Standing in his bright, busy new parlour in Blenheim, tattooist Willy Wills pauses for a moment and stares at a photograph of himself standing outside the charred remains of his Christchurch parlour.
"I look half dead in that photo. Actually, I was in many ways."
Mr Wills had worked in the Black Rose Tattoo Emporium in Ferry Rd for 20 years, but he was in Australia visiting his son and new granddaughter when he heard the news his business had been destroyed in the February 2011 earthquake.
"If we had been there I wouldn't be talking to you now. We got to my son's and he said ‘Sorry Dad, your shop fell over' so we went straight back. We moved 5 tonnes of brick from where I usually sat."
Two staff members were injured and another escaped seconds before the building collapsed. Days later an electrical fire burned down the remains of the building.
Then in April, Mrs Wills' mother died and the couple moved to Blenheim to help her father run the Riverlands Roadhouse Truck Stop.
Originally trained as a chef, Mr Wills worked in the restaurant kitchen at the roadhouse. However, after almost 30 years in tattooing and having won about 580 awards from tattoo shows in New Zealand, Australia and Germany, Mr Wills said he was always keen to start tattooing again.
"I love cooking, but tattooing is my life. It's my passion."
It took until November to find shop space in Blenheim. One landlord in central Blenheim even turned them down because he did not want them attracting criminals into his building.
However, at the official opening party, Mrs Wills said the Main St emporium had turned out to be a great spot.
"It's been a good move. Sometimes things happen for a reason. The town [Blenheim] is small but there's plenty of people here. It's busier than in our old store. This is it, this is what we wanted."
The couple had also been lucky to find two talented Blenheim tattoo artists in Jarrad Johl and Barry Robb to join them, Mr Wills said. Their customers had proved loyal as well, and two long-standing customers had travelled from Christchurch for the opening on Friday to get new tattoos from Mr Wills.
Pitena Parkin, who has been a client for six years, said she would not get a tattoo from anyone else.
For something as permanent as a tattoo, travelling to Blenheim was not too far to go for good work from an artist she trusted, she said.
SURPRISE FOR THE BRIDE
Love is more than skin deep for former Marlborough man Shanan Barnett.
It left a permanent mark after he decided to surprise his bride with a tattoo of her name over his heart.
Mr Barnett has moved to Invercargill, but was back in Marlborough for his wedding on Saturday.
A tattoo lover, he has four tattoos by Blenheim tattoo artist Jarrad Johl and took the opportunity while he was in town to visit him at the Black Rose Tattoo Emporium on Friday to get another.
Although he had not told his bride-to-be of his plans, he was confident the carefully chosen design, including roses and a heart, would be well received.
"She's OK with the others so hopefully it's good. I have always liked them [tattoos] as art and a lot of the ones I have done previously have been for significant events with my church or whatever and the wedding was pretty significant so I thought I'd get it done."
Emporium owner Willy Wills said memento tattoos like Mr Barnett's were very popular, both for happy and sad events.
One of his most memorable works was a portrait of a 13-year-old boy who had died, tattooed on his mother's arm, he said.
"She was crying all the way through and I was crying."
Mr Wills said in his 30-year career as a tattooist he had worked on every part of the human body and taken some strange requests, including reproducing a painting of some men on toilets.
"I never asked the man why he wanted it, but he's got it down his arm."
- The Marlborough Express