBene has dreams of going anywhere in the world and having clients waiting to be tattooed by him.
“The only way to achieve that goal is to just keep doing bad-ass tattoos. Tthat’s it,” DelBene said.
– Text, images and video by Erin Kelly & Danielle Nick.