As one of the tattoo world’s few wheelchair-bound artists, Eric Branchfield rolled through adversity to reach the top of his craft.
Eric Branchfield’s initial interest in tattoos was pretty typical. He always drew cartoons when he was a kid, wanted to become a cartoonist as an adult and realized sometime around the fifth grade that higher education wasn’t for him. After that, he pretty much had to figure out his own way for everything.
Why? Because in addition to having to contend with the challenges of being a teenage screwup who dropped out of high school before realizing he could tattoo for a living in the early 2000s, Branchfield is also one of the small number of wheelchair-bound tattooers. While finding creative ways around logistical challenges like using a foot pedal-powered machine or going up stairs to get to a shop might deter some folks, it’s just a part of life for the California-based artist.
“Being in a wheelchair, you have to learn to either adapt or get left behind,” Branchfield says. “I feel like you just have the mindset where you’re either gonna let people do everything for you, or you’re gonna find a way to do it. I’ve never let it stop me from doing shit like having a career or a family—or even driving. Honestly, the worst part is that a lot of times, people will be condescending to you in a wheelchair, and they’ll almost treat you like a baby or a kid when you’re a grown-ass person doing shit. They probably mean well, but it’s just insulting when people act like you’re not equal.”
Although most tattooers don’t need the upper body strength and dexterity that Branchfield possesses, his willpower and stubborn desire to push through adversity were exactly what was required to break into the industry nearly two decades ago. In the world before reality TV brought tattooing into suburban homes around the world, tattooing was still closed off enough that it wasn’t easy for anyone to get started—particularly when you could probably count all of the paraplegic artists in the world on one hand.