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This Is What Happens When You Let a Vending Machine Decide Your Tattoos

Here's why people are into "Get What You Get" tattooing.
September 6, 2016, 2:27pm

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The Okey Doke Tattoo Shop has been a staple of the Toronto tattoo community since tattooer Eric Newstead opened its doors back in 2012. It's probably most famous for its "Get What You Get" tattoo vending machine—essentially a more affordably priced tattoo, the design of which is determined by whatever pops out of the machine.

I first met tattooer Kyle Hollingdrake when it was only him and Newstead working out of Okey Doke's initial location at College and Ossington. Through our shared love of motorcycles and bad punk rock, we became fast friends. I was able to sit down with him recently to chat about the new shop—their second location suffered major fire damage from a neighboring store that was accidentally set ablaze—and find out the highs and lows of inking loads of people with tattoos they might not necessarily have chosen for themselves.

All photos courtesy of The Okey Doke Tattoo Shop

VICE: How did you guys come up with Get What You Get tattoos?
Kyle Hollingdrake: We didn't come up with it. I had heard a long time ago that this guy Mike Malone, who's an infamous or famous-type tat guy, apparently came up with this idea of a Get What You Get (GWYG) tattoo. I had heard the story where you put tattoo ideas in a box or there was a Wheel of Fortune–style deal, but I wasn't sure the history other than that.

So the idea was handwritten?
Yeah, it was just written on a piece of paper or something. I never really heard the details, I only heard about it ages and ages ago.

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Whisperings in the tat world…
Yeah, then years later, I did a guest spot at a tattoo shop called FAITH up in Santa Rosa, a little north of San Francisco. They did GWYG tattoos there—and I wanna say it was $50 or $60 bucks—you pulled a folded piece of paper randomly out of a box, and it just had an idea written on it of what the person got tattooed. Then the tattooer could do whatever the fuck they wanted based on what was written on the paper.

So what were some of the ideas written down?
It would just be standard shit like: "a skull" or "a ship."

Nothing funny?
No, not really. I even did a few, but it was mostly pretty standard shit. Though, one of the tattooers who worked there told me the town was full of kids walking around with sleeves just full of GWYG tattoos. Because they were cheap, way cheaper than the minimum shop rate, which was like 80 bucks. I know that a lot of the tattooers were getting irritated because it was funny at first, but then these cheap skate kids had 30 of these little tiny tattoos that they had to draw and do all this work. So the shine of the whole thing had kind of worn off.

So when did you start doing it here?
When we opened the second Okey Doke, I had always wanted to do GWYG tattoos, but originally, the idea we had was a huge sheet of flash with tiny designs on it. Each one was going to have a number and you would roll three dice, and the corresponding number would go with the piece of flash. Then the idea evolved into using a vending machine. So we got it and filled it up with designs, and we were fuckin' ready to go from there.

How was it received here?
When we first started because we thought no one would go for it we charged $60. We thought maybe we would sell a couple because the idea was too crazy. But it was super fucking popular like every minute of our day. In the schedule, anything that wasn't booked with tattoos, [saw us] doing $60 GWYG tattoos. I was doing like six or seven a day in between all of our tattoos.

So what were some of the drawings you guys were doing?
First we just picked a lot of stock standard stuff just so we could fill the machine, just shit that was off old sailor flash: roses, dagger hearts, and shit. But then later, as we got kind of bored with it, we had more fun. Like we did a lady 69-ing with a donkey, there were four of those in there.

Do you have any that stand out as your favorites?
There was lots of cool shit in there, things that were funny or just kind of entertained us. Eric [Newstead] put a design in there, and it said, "An Inch Will Do In A Pinch," and it was a picture of an inchworm wearing a sombrero. That one was awesome. All the dumbest shit you could think of. All of my favorite ones that didn't survive the fire were all memes like the Dat Boi Frog or the "You Mad Bro" face—those were awesome

I feel like there was the trend of tombstones around then?
We did a bunch of those, but that's still going strong.

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I just remember there was one that said "who cares," and another tombstone that just said "you."
Haha yeah, totally! That one was good!

Has anyone ever turned down a design?
Like one or two people, and we've done hundreds of them.

Do you remember what they turned down?
Really pedestrian stuff: They wanted one thing specifically and they didn't get it, so they were bummed. I remember one time I did a rabbit on someone, like a really cute bunny, and the dude went through with it, but you could tell he was super bummed. I was like, Man there are so many worse things in there you could have gotten.

Let's talk about the new shop. You mentioned the fire that happened next door to the old Okey Doke.
Now we've opened The Okey Doke 3 at Dundas and Ossington here in Toronto mostly because we wanted to be closer to KFC so I could get my daily fix of Zingers.

Are there any plans to bring back the Get What You Get either with a new machine or the dice plan?
We'll bring it back for sure because it was so popular. We literally did hundreds and hundreds of those things. I feel like the last time someone tried to make an educated guess, it was for sure we'd done over 300 of them. What was cool about it in this post-reality TV show world, where everyone felt like their tattoos had to be super meaningful, is that I really liked the GWYG tattoos because it obviously can't be meaningful, but it can still be fun. Like, fuck your tragic story and your grandpa's initials, get this "You Mad Bro?" face or a woman 69-ing a donkey because that shit's fun.

Or even just a cute rabbit…
Yeah, daggers for sweet ladies and cute bunnies for gangsters…cuz like how else are you going to get those tattoos?