Being a tattoo artist was more than simply a way to make money. It was what Noel Sy Alarcon was meant to do all along, as he genuinely fell in love with what he was doing.
Before becoming one of the most respected tattoo artists in the emirate, Noel worked as a customer service representative for a local bank in the Philippines after he graduated from college in 2000. He tried looking for job openings and other ways to help his family with the expenses. He realized that even if one graduated from a prestigious university in the Philippines, securing a decent job was still challenging.
The anxiety of not having a job stressed him, especially when he thought about how much his parents sacrificed to see him graduate.
To help with the expenses at home, he and his grandmother sold snacks and cold beverages in front of their garage to kids on their way home from school. The routine lasted four years, earning just enough to cover their bills. Noel understood that selling snacks and cold beverages wasn’t enough to cover everything.
A cousin asked him if he would be interested in working overseas, particularly in Dubai.
“I weighed my decision so many times, not only because I’ll be overseas but also because of our financial difficulties.
“Eventually, my cousin left for Dubai without me. Then, one day, a package arrived addressed to me. When I opened it, it contained a visa from Dubai, supporting paperwork from my uncle and cousin, invoices for all payments made in Dubai, and a note saying, “This was all the documentation that Lola had paid, so please show it to her as proof of all the fees that she had paid for.”
“So yes, I went to Dubai because of my Lola’s love, trust, and blessing,” he recalled.
Moving to Dubai
When he moved to Dubai, he worked as an internet shop attendant. He worked there for a year before being hired as an appliance sale demonstrator. He would wear a microphone while selling various appliances before a crowd. His career in sales lasted for over a year, but as time passed, he wanted to improve and change his career.
In 2007, Noel applied for a leading electronic store in the UAE as a visual merchandiser with no idea what the work entailed. Fortunately, he got the job and has since helped open the second to 21st shop in the UAE. After 11 years of hard work, he was promoted to the senior visual merchandiser.
In between his full-time job, a work colleague encouraged him to become a tattoo artist, something he had no inkling he would be doing for the rest of his life. His initial motivation was the extra money he would make from the side hustle. Initially, it was all just for the money.
As time went on, tattooing evolved into his passion and creative outlet. And what a joy it is to be able to earn a living doing something he really enjoys, he thought.
When the tattoo was at its peak, several clients were availing of his tattoo service. He was compelled to make one of the most difficult and perhaps terrifying decisions of his life.
Noel resigned from the electronic shop after 13 years as a senior visual merchandiser and secured a friend’s visa to work for them and be more flexible with his time. Today, he now works as a tattoo artist full-time while also editing catalogs for their company.
“I never saw myself as a tattoo artist, much alone in an Islamic country. To be honest, tattooing here in Dubai is still underground. And since I’m working with the client’s health and their desire to have a beautiful piece of skin art, maintaining the SOP of a reputable tattoo shop—one that’s underground—is critical,” he said.
Being an ink master has been Noel’s creative outlet. It enables him to express his love for art in ways he never imagined possible.
“When I make them for my clients, I get to witness their various emotions. And everyone’s feelings are different from one another, so it’s like watching different movies all the time,” he added.
Like many expatriates in the country, he, too, had a fair share of drawbacks. He recounted when he faced credit card issues and found himself locked away behind cold and hard bars. When he was released and time passed, he regained his footing and met a special woman who would change his life.
The worst and most painful day of his life was when his grandmother died of Covid-19, and he was never there for her. His grandmother was the first person who believed in him.
Noel’s dream is to have the first legal tattoo shop in an open Islamic country to help and connect artists who are hiding to make a fair living and disseminate art through their work on skin. He believes that legalizing the business would draw tourists.
“I just want to say to all my fellow artists, old and new, that money shouldn’t be your top priority; instead, think about how you will grow and evolve as an artist. Great outcome comes great income. Never stop learning, and always follow the advice of your mentors. Whatever you have learned, share it with others. Respect is earned, not given,” he said.