The Art of Ink

Art is subjective. It comes in many different styles and forms – watercolor, acrylics, pottery, beads and yarn, abstract, realism. And it means something different to each individual who views it. Some may have a Picasso or that of a local artisan hanging in a place of prominence in their home. Others may have a Ferrari or a Nissan parked in their garage. A lady might wear an exquisite piece of jewelry fashioned out of platinum and precious stones or a colorful creation of wire and beads made by a child. There are others who simply have a beautiful piece of artwork – a tattoo – inked on their body.  These are all artforms. But if asked which of the four items in this group didn’t belong, the tattoo would instantly be singled out. Many may not agree, but tattooing is a true art form and is being inked on school teachers, doctors, lawyers and even judges right here in our own backyard. The artists who create these works of art are just like other creative minds, each with his or her own style – a reflection of a person’s attitude and personality – just like with fashion or home decor. 
For many style is a way to say who you are without having to speak. 

Photos for the story were provided by Keith Kujath. 

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NOAH HOLLIS, Hub City TATTOO
Noah Hollis worked as a firefighter/EMT in Florida for 26 years. These days he’s a tattoo artist at Hub City Tattoo, but does brief stints at two shops in Florida, where he is also licensed. There he meets with clients on an appointment-only basis. “I have 13 years of clientele there,” he said. “That’s the only reason I can do that, not because I’m so awesome.”He also works conventions in the Sunshine State. He’s already made five trips this year. Originally from Poplarville where his whole family lives, Hollis doesn’t want to live there. “It’s too small a town for me,” he said.

Hollis didn’t get his first tattoo until he was 27. It’s Bamm-Bamm of “The Flintstones” fame standing next to a fire hydrant and is located on his upper right arm. It was actually his first and second tattoo. He was 32 before he ever started tattooing. Artistically inclined since the age of 8 when he took art lessons, he got his start in the ink business when he started drawing tattoos for his friends on bar napkins.  “They would take them in and let local artists tattoo them. That’s when I decided I would learn the craft and do them myself,” he said, having loved art all of his life. “Every firefighter has two jobs, so I decided this could be my second job.”

Hollis said tattoos weren’t the cool thing of his generation until you got to a certain point. “Even up until their early 20s, only certain people got them – usually bikers, sailors and rock stars.” These day young people in their late teens and early 20s have been permanently inked. A required year-long apprenticeship, where Hollis thought he knew what he was doing, was short lived when he discovered the owners were running drugs.  “I was a firefighter,” he said. “And if they were caught, the headline was not going to say, ‘Tattoo shop busted in drug sting,’ but rather ‘Firefighter arrested in drug sting at tattoo shop.’” So he had to get away, trying another shop where they required him to apprentice for six more months. “I did it because I wanted to learn to tattoo,” he said. “At that point I knew just enough to be dangerous.”

After five years, the shop was sold and the owner, also Hollis’ mentor, moved to Costa Rica. Hollis opened his own shop and his mentor eventually came back and worked for him. “He taught me how to tattoo,” Hollis said. “Like everything else in other careers, it’s the little things you learn that make you more efficient in the end.” Hollis doesn’t consider himself an expert.  “I don’t feel that I’m that good,” he said. “I do nice clean work. I use all the right stuff. I spent extra money to buy the nicer supplies, so things are more efficient, but it’s also easier on the customer. I also do everything to try to grow and I’m constantly trying to get better. It’s hard for me, especially at my age. I’m old for this lifestyle.”

At 47, Hollis has seen a number of changes in the business through the years – technology and education at the top of the list, followed by the people who are getting tattooed these days. For sketching, Hollis’ first love is a Ticonderoga pencil, which he has tattooed on his left forearm. “And I still have Ticonderoga pencils sitting in my station,” he said. “That’s all I use. If I’m going to draw, that’s the only pencil I like to use. I’m just comfortable with it – the softness – it just works well for what we do.”  Hollis uses an Ipad Pro and the Procreate program to create, sketching out his designs before adding layers of color, details and outlines. 

While educating the clientele is better in some places than in others, Hollis said it is one area where those working at Hub City Tattoo truly try and excel. “We try and teach them to do it right the first time,” he said. “Don’t torture your body and there’s no sense in spending extra money. Go to the right person the first time. The educational level has gotten better but it needs to go a whole lot further.” The biggest change Hollis has noticed is the clientele who are getting tattooed. “I’ve tattooed a 92-year-old woman,” he said. The woman, who had competed in the Olympics when she was much younger, wanted a tattoo, but her husband forbid it. As she saw her daughter and granddaughters getting tattoos, that just increased her desire for one of her own. “She was a feisty old lady, a real sweetheart, whose husband had told her the only people who got tattoos were sailors and whores. ‘You ain’t a whore and you’ve never been on a boat,’ he said. “And so she couldn’t get one. Two weeks after he died she came into the shop ready for her tattoo. “I didn’t charge her for it. It was what she wanted (the Olympic rings) and where she wanted it (outside of her ankle).”  She drove herself home after showing him her ID to prove she was as old as she said.

Hollis believes today’s technology and education have made tattoos more of an accepted art. He said there was a day when you were classified as a thug if you had a tattoo.  “I was a professional firefighter and I had tattoo sleeves,” he explained. “And not because I’m a tattoo artist, but because I love them. Every tattoo I have either has meaning or a story behind it.”  He has the names of his granddaughter and great nephew tattooed on his leg that he let the children do with his help.  “I wouldn’t dare fix them; they mean something to me,” he said. The son of a Pentecostal preacher, it was Hollis’ mom who was the strict one in the family. And she’s given her son a hard time about his tattoos since the very first one.  “It’s like I told her, some people will buy a $1 million Picasso to hang in the foyer of their home,” Hollis said. “It’s just what they want – a famous painting, a piece of art. A tattoo is the way I carry my art. I get what I like and carry it with me.”

His latest tattoo came several weeks ago and he has plans to get tattooed again on his next trip to Florida. “I’m at that point where I want to get tattooed by certain people,” Hollis said. “I don’t NEED anymore. Like my mom, who’s getting ready to turn 80, will tell you, ‘he doesn’t need any more tattoos.’” Hollis said a lot of tattoo artists try to do nothing but custom work– bigger custom pieces – but also still enjoy doing little pieces. For tattoo artists, Pinterest is the devil. “We know everybody thinks Pinterest is the coolest thing in the world, but not for tattoo artists,” he said. “People bring in unrealistic things. They see a girl with a tiny flower on her wrist that is literally 2 to 2 1/2 inches tall with all this detail. That’s not real, but rather a fake tattoo strictly for the photograph.”

Hollis considers a tattoo like jewelry, something you use to accessorize your body. Hollis recounted a recent night when a man, who has just gotten out of prison, came in wanting a black cross tattooed over a previous tattoo. “He said he’d changed his ways, was trying to take better care of himself and his life,” Hollis said. “I said, ‘Don’t make me do something stupid, let’s do something nice.”  It was only going to cost him about $20 more.  Once again, that was Hollis trying to educate the public. He said a lot of people around here want the most coverage, as much skin covered as they can, for the least amount of money.  Hollis feels that placement of a tattoo is as or more important than the actual tattoo you are getting.  When those in their late teens and early 20s come in, usually for their first tattoo, Hollis said he always tries to talk them into putting it in a place where it’s hidden, so it’s easily covered.  “I tell people all the time if you can’t wear what I wear on a daily basis, and not see your tattoos, you are now in jeopardy of it costing you a job,” he said. “People say it’s a lot better than it used to be. It used to be that if you were tattooed you were cutting yourself out of 60 or 80 percent of available jobs and it’s gradually gotten better, but you’re still cutting out at least 40 to 50 percent of the jobs now.“ He points to a tattoo on the top of his hand that extends a little bit onto his fingers.  “The nickname for that is a jobstopper,” he said. And yes, there is makeup out there that will cover tattoos, but what’s the point?

“If you go to USM to get a degree, you’re spending all that time and money to get a degree,” Hollis said. “You want a tattoo? Get a tattoo. It’s art. But it’s not for everybody.  “If want to do it, do it, but think about your life and your career. Don’t do something stupid and get a big ole heart and dagger on your forearm, because your grandpa had one or a half-naked lady because Uncle Joe had one and could make her dance. Don’t do something stupid that could affect your career.” Tattoos these days have gone mainstream, according to Hollis. Sure, there are the bikers and roughnecks, but they aren’t bad people, but there are also lawyers and teachers, senators, doctors and judges who are being inked. And while the number of people who are getting tattoos has blown up, so has the  artistry level. Hollis displays both his first and last tattoo as an example, which is like day and night. Hollis said those that used to get tattooed gave the art form a bad rap.  “Everybody gets profiled,” he said. But things are slowly changing. Hollis believes a lot of it is the close mindedness of people here, where they are more judgmental.

“It’s art, your expression,” he said. “It’s no different in me wearing this shirt and you wearing that one. Or my hair being this color and yours that color. I’m a Christian and am very proud of that. But because of the judgmental attitude here, it keeps reflecting it back on Christianity.” Like a piece of jewelry, any true artist wants to slow down and do the very best art he or she can.  “Anyone who is a true artist is going to take pride in that whether hitting the right note, playing the right string, hitting the right drum or doing the right tattoo; it’s just part of it,” Hollis said. “It’s an art.”

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ALEX PARIS, Lady Luck Tattoo

Being a female in the tattoo field is a bit of an anomaly, but that’s OK with Alex Paris of Lady Luck Tattoos. Breaking into the “boy’s club” hasn’t been bad or difficult, and not something she has worried about or is shy about doing in the least.Sure, women tattooists are a minority, but their ink is on the rise.  It was the guys at Lady Luck who welcomed the petite Perry County native with the “Alice in Wonderland” tattoo on her forearm, her first at the age of 18.“You have people like (my coworkers) Robbie and Phil who let me know, ‘Hey, this doesn’t have to be a boys club. You’re more than welcome to join us if you’re willing to work hard and be dedicated.’” Paris was up for the challenge. 

“There have been a variety of female artists that I look up to who have good fundamentals and want to do good work and work hard,” she said. “It’s not so much like it used to be when you had groupies who were coming up into the shop. I think it’s definitely coming to where we’d like for it to be and continually moving.” And Paris believes having a female face in the front of the shop is beneficial. “People see me and think, ‘Oh, this isn’t a bad place if she’s working here. There shouldn’t be anything for me to worry about.’” At the moment, the majority of Paris’ clientele is women. She thinks that’s because of the work she posts across various social media outlets – usually big intricate flora pieces or custom artwork. Recently she was able to ink one of her favorite clients, a woman in the military, who comes through every once in a while.  “I got to tattoo the cutest little pig with a little unicorn horn on her,” said Paris, who said her clientele has similar interests, feels comfortable coming in and meeting with her. 

But she doesn’t exclude men and has a fair amount of male clients as well. Paris feels there are some very talented women out there tattooing. She is friends with a female artist in Jackson, who she describes as on the same level talent wise as herself. “We started apprenticing about the same time, but she has more experience than I do,” said Paris, who looks forward to meeting other women in the industry. Paris, 21, is lithe, and on this day sports black lipstick. Coupled with a pair of jeans is a short-sleeve shirt that shows some of her 17 tattoos. In addition to the “Alice in Wonderland” tattoo, there’s also an Ewok/Dancing Bear of Grateful Dead fame.  

Raised by her grandparents, in junior high, she loved to paint and draw.  “I’ve loved to do this since I was little bitty,” she said. Her mother, who had visited Lady Luck on several occasions, introduced her to the art of tattooing. Paris remembers going to the shop alongside her mother and getting as close as she could to watch.  “It was really cool,” she said. “I was fascinated and thought this place had a cool, friendly atmosphere. I always felt very welcome and didn’t feel like a kid who had to sit over in the corner and not do anything.”  As she aged and with a love of art, she felt the shop would be a wonderful place to work and grow as an individual artist. When she turned 18, the age you can legally get your first tattoo and start an apprenticeship, Paris came into the shop and talked to Robbie and Phil. “I wanted them to check out my sketches and told them I thought it would be fantastic to have the opportunity to work with them,” she said. Once high school was complete she began her apprenticeship, helping to clean the shop, complete inventory lists, scrub tubes and help get things together.  “The guys would show me little things here and there as well as little tips and tricks,” she said. “It was always really fantastic to watch them tattoo.”

It was during one of these times as she sat watching Phil tattoo a lady when he asked her if she wanted to touch up a small heart on the lady’s hand. And she was off and inking. Not long after Paris got her license, the guys gave her her first tattoo machine for her birthday. “It was very exciting and I got to do the first tattoo on myself, which was a cool experience,” she said. These days Paris likes to draw the human body, her favorite being women’s faces, in addition to florals. She also likes to paint animals, figures and pinups. She’s even had the opportunity to tattoo her mom, who started all of this. “We put a skeleton hand behind her ear. She was super happy about it,” Paris said.

Her biggest piece to date is a large piece on a lady’s thigh, which took two sessions. She’s also tattooed herself a couple of more times – to get the practice and check her skill level, and also for a girl who came in to job shadow her, so she could see what it was like. For people who love art but really don’t see an option in the art industry, Paris feels like tattooing is a good choice. “With hard work and determination, you can do whatever you want,” Paris said. “That’s how I’m sitting here talking to you.”

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BRIAN JORDAN, Hattiesburg Tattoo
Brian Jordan began his art career as a sculpture major at the Memphis College of Art, but after two-and-a-half years realized he needed to make some money, “because they take money, they don’t give it away.” In addition to his art background, he worked at several different tattoo shops in the River City, as well as a mural company, a blacksmith shop and a bronze foundry. “Sculpture was what I wanted to do and where I was headed, but it’s a lot harder making a living doing sculpture than it is tattoos,” Jordan said from the lobby couch of his tattoo shop, Hattiesburg Tattoos, on Hardy Street. Now 18 years in, he’s satisfied with his decision. When he came to the Hub City in 2010, Jordan worked at a local shop for five years. But like with the art he creates on a daily basis, he doesn’t like to do the same stuff all the time. 

“That just makes you mad and crazy,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m tattooing. There’s different clientele all the time, the freedom to come and go as I choose and do what I want to do. Having a regular job does not work for me. I like being my own boss. All of that is important to me.” Jordan’s first ink came when he tattooed himself at the age of 15 or 16 with a machine he’d actually made himself. He takes his right shoe and sock off only to discover it’s the wrong foot. On top of his left foot is a small round circle of sorts, about the size of a penny. 

“I was just goofing off,” he said. That’s where he got his unofficial start, just goofing off at parties, making machines and messing around with anybody who let him tattoo them. His parents really didn’t care about the tattoos. “I wouldn’t say there were supportive,” Jordan said. “My mom saw my sleeve and said, ‘Well you did that, didn’t you?’” The versatility of the job, which means a little bit of everything, also matters.

“Some people don’t want old-school tattoos and some people don’t want realistic tattoos,” Jornan said. That’s what brings an air of excitment and keeps the job fresh. You’ve got to be able to do it all and I kind of fall into that category, I guess.” Jordan is quick to say there is plenty of competition around the Hub City, but by that means there are a lot of tattoo artists, but by that, he means not a lot of competition as far as skill. Not wanting to bad-mouth anybody, he added there are some skilled tattoo artists, just not a ton of them. Jordan has seen a progression of the art form, noting that subject matter changes regularly. 

“Except for crosses; crosses are forever,” he said. “Everybody wants a little cross on them.” When he started tattooing, people were getting Tasmanian devils, which were actually on their way out.  “And then the Kanji phase hit when everybody was getting this Japanese writing before it spattered out and went away,” Jordan said.But subject matter-wise, Jordan said it’s basically just one trinket after another. “One phase will come in and fade off and another will come in,” he said. Right now what’s popular is mandalas (a spiritual and ritual symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism representing the universe, the cosmos) and usually of a circular nature and quite colorful.

“Then there is this big phase that happened 10 or 15 years ago when people were doing a lot of old school-looking traditional tattoos and that’s still around a little,” he said. “It’s taking a little longer to fade off.” Tattoo repair work keeps the five working artists in the shop busy. The shop currently has one apprentice and when Jordan’s son turns 18 in the near future, he will begin his apprenticeship.“We do repair work all the time,” said Jordan. “People around here that are the bad tattoo artists keep us supplied.” Jordan also does cosmetic tattooing, mostly eyebrows and eyeliner, usually about twice a week. He has a special certification and spent a week in Salt Lake City taking a course on microblading, even though he does more tattooing. He feels tattooing works better and is more permanent.

Microblading is when a bunch of little needles are put together and cut the skin prior to ink being rubbed in, whereas tattooing entails the needles going in and out depositing the ink. The clientele he sees is “everybody, not just people from this group or that group,” he said. “When they turn 18 they have to come and get their first tattoo, usually something small. Then you have your 30 years old who want to get a whole sleeve.” A sleeve is described as a large tattoo, or a collection of smaller tattoos, that has a unified theme, and covers most or all of a person's arm, usually from shoulder to wrist. He said these days women are getting more and more sleeves. Other tattoo candidates are older people, who’ve never had a tattoo in their life and are like, ‘I have to get one of these.’”

Jordan said that tattooing on an older person is more difficult because of the elasticity and thinness of their skin. They also bruise easily.  “I’ve offended a few people telling them I can’t tattoo them, but I try and be honest with them,” he said.For the older crowd, Jordan said they are a little more reserved in the subject matter they choose. “They aren’t going to get a bunch of death-related evil, where younger people, who are into heavy metal and the like, get all kinds of evil stuff,” he said. “I think it’s more of a joke to them than evil.” For the most part, Jordan said people want really nice, fancy, pretty stuff. “That’s the most typical stuff we do – flowers and that kind of thing... and crosses.”

As Jordan talks about his work, a first-time tattoo wannabe, Rob, comes in to check about having three sets of Roman numerals tattooed on his upper inner arm. He even has it printed out to scale, so Jordan knows exactly what he’s after. “I’ve wanted one for a long time,” Rob said. “I wanted one in college, but my parents were paying for tuition, so they said no. I got married right after college and my wife said no, so I finally got the green light from her. That’s why I’m here.” Rob explained that the top roman numeral is his anniversary date (“just a little reminder on my arm that won’t go away,” he said), the one to the left below that is his son’s birthday and on the opposite side his daughter’s birthday. The tattoo, which will cost approximately 20 minutes and cost $80, was scheduled for the next day.

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ANTHONY WASHINGTON, The Ink Company
With a degree in art, Anthony Washington of The Ink Company spent a lot of his life in Mississippi. While he grew up in Summit, his dad was in international construction and the family traveled a lot. Since moving to the Hub City 10 year ago, this has been Washington’s longest continuous stint in one location. He came strictly for tattooing purposes.“It’s the only reason I’m here,” he said. Like with most things, tattooing comes in all forms and is associated with a variety of people. The downside, according to Washington, is that tattoos come from a very rebellious, weird biker rally-type background. 

“It used to be that way and unfortunately in a lot of places, it still is,” he said, while chilling on a Sunday afternoon. Growing up in a two-parent home – his dad was also a minister and his mother was a nurse – both college educated and religious. Even though they weren’t fans of tattoos, Washington got his first tattoo when he was 17, back when Mississippi allowed parental consent.  “I had super conservative parents, but I think this was their attempt to keep me at home,” he said. “Foolishly, they signed for me. I’m not sure what they were thinking.  “It wasn’t like I was this crazy rebellious punk rocker type kid. The odds of me falling into that lifestyle were very slim. Most think of tattooing as the roughian or  scallywag option.” Washington, 37, was raised by his grandparents, who had a Felix the Cat wall clock. 

“I thought it was cool. That’s how dumb you are then,” he said of looking forward to getting his first tattoo of Felix. “To my parents that was just like Satan incarnate, but I did what other people do when you shut them down, you jump to anything, just grabbing at straws.” His grabbing ended with a Pink Panther head tattoo right below his neck. “While many thought I was cool, I was obviously not cool, but rather a 17-year-old me,” he said. 

Washington admits that later it was a headache when he had to have this hot mess covered up. “I had to have a massive foolish cover-up thing to hide this,” he said. Washington went to college and earned a degree in sociology before realizing he really didn’t want to help people. “I realized that was just not going to happen,” he said. “I also realized if I was going to be depressed, it was going to be through poverty, not in the Mother Teresa self-service way, so I went back to school and focused on fine art and philosophy, so then I’d be very smart and poor.” From there his art turned into gallery shows and tattooing wasn’t even on his radar. “Most people get into tattooing by being a bad kid and getting into it early, but I didn’t start tattooing until I was 26,” Washington said. “I’m a very logical person, and this was a tangible way (to make a living), so I didn’t have to do secondary jobs and paint or whatever. I was very much fooled how to get into it. As a kid, parents think, ‘Oh yeah, you can go into this; you’re going to have fun doing all these tattoos.’”

Washington is quick to say that it’s not reality, describing the business as extremely competitive, with most shops in town not sharing any love. “You’re not civil,” he said. “You try to be civil, but those alliances, like government agencies, are very fragile. It’s a very competitive market.” He said the craft is also very disillusioning to people. “I think they think we just sit around and have this glorious fun time,” he said. “One of those, ‘Oh, you’re doing what you love.’ But there are a lot of negatives to it that you obviously don’t see on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other social medial sites.” Washington literally fell into the craft after he’d had a guy tattoo him several times.

He admits he’s not heavily tattooed at all. “I’m one of the least tattooed people you could talk to, by far,” he said. “I’m far less tattooed than most of my clients.” From his neck all the way down his body, he only has three tattoos and they’re all on his leg. “I don’t like the feeling of getting tattooed. It hurts. It 100 percent hurts,” he said.

Washington categorizes himself as a pretty nerdy dude, a huge Star Wars fan and somewhat of a loner, who even enjoys traveling alone. Not worried about trends, Washington likes tattooing because it’s a way for him to continue with artwork.“I got into it because I couldn’t make a living painting, because all people want are dogs or whatever and my personality would not allow myself to do arrows, and signs that say, ‘wipe yo’ feets’ or ‘live laugh love,’” he said. “That was never going to be me, so tattooing was a way for me to basically starve myself into homelessness. You legitimately can hardly afford to live for the first couple of years. It’s an incredible struggle, because there is no guarantee. No one has to come to you. And so the first couple of years, I would say you’re kind of going from something that’s like a $1,000 year legitimately-starving-yourself job to a six-figure job...but it may take a decade.” 

Washington admits there are times when people may call him rude because he doesn’t like to do this or that. But it’s his personality. “There’s a right way to do things and this is what I’m interested in,” he said. Washington’s art is different. It’s more like pieces you could frame and hang on your wall.  “I came from nowhere and nothing; I’m not from Hattiesburg, so I’m not going to sit at Thirsty Hippo, and whatever,” he said. “I’m just not that person and to be able to kind of “thrive” in a community that really is somewhat conservative in that stuff (and none of my work is very conservative at all), it’s very colorful, very out there. “I think people take it that if I’m passionate about things, then I’m arrogance. They take my passion and honesty as arrogance, and that’s just not true. I’m a very humble person. I just know my work and from my art background, intent is everything. I don’t think any other artist in town has a degree in art. That’s my fun. I haven’t been tattooed in three years. It’s not about fun. I don’t believe in just getting a tattoo to have fun. To me it’s more about the art form.”

Being not very Southern, with no discernible accent, Washington is impressed by all the different walks of life and mentalities. “The hard part is they think they know what they want, but they don’t,” he said. In these instances, Washington presents his sports car logic. “I think people can relate to this. I can’t, but I’ve learned enough,” he said. “If someone wants a flower, I ask if they want a Kia brand of flower, Mustang or BMW.  “Most want the BMW version, but have a Kia budget. Not that a Kia is bad. But they can kind of figure out that analogy.” It’s ironic that Washington wanted to only do black and gray tattoos. “I didn’t like abstract things, hated abstract things and didn’t really like color,” he said.  However, many of his tattoos today are almost hyper color. 

A far as the vibrancy of his tattoos, Washington said it’s not a different ink or style. “It’s really a sad answer,” he said. “It has to do with contrast, a sweet answer. Skin tone matters immensely. A tattoo on this person may be bold as heck – on me, not so much. “It’s the thing you kind of face and the negative of tattoos I do in this community. I rarely get to work on any minorities here; it’s a concern. I’m the only brown artist. People who are tan may show you a drawing on a sheet of paper, but if you don’t look like that sheet of paper, the tattoo is not going to look like that. “When I did a lot of paintings in school, like my gallery work, my focus was on figurative. I do a lot of research. Try to read a book a week. I like to be educated on things, so when I see something is not going to be the smartest, but not going to be the dumbest, that’s where a broad range of people are coming from.”  The clientele many tattooists now see has changed the profession immensely, now that the people they tattoo are mostly doctors, lawyers and professionals, “which has totally changed,” Washington said.

He believes in many of the local shops, the style tattoo you get will across the board be very similar. “It’s the tried-and-true and you know what you are going to get when you go in there,” he said. Washington describes his work environment at The Ink Company as “all over the place with totally different people with not much in common. We’re very different people, each with our own strengths and weaknesses. I like to think of us as a triangle, which is supposedly the strongest shape in nature.” Washington admits his mindset is very different from most.

“It’s not a better than less than thing,” he said. “I want to aim for the stars. Some people are more than happy to hang out on earth and that applies to tattoos. Those who are happy with earth are not going to like me, no matter what. I have tried my best. That’s why most of my clients are educated and primarily female...an almost 87 percent female audience. I rarely work on guys. “Most women are intelligent, college educated women. And they aren’t really focused on anything but ‘can this person do the job right?’ “They don’t really care about the politics. Guys don’t care how good your tattoos are, just do something. You are the artist. No girl is ever going to every say, ‘You’re the artist, make it happen.’ They are going to argue about the color teal.” According to Washington, women control the trends in tattoos; men get the same boring tattoos forever. Every Southern country dude is going to have a flag on him.  “Treat yourself if that’s what you love,” he said. “It’s very different for women. It’s more feminine, which doesn’t mean much in 2018. Who would have thought a pineapple feminine?” 

He said he’s found that female clientele are more receptive to suggestion. Once you open up the options, where does it end? “I think people think tattooing is for young people, but the problem with that is young people don’t have any money. They are 18 and dumb. “When you do a tattoo, you are really bound to that person for the rest of your life. A lot of people don’t look at it that way, so I feel like I don’t want to do something that I myself can’t warn you about or personally back...In this community that is not as prized as much as it should be.” 

Washington said at times his work is also a very emotional thing. “I work on so many people who have mental health issues,” he said. “I cover self-harm scars, suicide scars, often people who tried to end their life, very serious things... depression, bipolar, something serious... And they normally have some type of story because we’ve all been through hard times. I feel it’s my job to make them feel better and take what they say more seriously.” Washington isn’t into gimmicks.  “I don’t want to do a peace sign on your pinkie toe.”

But he admits he does say no more than yes. “I do tattoos I don’t love; it’s a part of any job,” he said. “I try to educate where I can without seeming like a pompous jerk. Most don’t have any concept that if you get a black and grey tattoo it’s not going to be black and grey. Blood mixes with the wash and it makes it look dingy brown, so I try to enlighten people.” He admits he has tattoos on his arm he doesn’t love because nobody stopped him.

 “This whole arm is dumb tattoo ideas,” he said, rolling up his right sleeve. “Everything has a meaning, but sometimes meaning is ugly. And that’s what I try to preach. People are so impressionable, and sometimes your brain isn’t there. I try not to take life too seriously.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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