FAIR LAWN, N.J. — If it makes a mark, then Fair Lawn's Jay Hernandez is using it.
He doesn't have a college degree and he barely scraped through high school. But that matters little to Hernandez because, for the first time in his life, he feels at peace.
"Tattooing is the only thing in my life that's given me purpose," said Hernandez, 29. "It's my passion."
The artist says drawing is the only thing that quiets his mind.
It took him decades, though, to get to where he is now — at Our Lady of Ink in Secaucus, leaving a lasting impression on people looking to heal, celebrate a milestone or simply share a laugh.
"I've always been larger than life," the artist said. "But when I'm drawing, whether it's on an envelope or a wall, I'm quiet."
Hernandez says he's always been the "eccentric one" in his family, complete with piercings, crazy hairdos and, of course, tattoos.
Drawing remained constant through the highs and lows of his life, particularly in 2007 when he was working as a kitchen designer for Ikea by day and an apprentice in Wayne in the evenings.
He started working at Our Lady of Ink in 2008.
"I would draw all night," he said. "I would do the same line drawing in three different variations... just so excited to show my boss at work."
A year after being hired at Ikea, he was fired. But he figured it would be the perfect time to put all his energy in the one thing he knew to be true happiness: tattooing.
"I knew what I wanted so badly that anything that wasn't that just didn't make sense," he said.
That's not to say it was easy, though.
Hernandez' first tattoo was a simple cross. It took him two hours. He says if he were to do the same piece today, it would take him 10 minutes.
If he looks familiar, it might be because Hernandez was featured on Spike TV's "Tattoo Rescue" in 2012. People still stop him on the street to ask, "'Are you the one from the show?'" he said.
But he says it's all about getting better as an artist and helping others better themselves, too.
"You leave a piece of yourself with someone," Hernandez said. "That's satisfying. And as an artist, you're always chasing the dragon to do the perfect tattoo — something that will last a lifetime."
Aside from procreating, tattooing is one of the most intimate exchanges between two people, Hernandez said.
"You come to me to give something to you, and completely surrender yourself," he said. "It takes a lot of strength, a lot of trust.
"I help people. I give something to someone for them to see every day, to remember why they're alive.
"And that's great."
FOLLOW HERNANDEZ ON INSTAGRAM: @jayhernandeztattoos