Skin Art: Grand Junction tattoo artist Justin Nordine inks fine art on human canvases |

Skin Art: Grand Junction tattoo artist Justin Nordine inks fine art on human canvases

Grand Junction-based tattoo artist Justin Nordine is seen hard at work on a client.
The Raw Canvas |


If you want a tattoo, Raw Canvas owner/tattoo artist Justin Nordine suggests taking time to consider all options.

“Research and go to an artist that mimics the style you are thinking you want,” Nordine said. “Wait for them if necessary; it’s on you for the rest of your life!”

Nordine also recommends heading to a shop before committing to a tattoo.

“Check the shop’s cleanliness (and if) they are up to date with the health department,” he said. “Ask questions about their process of set up and breakdown. Don’t be afraid to know those things, and if they don’t want to share or get frustrated — leave.”

Other things to consider before getting a tattoo include the pain factor, where to get that tattoo (neck, face and hand tattoos are still fairly taboo in many professions), and cost.

— Caitlin Row, GJ Free Press community editor

When Justin Nordine was a middle- and high-school teacher for an Expeditionary Learning school in Denver, he noticed his older students coming in with regrettable tattoos — like a girlfriend’s name on a young man’s neck, or work that looked like it was inked in someone’s garage.

“Every year we got to teach … intensive, week-long classes that students could opt into,” Nordine said, “and every year I’d do something really weird,” like horror movies from the 1960s for instance.

With hopes to educate his class on making responsible decisions about body art, the young teacher (who began getting tattoos himself at age 19) took his students to various tattoo shops around the Denver-metro area, a laser tattoo-removal office (to educate the kids on repercussions, pain and cost), and then they brainstormed names for a fictitious tattoo studio — one of the ideas being The Raw Canvas.

“From that class sparked a fire in me,” Nordine said, who — that same year — changed careers to become a tattoo artist. Then, in 2008 he took a major leap by founding a tattoo studio — The Raw Canvas — in downtown Grand Junction.

Both Nordine and his wife Shauna grew up on the Western Slope, so moving back to raise a family made sense. They have two kids — Mallory, 5, and Greyson, 4 — and many relatives living close by.

Nordine, now 33 years old, said he graduated from Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa State) with a Bachelors of Arts degree in 2002. For five years, he worked as a teacher to support his creative leanings. Then tattooing became his main artistic vehicle.

“When I was 21, I wanted to be an artist in New York and live in a loft,” Nordine said, chuckling a little at the thought. “That’s not reality.

“With tattooing, it allows you to be an artist and create work daily, literally producing work on walking canvases. But tattooing is not for everybody, and it’s not a get rich quick type of thing.”


The Raw Canvas itself was born in a 500-square-foot space on 8th Street and Rood Avenue in downtown Grand Junction, where Nordine began building a clientele and developing his signature style — a layering of colors that resemble water-color painting, along with bold linear structures and bright colors; designing abstract tattoos to flow with natural body contours is part of his style, too.

Nordine’s artistic tattoos are a far cry from traditional tattoos, he noted; he’s influenced by fine artists like Vincent van Gogh, and he tattoos original artwork. And because of this, he’s receiving national support, guest spot invites overseas, and instant recognition by fans.

“Justin’s work is gaining in popularity because it’s so different,” Raw Canvas booking and gallery manager Wendy Gill said, noting that he’s fully scheduled 10 months out with a constant flow of emails requesting appointments. “People are coming in from out of town (to see Nordine) every week.”

Clients currently on the books are traveling to Grand Junction from Texas, New Mexico, Oregon, Canada and even Australia, Gill added, and the Raw Canvas team is working to create an informational travel package for out-of-towners — “like where to stay and where to eat.”


As part of The Raw Canvas business model, Nordine also created “an urban-style gallery,” hosting the first art show at The Raw Canvas in August 2010 (at the old location).

“Hundreds of people came to the first one,” Nordine said. “Besides the birth of my children and my wedding day, that was the best day of my life.”

In November 2011, The Raw Canvas then moved to its current downtown location at 507 Main St., where it continues to host quarterly art shows (with 20 rotating artists) in conjunction with Grand Junction’s First Friday art walks. Work displayed on gallery walls includes paintings, photography, sculpture and more.

“We kicked off from there,” Nordine said, both showing and selling artwork on top of tattooing. “It was my dream to come onto Main Street.”

Josh Niernberg, owner and chef at downtown’s Bin707 Foodbar, also helps out with Raw Canvas art openings.

“Justin is awesome to work with,” Niernberg said. “It’s a great relationship, one that started professionally and has grown both creatively and as a friendship. We have worked together on his studio, his art openings and my arm. It’s exciting to watch him continue to receive great support and recognition both from the community and nationally.”

Nordine is currently inking Niernberg’s sleeve — a cornucopia of delicious food items across his right arm.

“The knife (on the upper arm) was a gift from my wife,” Niernberg said, with tomatoes, red and green onions, heirloom carrots, rainbow chard, candy-striped beets, radishes, salmon and more part of Nordine’s artistic vision.


With an expanded shop — including a “dream team” of three additional tattoo artists (Melora Coyle, Seth Jordan, and Arlo Dicristina), a gallery and booking manager (Gill), and La Tee Da Photography — life is a lot different from Nordine’s teaching days in Denver.

After getting his first taste of working at tattoo conventions in 2013, Nordine’s 2014 work schedule promises increased travel to conventions across the U.S.

Then in 2015, Nordine’s plans include guest spots across the U.S. and overseas.

“I’m taking my wife to Europe,” he said with a smile.

For more information about The Raw Canvas Tattoo Studio and Art Gallery, visit or call 970-985-9649.

To follow The Raw Canvas on Facebook, head to

To learn more about Justin Nordine, visit or

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