August 2019

Finding the Right Tattoo Artist: A Primer

Tip: Tear out this page, scan it, print copies and hand it to new clients walking in the door.
So you’re ready for a tattoo, but have no idea how to find the right artist. It’s OK; that’s what we’re here for. The short version of this is for us to simply tell you to do your homework. Treat it like any other good or service and research, research, research. But you might need more specifics, which is fine, because we need to fill some space. Here are some basic thoughts to consider when shopping for the perfect tattoo experience.

Prepare yourself and set your priorities. First, ask yourself why you want to get a tattoo. If your answer doesn’t go any further than “my friends have them and they look cool,” then by all means, just pop into the closest street shop and pick something off the wall, like a set of nautical stars or maybe a vintage airplane. You’ll be as cool as Christian rock. If there’s thought behind your choice, if there’s a genuine desire for self-expression, be choosy. Bide your time and make sure you pair up with an artist who gets you and can jive with your vision. But how do I do that? Keep reading.

Be realistic. Yes, we would all love to squeeze in a session with Joey Hamilton or Kat Von D, but the fact is, there are a handful of them and millions of us. Besides, they might not even end up being the right fit for you anyway. Imagine saving all that money, waiting the year it will take to fit into their schedule, and making the trip to see them only to walk away with a permanent mark that you’re only half-satisfied with—not because they’re not amazing at what they do, but because they weren’t the right one to catch your particular vision. Start local and start accessible.

Match the artist with your vision. The art of tattooing is becoming more and more specialized every day. We celebrate the artists who can do it all, yes, but we still appreciate those artists who have found a niche. Garth Brooks is a great musician, but you wouldn’t ask him to join your death metal band. Neither should you expect a portrait artist to go all Alex Grey on your arm. Come up with the idea and style that you want and then sift through the Instagram accounts of the artists in your region. When you find the closest match, reach out and start a dialog. As you communicate, make sure there’s the proper balance between what you want and what they suggest. They’re the artist, so you should value their input, but don’t fall into the trap of agreeing to something you don’t want just because they made a good pitch. You’re hiring an artist, not a salesman.

Verify quality. This should be a no-brainer, but in journalism you’re taught to keep things on a third-grade level, so let’s pretend we’re all idiots, lest we leave out the less fortunate. Obviously, if the artist’s portfolio looks good, there’s a pretty good chance he or she is a legitimate choice. But as artists in the space love to say, “You’re only as good as your last tattoo.” Is the artist putting out consistent work or are they just blasting their rare forays into quality on social media? What do the reviews say? Nearly every online platform has a review section. Read all of them. What about the shop? Are they reputable? Are they maintaining proper hygiene standards? Don’t cut corners here.

F*ck the assholes. We mean that figuratively, not literally. If you’re dealing with an artist whose ego can’t fit inside his studio, chances are, there won’t be room for you either. The experience of getting the tattoo is almost as important as the tattoo itself, especially your first. You’re going to be nervous. It’s going to hurt—a lot. The last thing you want is some self-absorbed Primadonna with no empathy tied to that permanent memory on your skin.

Don’t bargain hunt. Everyone wants to save a buck, especially in today’s world where the cost of living is far outpacing the median income. But tattoos are a lifetime commitment—and you can’t put a price tag on that. If you can’t afford the level of quality you want, wait until you can. The only thing less cool than having no tattoos is having a shitty tattoo. You can be a cheapskate in plenty of other areas to offset your tattoo cost. Smoke out of Chinese glass. Drink PBR instead of your snooty, dry-hopped IPA—and order it by the pitcher. Buy a PC instead of a Mac. Granted, none of these are the best life choices, but they’re temporary sacrifices, minor missteps that are far more manageable than a mark on your skin you’ll have to explain away for the rest of your life. Save the haggling for the swap meet. Save the money for your body.

Temp to Higher: Conscious Living Temporary Tattoos Lead to Permanent Transformation

Conscious Ink

Some people need a few words of encouragement about getting a tattoo. And some people can take a few words of encouragement from a tattoo. That’s what inspired Frank Gjata, a transformational coach for 15 years after leaving a career in advertising, to launch Conscious Ink, a line of temporary tattoos featuring positive words, inspiring quotes and healing affirmations.

Conscious Ink offers tattoos across genres that include healing, abundance and perseverance. Others are dedicated to parenthood, veganism, the Aloha spirit and the LGBTQ community. The tattoos are soy-based and made in the U.S. They last two to five days, depending where on the body they’re applied. Customers can pick and choose from about 500 messages, mantras and images. The messages are simple — phrases such as “Be brave,” “Expect miracles” and “Follow your bliss,” but their meanings powerful and profound.

“Healing and transformational tattoos are all about finding the right script, the right color and the right combination of words that really will connect with someone fighting personal challenges,” says Amanda Brown, who handles community relations for Conscious Ink.

Can a temporary tattoo make a permanent mark on our world? Leave a lasting impression on our disposition? Or even improve our health and healing ability? According to some, the influence of these positive messages can extend beyond the skin. Much research has been done on the mind/body connection. Louise L. Hay, best-selling author and a celebrated pioneer of the mind/body connection, has taught about the power of affirmations since the 70’s. In her best-selling book You Can Heal Your Life, she’s compiled a list of mental/emotional causes to various physical ailments and offers positive thought patterns to address disease at the root level to promote health and healing.

“We’re seeing a movement of consciousness,” Brown says. “There’s certainly something to be said for going to a professional tattoo artist with a specific idea and you ask them to draw it up and there’s a human connection right there — the artist is hearing your story and why you want that tattoo, and when they create that tattoo, it’s very special.”

Since being founded in 2009, Conscious Ink designs have found their way into hundreds of retail gift shops. Brown says a few tattoo shops have even started carrying them. A temporary tattoos will never replace the real thing, but they do have a couple of plusses. Putting one on the body can allow the wearer to experiment with placement. Another benefit of the temporary aspect is that you can change them as often as your mood, or as you shift from one intention to another.

“Oftentimes, the challenges people are trying to overcome and tones they ultimately want to leave in the past,” Brown says. “If you’re a young girl who’s going dealing with issues related to body image, for instance, it may not be something you want to remember for the rest of my life. But in those moments, at that stage of your life, you can benefit from these subtle reminders that help you not to go down that path of these old patterns of thought.”

Jason Thompson – AKA Tuna

How long have you been studying the craft? Tattooing and/or

Tuna: Tattooing 19 years

What is your area of specialties? (Watercolor, black and gray,
realism, etc.)

Tuna: Polka trash, Cover ups, fix-ups, water color

What do you find fascinating about the tattoo/piercing industry?

Tuna: There’s a power in providing a tattoo for someone that is unmatched by any other profession. Helping someone heal from a loss, or mark a memorable time in their life, or even just put something fun on themselves offers something no other job can. You always get to meet a lot of interesting people and hear a lot of interesting stories.

Parting words/quote/mission statement, etc.

Tuna: Wake up and kick today’s ass is the only way to live & always try to be the only be the hardest worker in the room.

[email protected]
FB: Tattoos By Tuna or F.O.B. Tattoos By Tuna
IG: @tattooingtuna

PAINful Drinking: Three Producers Who are Redefining Cider

Austin L. Ray

For too many Americans drinkers, cider has been relegated to the unfortunate territory somewhere between “cloyingly sweet” and “embarrassing to drink.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, much like the craft beer and small-batch spirit worlds, cider is seeing a revolution of sorts.

“Today’s drinkers are becoming more and more interested in trying new things, and cider gives them something a little different from your classic beer or wine options,” Angry Orchard’s Ryan Burk says. “When it’s done well, it’s made with high-quality ingredients and intention, and I think that is what drinkers are looking for. It’s our goal to continue to innovate in the cider world, whether that’s with trying different yeast strains, uncommon ingredients, or new techniques. We’re also seeing drinkers start to experiment with hard cider much like they did with craft beer years ago, using cider as an ingredient in cooking, pairing cider with foods and even in mixology, creating some pretty interesting cider cocktails.”

Part of the work might be in the hands of makers around the country whose product will help define the future. While acquisitions occur and terminology gets argued, there’s plenty of delicious cider being made all over. Below, we highlight three of the United States’ most exciting producers.

Ryan Burk, Angry Orchard Hard Cider

Who: Burk grew up in New York, but made his way to Chicago for law school, where the local beer scene convinced him he was pursuing the wrong career. After helping Michigan’s Virtue Cider start up, he left for Angry Orchard where he now leads “innovation efforts and small batch experimentation at a new R&D facility on a historic 60-acre orchard in the Hudson Valley.”

Where: Hudson Valley, N.Y.

Why his ciders are special: “It really comes down to the high quality ingredients and unique apple blend we use for each of our ciders. For example, our flagship cider, Crisp Apple, took the team nearly 20 years of tinkering and experimenting with recipes until arriving at the perfect pairing. We use a blend of culinary apples and French bittersweet apples from Normandy and Brittany regions of France. They’re bred expressly for cider making and have roots in orchards that have been growing cider apples for centuries. We think it’s an incredibly balanced cider, and gives just the right amount of sweetness and tartness.”

Steve Wood, Farnum Hill Ciders

Who: Wood started working on his orchard in 1965, started managing it in 1973, and bought it in 1984. “This is where I grew up,” he says. “I’ve pretty much been doing this my whole life.”

Where: Lebanon, N.H.

Why his ciders are special: “We know how little we know. We’ve been making cider pretty much as long as anybody on a commercial scale. And we feel like neophytes. We live in a constant state of something resembling fear and eager expectation and uncertainty. We know quite a lot of stuff, but we don’t think we know nearly enough. We’re not confident in anything. We don’t feel expert. And in a way, I think our ciders reflect that. Beyond that, they’re chiefly good because we’re growers and we’ve been paying very, very close attention to the fruit we grow, and how it’s grown… When you start getting confident that you’re an expert at something, you’re probably starting to lose your expertise. We still feel like we’re muddling around in a dark closet.”

Kevin Zielinkski, E.Z. Orchards

Who: “I am from Oregon, and have always lived here,” Zielinkski says. “I live with my wife Vicki on the farm where I was raised, so this may lead you to the conclusion of what I have done for the last 54 years.”

Where: Salem, Ore.

Why his ciders are special: “The experiences I had of drinking cider before I began my explorations are few, and I did not have an epiphany that caused me to crave cider. I did find in cider a fruit I understand, that is what pulled me toward the method I use, and the stubborn adherence to pre-prohibition and European production history. I have the intention to allow the fruit it’s truest voice in my cider. And attempting this is often thrilling and challenging.”

Devil’s Half-Acre Tattoo Expo

Devil’s Half-Acre Tattoo Expo
May 31-June 2, 2019
Bangor, Maine

Bangor, Maine, is known as the home of horror writer Stephen King. So, it’s only fitting that it would be the location for a gathering called Devil’s Half-Acre Tattoo Expo.

Baron Von Geiger is the man behind this newest tattoo expo, and as he tells it, Devil’s Half-Acre — or Satan’s Playground, as local historians refer to the notorious stretch of riverfront, was where loggers, sailors, and other working men gathered to spend their hard-earned cash on whiskey and women after Maine became the first state to pass Prohibition in 1851.

Baron himself is an oddity. Billed as the “World’s Strangest Strongman” Baron holds the World Record for extreme pierced weight lifting! Over 100lbs with both ears! He can also lift objects with hooks in the eyes as well as many other traditional sideshow acts. A former professional piercer, Baron has appeared in countless tattoo magazines and showcased his freakish feats at the Tattooed Kingpin Tattoo Conventions. He felt it was time to bring a bit of alternative culture to his home town.

“Back in the 1990s, when there were only a half dozen or so tattoo conventions in the United State, Maine was one of those spots. For whatever reason, Maine fell off the convention scene. There are really good artists in Maine, but people don’t get the chance to see what else is outside their own backyard,” Baron says.

The goal was to bring in a wide variety of artists and styles and make sure that people had the opportunity to see body art from all over the world. For its first year, Devil’s Half-Acre Tattoo Expo hosted 70 artists in 45 shop booths and 14 vendors. Among the names from the New England region were Matt Brown and the crew from Underworld Tattoo, Chad Chase of Venom Ink and Chris Dingwell from Squirrel Cage Studios — Chris is the tattooer who made news recently for a giant black & grew portrait of the infamously hated Jar Jar Binks that he inked on a client’s back.

With the internet as a search tool, Baron was able to track down the best artists from far and wide.

“I got banned from Instagram probably every day for weeks from just sending out invites,” he jokes. “The artists had to send in their portfolio to be approved by our selection committee, but with Instagram, I was able to see the artists’ work and also know that they were actively tattooing.”

Guests entering the expo walked through a giant demon head, and that’s just where the sideshow atmosphere got started. Baron emceed the show and performed some of his stunts, a DJ was spinning tunes and Veeda Sucia entertained with her modern burlesque routine.

Devil’s Half-Acre Tattoo Expo also benefitted a local nonprofit children’s music and arts program, raffling off art pieces painted throughout the weekend.

“At the end of the show we did ask them the artists for comments and their critiques on how we might improve for next year, and we got a lot of positive feedback,” Baron adds. “We are super appreciative of all the artists who were willing to take a gamble on a first-year show. We’re really excited because the artists want us to do it again and so do the city and the convention center.”

Skull and Snake Tattoo Studio and Art Gallery: Your Maine Motivation

Sign Artwork by Dan Kobasic

“Nobody really comes to Maine unless they’re coming here . . . it’s not on the way to anything at all. Maybe if they’re going to certain parts of Canada, it might be, but most people jump into Canada way before they get as far as Maine.”

Sadly, Dan Kelley isn’t wrong. The tip of America’s elephant trunk might be wild and rich in epic scenery and interesting people, but most of us never get around to making a visit.

We get it. When you’re travelling to the the land of authentic poutine and federally legal weed, you want to be there yesterday. But if Maine’s serene natural beauty, independently minded populace and fresh-caught lobster isn’t enough to inspire a detour, maybe the new space that Dan and his fiancé/fellow tattoo artist, Elizabeth Bruns, have created could provide that extra nudge. Besides, weed’s legal there too.

Tattoo by Dan Kelley

Skull and Snake Tattoo Studio and Art gallery is more than just another place for subdermal ink. As the name implies, it’s also an art gallery, but the definition stretches even beyond that. It’s a mini museum of macabre oddities and collectibles. It’s a community space for the artistically inclined to come together and celebrate creation. It’s a destination, one that should be a location for the next Rob Zombie film (please, dear cinema gods, make it happen.)

Located in the historic district of North Berwick, Maine, the multi-functional meeting place for fringe artists is housed in a former Quaker church building. Were it any other variation of protestant faith, the building’s repurposing would be a peculiar twist of irony. But a meeting house for Quakers makes sense. Whereas most Judaeo-Christian iterations find their source of faith from above, the Quakers looked inward, combing through the immaterial realm of their own subconscious to find the divine spark. As far as religions go, there are few mindsets more conducive to unleashing the creativity of the artist—at least in the broadest strokes.

Tattoo by Liz

“I just want to put emphasis on the fact that this studio is overall, a creative space for the community to come together,” Dan says, “ . . . to feed off each other creatively and promote and connect with fellow humans in person . . . less screen interaction, more in-person, getting together as a community. I really want this place to be a destination for artists and like-minded individuals to gather and have a good time.”

His words are far from idle. This past July, they held their grand opening, which they used to showcase the work of acclaimed oil painter, Dan Kobasic, out of Philadelphia. Dan and Elizabeth’s intentions are to make shows such as this a regular part of the studio’s schedule, planning to feature the work of both local and national artists. They’re also doing classes. They have the space for up to sixteen participants show up and learn from the masters they bring in. One fee will cover the class and supplies and none of the proceeds will fill the duo’s pockets. It’s all for the artists. The happy couple are more than content to subsist on what they can make from their own work, which, gauging by their output and experience, shouldn’t be a problem.

Tattoo by Dan Kelley

Both have been working the needle for nine years now, and having come from the nearby Venom Ink, they’ve had the opportunity to work under and learn from some of the brightest/darkest talent the state of Maine has to offer.

Their repertoires really speak for themselves. Both can point to an impressive body of work and their individual styles diverge significantly to round each other out with borderline perfection.

“What I do is typically more on the darker, more realistic side of things,” Dan elaborates, “while what Liz does tends to be more line work driven and creepy cute stuff with bold color—an in-your-face boldness to it that mine doesn’t have . . . Between the two of us, we can cater to pretty much anything that walks through the door, from your traditional style, basic lettering stuff, all the way to full-blown portrait realism.”

“That’s important to us,” Elizabeth adds. “We could tattoo anyone, from a high-end business exec to a doctor, but still appeal to the more typical tattoo culture people too.”

Tattoo by Liz

The two of them, both 28, may have been putting in the work for nearly a decade, but in stepping out and creating a space of their own, their real journey has just begun. Whether they find success is still yet to be seen, but if the pieces they’ve put in place bear any foreshadowing, their future looks promising The future is why they’re doing it after all, and as Liz points out, it’s just as much for their progeny as it is for themselves.

“Having those two little people at home is a huge motivator for us. It’s what made us want to have our own place. We want something to hand down to them one day.”

So, the next time you venture north of the wall, consider taking the scenic route. Give Maine the attention it deserves, and while you’re there, be sure to stop in at Skull and Snake. You’ll be glad you did.


Tattoo by Dan Kelley (below)

Studio Ownership vs. Employee Status

Dear Ms. Angel,

I would love to know your thoughts on whether you think I should open my own shop. I’ve been working in the industry for more than a dozen years and I am dedicated and serious about my job. I love piercing more than anything. My boss is a controlling a**hole who never listens to me, and I’m not happy with a lot of his decisions because they make my life difficult. Also, I feel like he doesn’t come close to paying me what I am worth.

I can’t stop thinking about whether it would be better to open my own place so that I can do everything exactly the way I want to and make all of the money for myself?
Sincerely, C.

Dear C.,

There are certainly many pros and cons to each side of this question, though you’re surely more familiar with those that relate to being an employee. You’d be wise to seek advice from multiple sources, and to do a great deal of contemplating (and list-making) before coming to a decision about opening your own enterprise.

Being your own boss would allow you the freedom to do things as you please, but running a business comes with a lot of hard work and responsibility—and no guarantees of a financial bonanza.

Obviously, a substantial monetary investment is required to open even the smallest of piercing studios. At a minimum you’d need an autoclave, piercing equipment, disposables, jewelry case(s), displays, and inventory, and office equipment (copier, computer, register, etc.). Then there’s the premises (lease), buildout, furnishings, utilities, insurance, business license, permits, and so on. You’d also need to plan and budget for a website, marketing, and advertising.

If you don’t have the capital on hand, others would need to be involved. Even with a stellar credit score, securing a bank loan to open a piercing studio is a serious long shot, to put it kindly. Therefore, you would need to take out a loan from friends or family; or, seek a business partnership. In a collaboration, you will probably end up in the same situation of not having full independence to do everything your way, even with a silent partner. Taking on debt that must be repaid, along with meeting your overhead and operating expenses, makes succeeding even more challenging.

If you didn’t sign a non-compete clause, and plan to stay in your current geographic region, a key consideration is whether there is sufficient demand for another local studio. Further, you’d be opening a competing establishment near your old boss, which is usually a recipe for some seriously bad blood. Alternatively, you would need to move to a new location. Where would that be, and are you familiar enough to evaluate the market effectively? If not, how could you acquire the information necessary to make an educated selection for a suitable locale?

You may have heard the real estate mantra, “location, location, location!”? This element is crucial for success in retail. Generally, the better the spot, the higher the rent.

Even the smallest of studios is likely to need at least one or more employees. That brings up the issues of complying with OSHA standards, legal aspects of employment practices, and dealing with Worker’s Compensation insurance, payroll taxes, and more. This also means facing the challenges inherent in managing even the best staff member(s).

If there’s nobody else involved and you structure your company as a sole proprietorship, you still need to pay self-employment taxes and quarterly estimated income taxes. (And would you lock the front door when you’re piercing?)

Before moving forward, you’d need a written strategic business plan.(i) It should identify what you must accomplish over a set period of time (usually one year) to get on the path to achieving your long-term vision:

1. Business Concept – Discuss the industry, your business structure, your particular service, and how you plan to make your venture a success.

2. Marketplace – Describe and analyze potential customers: who and where they are, what makes them buy, etc. Also, describe the competition and how you’ll position yourself to beat it.

3. Financials– Contains your income and cash flow statement, balance sheet and financial ratios like break-even analyses and earnings projections. This part may require help from an accountant and a good spreadsheet software program.

If this kind of stuff is tedious or exasperating to you, business ownership is not in your future. If it all seems stressful, that’s because it is! However, if you’re self-motivated and capable, the latter need not be a barrier. Solid decision-making skills are also indispensable.

There is potential for reward, though, and if your enterprise thrives you could reap substantial returns. Still, entrepreneurship is risky. No matter how carefully you consider all of the details, plan, and execute, nothing is certain. The vast majority of failures are due to cash-flow problems. Less than half of retail startups survive to their fifth year(ii). Only 40 percent of small businesses are profitable, (30 percent break even, and 30 percent continually lose money).(iii) Retail shops are apt to fail due to tough competition, and poor marketing and/or management.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has lots of online resources including free courses on writing a business plan, financing options, and entrepreneurship.(iv) A good start might be their article (v) “Ten Steps to Start Your Business.”

For 12 years I owned Rings of Desire, my piercing studio in New Orleans. Fortunately, it was profitable enough that I was able to hire a manager who attended to many of the administrative duties. Still, it was a tremendous amount of effort, and way more stressful than my current life as a guest piercer. I always preferred performing piercings to running the company, but I still shouldered the ultimate responsibility and the pressures that come with it.

A positive (and possibly undervalued) aspect of being an employee is the ability to “leave your job at the office.” A business owner is always under the burden of their venture. It has to be a constant and ongoing priority to achieve and maintain success. And though you feel that you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, at least you receive income regularly. This would not be guaranteed as an owner, because operating expenses have to come first. Further, you likely have a familiar schedule of relatively fixed hours, but when you’re at the helm, you need to persevere until the work is done.

I don’t want you to think that I am negative about business ownership, or that I believe it isn’t right for you. I just want to make sure you’re aware of critical factors that need to be taken into account. Many people have no idea what is involved in running a retail establishment—including some who work in one.

Truthfully, if you love piercing more than anything, then remaining an employee is probably your best bet. Because as a proprietor, there would be many other tasks to attend to that are likely to keep you out of the piercing room, at least to some extent. If you’re not an ambitious entrepreneur with an abundance of dedication, focus, discipline, and resourcefulness, it is best to skip opening your own shop. If you’re dissatisfied with your current employment situation, you can always look into changing studios as a much simpler resolution.