Piercer and jewelry designer J. Colby Smith on the man who showed him the art of individuality.

J. Colby Smith, photograph by Meredith Jenks

I was born into a very conservative, Jehovah’s Witness family in Utah; I did bible study three times a week until the age of 12.

The only things I really cared about at that point in my life were skateboarding and befriending all the alternative kids — the misfits and weirdos, the freaks and geeks.

Back then, some of my friends’ older brothers hung out with guys in their twenties, and one of them was the COOLEST. He was also the first heavily tattooed person I met. His look was very in-your-face and aggressive; I knew people with one or two tattoos, but they definitely did not have their hands, fingers, or throat tatted.

The first time I hung out with him in public — at the food court in the mall — people stepped aside and whispered.

Smith in his youth, photograph courtesy of J. Colby Smith

The exterior of New York Adorned, on 2nd Avenue in New York City, where Smith works as a piercer

Something about that was so attractive to me, and I knew at that point that I WANTED to be tattooed, I WANTED to get piercings.

Eventually, he exposed me to the underground music scene. It was one of the few communities where it wasn’t weird to be pierced or tattooed; you were put on a pedestal for mutilating your body.

When my parents dropped me off at my first concert, I pretty much jumped out of the car and ran away to meet my friends. This didn’t go over well with my mom and dad at all, but I did what I wanted and asked for forgiveness later.

I knew they would love me no matter what.

— as told to The Thick

Did you see? At home with club kid Nicky Ottav, filmmaker Crystal Moselle remembers an encounter on the Las Vegas strip that informed her directorial eye.

A snap of Smith and Zoe Kravitz, photograph courtesy of J. Colby Smith