Iron Street Tattoo & Body Piercing

Even with tattooing coming out of the shadows there are still those shops that are downright intimidating, especially to people who aren’t covered in ink from head to toe. The crew at Iron Street Tattoo & Body Piercing works hard at put a fresh spin out-dated perceptions.

The city of Salina sits pretty much smack in the middle of Kansas. That’s where Iron Street owner Travis Thornhill decided to set up shop after spending much of his two decades of tattooing working at studios on the Jersey shore, in Vancouver, Canada and in nearby Wichita.

“I’d worked at a lot of great shops, and I wanted it to follow their example,” Thornhill says. “I wanted it to be inviting and family friendly with a real focus on customer service.”

Each city in Kansas has its own rules regarding tattoo shops, and there were a lot of hoops to jump through in order for Iron Street to open its downtown location. Up until then, tattoo shops were in stuck in the same taboo genre as strip clubs, and many of the old-fashioned business owners didn’t know quite what to think.

“I got up and I said, I’ve been tattooing all over the country, and 80 percent of our business is women — i’ve tattooed priests, firefighters,” Thornhill says. “I let them know that we’re professionals and there weren’t going to be titties flopping around or people shooting off guns in the alley.”

As a family friendly shop, there’s no raunchy music playing or shocking art on the walls. It’s all very tasteful. “Anybody that works for me has to be super friendly and actually give a shit about the customer,” Thornhill says.

Thornhill’s crew includes tattooers Chase Wheeler, Valen Laska and Damen Donaldson, piercer Spencer Foster, and shop manager Kyle Erbert.

Piercing at Iron Street is pretty basic simply because of the restrictions imposed by the Kansas board of cosmetology — dermals, for instance, are allowed, but must be done with a piercing needle rather than a punch. It’s just as strict on the tattoo side, with individual artists required to be licensed rather than just the shop itself.

“You really have to know your shit to be legit,” Thornhill says.

Iron Street is one of only a handful of tattoo shops in Salina, and not only do they have fans in town who have voted them best tattoo shop in the area, but customers also come from bigger cities like Kansas City and Wichita. A lady from Ireland, who had heard about the great work being produced at the shop, even stopped in while she was visiting the states.

“We have people come from all over the place because of our reviews online and the positive feedback from our customers,” Thornhill says.

Iron Street is so sure of their work that they unconditionally guarantee every tattoo they do. They’ll do everything in their power to fix an issue — even something as simple as a touch up, if the customer isn’t completely satisfied.

“We go above and beyond to make sure our customers are happy,” Thornhill says. And when the customer are pleased, it’s a feeling that’s shared all around.

“That’s definitely what puts a smile on my face every time,” Thornhill says.

Iron Street Tattoo & Body Piercing

Hidden Los Angeles

Art and Attitude:
Hidden Los Angeles’ Not-So-Hidden Secret

Brett Herman is no stranger to the pages of this publication. First showing up as a featured artist a year ago, his name has since regularly appeared as a co-author for a variety of columns whipped up by our editorial staff for your educational pleasure. The aspiring seven-string guitarist-turned-black and gray wizard has only been working the needle for a decade. But within that time-span, he’s accumulated a formidable wealth of insight.

But this article isn’t about Brett. It’s about Hidden Los Angeles, the explosively popular SoCal ink destination he cofounded with his colleagues and fellow artists, Richard Carniglia and Chris Velasquez. Brett is just the mouthpiece.

Only six years in existence, Hidden Los Angeles Tattoo and Fine Art has carved an impressive niche for itself. When it started in 2012, it was basically a parachute for three talented artists at a struggling shop about to go belly-up. Now, it’s one of LA’s most celebrated tattoo parlors, listed in the city’s top ten in a variety of surveys and publications. If Yelp is any indication of success, they’re maintaining a consistent five-star rating with 97 reviews and counting.

There’s a myriad of factors that greased the track to success, but Brett chalks it up to the basics: the time-tested combination of art and attitude.

It starts with the art, which they have on lockdown. Their six-artist roster boasts a level of quality and notoriety that would keep any shop alive, and that statement doesn’t even touch the diversity. Whether you’re looking for black and gray portrait work, color realism, traditional/neo-traditional, dark art/sci-fi, or something completely different, there’s someone on the list who can make your idea a reality.

“Yeah,” Brett acknowledges, “Our crew had done a bunch of cool shit. Jamie’s on Ink Master now and Marc started a style called ‘Game Frame’ tattooing—all of us have definitely created a niche for ourselves.” But for Brett, this aspect is basically a given. It’s not arrogance that guides this; the work just speaks for itself. He quickly shifts the conversation to the second element.

“What sustains all of that is just keeping up that attitude.” This is the thrust of what is on his mind. Los Angeles is a verifiable breeding ground for ego-centric class consciousness. It’s all about who you are and who you know. But while they’ve inked the skin of so-called celebrities—everyone from Christopher ‘McLovin’ Mintz-Plasse to Britney Spears (ask Brett to tell you that story; it’s hilarious)—they make it a point to treat every client like they’re the most important chunk of flesh they’ve been privileged to mark thus far.

“Famous or not, they are all super cool,” Brett says, a tone of gratitude warming his words. “We have awesome clients who have made us what we are.”

“Just being in LA,” he goes on, “you see random people. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s that famous dude right there,’ but really, they’re just people. They’ve gotten some fame for something they did and good for them, but they’re still just normal people.”

But as much as he’s inclined to focus on these basic, but enviable aspects of their business, it would be a disservice to the reader not to discuss the space itself. From the beginning, Brett and company wanted to build something special. When they acquired their storefront, it was the standard series of retail shoeboxes with restrictive walls and suburban-style ceiling styles. Not for long.

“We took all the ceiling tiles out and exposed everything,” Brett recalls. “We really opened it up and gave it a rustic industrial look and put in this super-cool hardwood floor.” The renovations didn’t stop there. In fact, over the six years the operation has been in business, they’ve averaged a renovation a year. No matter the stage in their evolution, the space has maintained a consistently unrivaled wow factor with an open feel and walls covered in canvases that are equally mind-blowing and unique.

Originally, the space doubled as an art gallery, with shows hosted at least once a quarter.

“It really wasn’t a big money maker,” Brett acknowledges. “It was more just an excuse to throw parties.” Refreshingly honest though his words may be, the statement belies the deeper strategy of community outreach through art awareness.

“The stuff we were doing definitely helped us to become the talk of the town,” he qualifies. “The wild parties (we once went through a keg in 45 minutes) the networking . . . we were getting people from other shops to show their art too. We’ve always tried to embrace everybody. That definitely helped.”

Still, though, for Brett and his crew, it always comes back to the basics.

“We’re just trying to make good art. It doesn’t matter how cool we look to everybody. We just want to do good stuff and be happy with what we’re doing, which is hard enough as an artist, because you’re always your own biggest critic.”

HIDDEN LOS ANGELES – 747.888.3539
IG: @hiddenlosangeles

Staging Revolt

Inside Las Vegas’ Larger-Than-Life Tattoo Destination

A larger audience demands larger gestures. If you think Bono looks likes a buffoon with his tinted shades and grandiose theatrics, imagine him performing on that arena stage as if he were in a coffee shop. It just doesn’t work.

Don’t get lost on the choice of artist here. If our Irish buddies aren’t your cup of tea, fill the metaphor with whomever works for you. Metallica. Queen. McCartney. Kanye. It doesn’t matter. The point is, a vacuum cannot remain a vacuum. Empty space must be filled. The bells and whistles of an arena performance are intended not to distract from the art, but to enhance it.

Now, if you can, apply that thought process to a tattoo parlor. Imagine two celebrity artists opening a shop together in Las Vegas, the city synonymous with excess and bombast. Now try to imagine them building anything other than awe-inspiring. You can’t. You’re too busy imagining Revolt.

Don’t beat yourself up if words fail you when you step through the doors of Revolt Tattoo. That was the intention. The Vegas tattoo super-parlor owned and operated by Ink Masters Season 3 champion, Joey Hamilton and Season 4 runner up, Walter “Sausage” Frank is in a class all its own. It’s hard not to feel swallowed up as you gaze across the 4,000 square foot workspace/foyer immaculately designed to sit atop the aesthetic fulcrum of post-industrial arthouse and futuristic sports bar. The 6’x12’ LED TV screen only further adds to the effect as does the army of highly-skilled artists working their stations, each equipped with a webcam to livestream their output. Yet, somehow, the atmosphere doesn’t intimidate. On the contrary, it invites.

“In most shops, when the new blood comes in, they feel really intimidated,” remarks Revolt’s general manager, Rafael Pagarigan. “We try to alleviate that and make everyone comfortable. We even try to bring in that family environment where parents can feel OK bringing in their kids so they don’t have to find a babysitter.”

But let’s reach back to the original metaphor. The pomp and circumstance only really works if there is substance behind it. Otherwise, when you push it all aside, it’s just Britney without autotune. Fortunately, this is more like Clapton with an acoustic.

As Rafael puts it, “It’s not really about the glitz and the glamor. You could take this and scale it all the way down to a hole in the wall . . . people will still come because the product is the same. It’s still quality.”

It has to be. When you have two TV celebrity artists like Joey and Sausage running the show, there is an expectation of excellence in the output, which is why they hand-selected their team of supporting artists. There are no minor league players here. No matter whose chair in which you find yourself, the results, though diverse in style, will always be worthy of the brand they’ve established. In short, it’s not another Vegas casino factory for ‘regret stamps.’ Quite the opposite. In fact, that’s how the name came about in the first place.

“If you’ve watched the video on the website,” Rafael explains, “you’ve heard Joey explain the name as representing a revolt against the some of the industry norms here in Vegas. I don’t want to speak negatively about anyone in particular . . .” He hesitates. “. . . but a lot of these casino shops are just about quantity. They’re tourist traps.”

From here, the plan is expansion. Shop number two is already open and operating in a local Vegas mall. As it turns out, tattoo shops can be much-needed shot in the arm for struggling commercial centers looking down the barrel of extinction from e-commerce. You can’t get a tattoo on Amazon. As this article goes to press, there’s another location being scouted in Florida. But expansion is not about empire. In Rafael’s words, it’s about extending “the family.” He elaborates:

“You don’t ever want to suppress an artist in your shop that wants to grow. You want to be able to promote them. So what’s the next step? Opening up their own spot. It’s definitely an aspiration, but we don’t want to dilute the quality just because we want to expand.”

REVOLT TATTOOS – Las Vegas, Nevada

Piercing Euphoria

“No cursing! It’s SUNDAY.”

There’s a heavy tinge of sarcasm, augmented by a faux-melodious tone that frames the first sentence and morphs into that of a motorsports announcer with the second. “SUNDAYYYYYY.” The word revs like an engine, a staccato accent on “sun” followed by a lingering of the vowel sounds in “day.” A maniacal smile splits Shy’s face. She’s in full performance mode.

Meanwhile, her daughter, freshly pierced, sits on the bench, wiping tears from her eyes, along with a dab of blood from her nose.

Shy breaks into a celebration dance.

“You did good!” she says playfully. “That’s the first time you ain’t turned out like a pussy n—a!”

The moment described took place this past February. It was captured and immortalized via the Piercing Euphoria YouTube channel. The episode is entitled “Giving my daughter her 90th piercing,” and it’s garnered 1.6 million views to date.

It’s not hard to figure out why Shy has become such an internet powerhouse of a piercer (30,000 followers on Youtube; 120,000 on Instagram), or why her shop, Piercing Euphoria, has garnered so much acclaim, despite her ‘off the path’ location. She’s in the far southwest corner of Atlanta, right on the edge of the ‘perimeter’ as the locals call it, in a neighborhood most of her potential clients wouldn’t know existed, were it not for her. But they know she exists, and they make the trek to see her, often willing to wait hours on end for the opportunity to have their flesh punctured by the budding internet celebrity.

The secret is in the sauce. She has that ‘it’ factor, the natural magnetic star quality that leaves one pondering how she hasn’t yet scored her own reality TV show. But it’s also about understanding her audience; knowing how to engage them.

“People like to talk,” she offers. “People always want to be a part of something . . . They’re always clicking, trying to find out more. If you don’t give them something to go off of, they’ll become uninterested. People don’t hold their focus on things very long.”

In the studio, it’s about her animated and entertaining demeanor, yes, but it’s also about comfort, as well as technique—and perhaps a magic touch.

“I’m very personable. I’m fun. I’m informative. Fast, efficient . . . a lot of people say my piercings don’t hurt. I think I have a gift . . . I like to think it’s an ancestral thing, something that’s in my bloodline.”

As an African American woman, the knowledge of that bloodline has played a crucial role in the development of her career. She is on the fulcrum of a strange dichotomy, a member of the culture that pioneered the concept of body modification, yet largely shuns it as taboo today.

“When I was younger, my mother had these books in our house with all these tribal people” she recalls warmly. “I just used to look at their artwork . . . the cultural stuff they did for rituals. They had certain piercings . . . I started looking into why they were gauging their ears and why they had certain scars . . . that’s really what connected with me and drew me to it, especially as I got older . . . I would like to try to break people out of the taboo of it in our culture. African Americans need to be reminded that this is something their ancestors did.”

Always the entrepreneur, Shy is taking full advantage of the current upward trajectory of her career by launching her own line of custom body jewelry. The line is a refreshing break from the typical barbells, hoops and plugs of the piercing world, one that expands the scope of what body jewelry can be and might go so far as to bring in a new clientele with the wide appeal of its pleasantly feminine vibe. And if there’s nothing in the catalog that grabs you, that’s OK; she can do custom pieces upon request.

But the real payoff isn’t the merchandising or the hype. It’s the joy in liberating others. Shy says it best.

“It’s all about freedom. I love being able to give the person the freedom they were looking for. They’re always so happy to get out of the chair with a new piercing . . . I’m happy I can give them something to help them feel alive.”

Extras: Fun Facts about Piercing Euphoria
  • Shy has pierced as many as 356 people in one day.
  • For anyone interested, Shy offers classes. They are three days a week and include a training kit, classroom instruction, and ‘look and learn’ sessions wherein the students get to spend the day watching Shy work. Check for more info.
  • Shy made her first attempt at piercing at her high school at the age of 16 when she tried to use a sewing needle to pierce her friend’s tongue and ended up getting suspended for it. It didn’t work out so well.
  • Shy has the most followers of any piercer on Instagram.

“It’s just a cool, fun way to interact with potential customers. I can even talk to other tattooers and bring them on my livestream. It’s pretty awesome just how far you can go with it.”

[email protected]
IG: @piercingeuphoria

Body Graphics Tattoo

“I’m kind of a big deal.”

The tone is tongue in cheek; the words, uttered in mock braggadocio. A true narcissist, our subject is not. Yet, there is an element of truth in her jest.

Theresa Cardella is kind of a big deal, at least within this space. The part-time tattoo model has appeared in a hefty handful of publications dedicated to the subdermal arts, Inked Magazine and Freshly Inked being among them. You may know her as the canvas-sans-clothing that graced the cover of PAIN this past April, promoting Papillon’s new line of vegan, hemp-based Ink. There’s an audible blush when the topic is broached.

“Yeah, I didn’t think they were going to use that one,” she chuckles sheepishly, but then backsteps the tones of modesty, “It’s actually a really good photo. It’s sexy and edgy.”

But if the opening quote has you wondering, no, her apartment doesn’t smell like rich mahogany, nor does it contain many leather-bound books. “Probably more like dead bugs and animal carcasses, with lots of cat hair.” That’s not as weird as it sounds. She’s a bug-pinning and taxidermy enthusiast. The rest is self-explanatory.

But this is all peripheral. She’s more interested in discussing Body Graphics Tattoo, the South Windsor, CT shop she’s proudly managed for the past eight years.

Founded in 1992, Body Graphics has become a transgenerational institution of the local community, almost a rite of passage handed down from parent to progeny.

“I hear every day, ‘Oh, my mom got tattooed here when she was 18.’ It’s crazy.” Crazier yet, many of them even shared the same artist. That would be Gypsy, who’s been marking flesh under the Body Graphics banner since the studio’s inception.

Feather Tattoo by Gypsy

“When I started,” Gypsy recalls, “I believe there were about 50 female tattoo artists worldwide. Now it’s probably 50/50.” The topic triggers memories of days long past, when men would refuse her services, solely over the fact that she is a woman. Flawed logic, in her mind.

“I believe that women really have—well—call it a feminine touch. We know how to work with the flow of the body.” It’s a good point, one that’s backed up by the fact that she’s outlasted most of her male colleagues.

Speaking of her colleagues, Gypsy’s three decades of consistent work may grant her a legendary status, but the team of artists who surround her are nothing to be scoffed at either. A quick perusal of their work would reveal as much. Theresa couldn’t agree more.

“Everything everyone here does is solid,” she asserts confidently. “Everything is smooth, all the fades are perfect. Everybody here puts a lot of work into the quality of their tattoos. There’s never a half-assed job done here.”

But in an era of oversaturated media and tired ad gimmicks, quality alone is sadly not the only ingredient in the recipe for success. This is where Theresa comes in.

“I’m the first person everybody sees,” she says, stressing the importance of both a friendly atmosphere and an effective marking strategy. “It’s important to be nice . . . We care about our customers. And not just like, kind of care. No, we care. We talk to them . . . It’s a cool bond. That makes our customers loyal and it encourages them to send their friends. They know we’ll take care of them.”

This is enhanced further by her frequent Facebook Live chats. Sometimes they’re for promoting specials and sometimes they’re more or less to cure boredom, but the result is always the same: more business, and a clientele that feels connected.

“It’s just a cool, fun way to interact with potential customers. I can even talk to other tattooers and bring them on my livestream. It’s pretty awesome just how far you can go with it.”

Body Graphics Tattoo – South Windsor, CT
IG: @bodygraphicsct
Phone: 1-860-289-6534

Silver Fox Tattoo

“If you had told me when I first started tattooing twenty years ago that I would go to bed early, get up at 7am and listen to Dixieland jazz all day, I probably would have punched you in the throat.”

Loki Shane Defriece

There’s a chuckle in his voice as the words form, but for some reason, you’re inclined to believe him. You probably should. “Loki” Shane Defriece is a native-born son of Atlanta after all, and not the side of it you see on the WB. He’s from the other side, the eclectic smattering of urban neighborhoods full of hellbilly punk rockers with pickled livers and scarred-over nasal passages who are just as likely to be caught two-stepping to Merle Haggard as they are to be throwing down to Mastodon.

“I held the record at a bar I worked at for awhile . . . I drank 28 Jager shots and walked out . . . There’s been a lot of growing up in my last ten to fifteen years.”

No kidding. But this is not a story of redemption. It’s one of evolution. Sure, he’s “adulting” fulltime now, but he’s doing it on his terms.

20 years ago, fatherhood meant crashing on couches to keep up with child support payments while learning the tattoo trade between Jager binges. Today, it means building a legacy for his family, one in which his daughter already places an active role.

“You know the saying, ‘If you teach a man to fish’? Well, I bought her a pond.”

That “pond,” as he describes it, is Silver Fox Tattoo, one of Atlanta’s newest and fastest-growing ink destinations, as well as the shop in which his daughter has learned the trade. “She’s doing a really good job . . . a way better artist than I ever was when I first started,” he says proudly.

It’s saying a lot, considering the shop is largely built on Loki’s talent. And considering he’s in the middle of a city saturated with options for ink (currently 142 shops), that is also saying a lot. But Loki is quick to step out of the spotlight.

“When I first [opened] the shop, it was really my clientele that was keeping it up,” he acknowledges. “But since then, I’ve gotten a really good staff. I think that has a lot to do with it, a good staff that can work together and can trust each other.”

Beyond that, he credits the laid-back vibe of the shop and the balance they strike between their passion for quality and willingness to accommodate the masses.

“If somebody wants to get this little bity symbol, it’s still just as meaningful to them as this guy who wants this fucking back piece, so I’m going to treat it with the same attitude . . . I mean, there’s no original tattoo idea under the sun. Have some fun redrawing, draw it with your customer, make it unique. But don’t stick your nose up at them and be like, ‘We’re not going to do that.’”

Despite how the Loki of twenty years ago may have felt, the new digs that come with the wisdom of age are a good look for him. They’ve equipped him to become not only a solid father and business owner, but also a savvy property investor; the house he purchased two years ago has already nearly doubled in value. But don’t expect him to move when the developers come knocking.

“It’s my home . . . I’m not gonna sell it. I’m gonna sit here in my underwear with a shotgun and yell at the neighbors.”

Silver Fox Tattoo – Atlanta, Georgia

Nite Owl Tattoo

Oak Harbor, Washington

At Nite Owl Tattoo, in Oak Harbor, Washington, things are not exactly as they seem. The walls are covered with framed sheets of American traditional flash. But that doesn’t mean this is an old-school shop. Owner William Lloyd and his crew like to put their own modern twist on the classic style.

“If you look at a picture of a traditional tattoo it seems so basic and simple — it looks easy, but that’s what makes it incredibly difficult,” who opened Nite Owl in 2012, on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, north of Seattle.

Lloyd was introduced to tattooing back in high school when he would hang out at his friend’s pop’s shop back when it was actually illegal to tattoo on the island. His apprenticeship was certainly old school – cleaning tubes, organizing, drawing and other chores, and that’s where he gained an appreciation for the kind of tattoos that stand the test of time.

“Over time, most tattoos are going to fade and the lines are going to swell out. But with traditional, the colors are saturated into the skin, so it will have the longest lifetime,” Lloyd says.

There are definitely dynamics to traditional. But according to Lloyd, the rules nowadays are a lot looser.

“I really like the to put twists on art from old school tattooers, like Bert Grimm, Sailor Jerry and Cap Coleman, and bring the style into the modern age,” he says.

“I think they were limited back in their day. Like with some of the line work, you can tell exactly what it is, but it just need to be freshened up,” he adds. “It’s kind of like if somebody were to come in with a tattoo idea, I would draw over that tattoo idea to make it my own. I try and do the same with all the older stuff.”

Check out the portfolios at the shop and you’ll have no trouble seeing the well-rounded talents of Lloyd and his fellow artists – Molly Vigallon, Seth Smith and Joshua Jay. In the traditional, you’ll find tried and true designs ranging from nautical to roses and flaming hearts. You’ll also see Star Wars and pop culture inspired pieces. Anything, Lloyd says, can be turned into traditional with the right touch.

Tattoo by William Lloyd

“The hard part about drawing is turning your brain off and just drawing,” he says. “If you put too much into it, it’s not going to look like a typical traditional tattoo. It’s best to keep it basic.”

Typical traditional uses only a few colors, but Lloyd might pick from a dozen or more. Then again, just because a traditional tattoo is traditionally colored, doesn’t mean that it can’t simply be black and grey. B&G is another of Lloyd’s favorite techniques, and he’s not afraid to fuse the two styles.

“Normally you don’t put a gray wash in traditional tattooing, but it can be done, and it can look great,” he says. “I like it to have more contrast; so more black, then softer shading because that’s what’s going to hold it together.”

When it comes to ink, Lloyd has a preference for Eternal, but every brand has its best colors, and on the trays at Nite Owl, you’ll also find, Fusion, Dynamic, Intenze, and Waverly. As for machines, Lloyd sticks with good old fashioned coils that he says work especially well with the traditional style tattoos.

Tattoo by Josh Jay

“I go off the feeling in my hand and the sound of the machine to know If I’m getting a good line or if I’m bouncing off the skin. I use my senses to make sure that my machine is working correctly and my needles are gliding properly.”

For the last five years, Lloyd has used the same machine, made by Adam Rosenthal at River City Machinery, for 95 percent of his tattoos. “I’ve never really had to retune it,” he says.

The Nite Owl crew travels to expos as frequently as their schedules allow. Not only do they meet and work with new clients, they’re also excited to be able to kick it with other tattoo artists who they admire. Another big part of going to a show is having your work critiqued in the daily competitions. Yes, they’ve got Best of Show and Best of Tattoo for the day trophies, but what really counts is the opportunity to further their art.

“Even if you don’t win anything, you’re getting your tattoos out there for people to see. It’s really awesome to get constructive criticism from the judges, who are usually heavy hitters. That’s feedback we can put towards making a better tattoo,” Lloyd says.

And as for American Traditional? “It’s never going to go away. It’s continually growing because people are pushing the limits of what can be traditional and what’s excepted.”

Nite Owl Tattoo
Oak Harbor, Washington


July 4th, 2000 was more than an average Independence Day for Chad Willingham. That was the day that, after working at tattoo shops in California, that he, and wife Rebecca, opened their own studio — Aces-N-Eights Tattoo, in Lakewood, Washington, south of Seattle.

“I went through the struggles my first few years working at other shops; it takes a long time to get decent at tattooing and build a clientele,” Chad says. “It doesn’t happen overnight, and you put everything into it and hope it eventually comes around.”

Chad was joined by his friend Ross McWilliams, and for the first few years, it was just the two of them working 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week, while they put together a family of artists who formed just the right mix.

Chad Willingham, owner & founder

“You see a lot of tattoo artists who are rock stars and like to party, and we didn’t what that,” Chad says. “We we’re focused on having a tattoo shop that was all artists that

had been in industry for a while, had families, and were focused on their work.”

“If you have one person that’s better than everyone else, and has a rockstar mentality, it doesn’t work,” Chad adds.

At Aces-N-Eights now are also Ali Petterson, Grover Collins, TIno “Fineline” Gomez, Jeronimo Rivera, and Todd Kowal. They’re a well-rounded group with specialties ranging from new school color, black and grey, and portraiture to American traditional.

“Everyone at the shop is very well-rounded, but just because somebody is referred to a specific artist, doesn’t mean that they’re the the best for that tattoo,” Chad adds. “That tattoo is going to go to whoever is really going to nail it.”

Aces-N-Eights takes pride in creating custom designs for nearly every tattoo. It was just recently that they hung up a few panels of flash, and that was simply to accommodate the people who walk in and just want something quick and simple.

“We’ll usually sit down with clients and go over ideas. We like to get everything written down on paper, and gather up any references they might like. Unless it’s something small, we’ll get back to them with the finished artwork after they’ve scheduled their appointment,” Chad says.

“You can hope that people get referred to you or that they’ve seen your work, and that’s why they come to you so you, and they are open minded about it. I’m pretty grateful because I would say 90 percent of my clientele will stop by, call or email me and say this is the kind of style I want — create it,” Chad adds. “That’s when the tattoo comes out the best.”

As you might expect with a name like Aces-N-Eights, the shop has a classic vibe complete with old school pinup posters — if you’re lucky, you might even catch Chad cruising around town in his rat-rod. There’s an open floor plan with four workstations, and for those special clients and more involved tattoos, there’s a private studio just up the street — here you’ll find a 300-gallon koi tank surrounded by Japanese decor.

Ink preferences are for Fusion, Empire and Dynamic. Bloodhound Irons and Bishop rotaries are the machines of choice.

“I’ve been using Bloodhounds for 12 years. He’s a great machine builder. I do a lot of fineline black and grey, and they get the job done,” Chad says. “The Bishops have been great, and this past year, I’ve also tried out the Helios rotary pen from Europe; they’re amazing, and Bishop is going with that same concept now as well.”

As the artistic reputation for Aces-N-Eights has grown, so has their recognition as a reputable and progressive business. Out of more than 200 tattoo shops in Washington State, they’re consistently voted among the top-ten, and as crazy as it might sound, they’ve also been named Best Small Business in their county.  A lot of that has to do with their willingness to share their good fortune with those who have less.

“The world’s not what it used to be; it’s a lot rougher. It’s nice to be able to give back,” Chad says.

Giving back goes for artist to artist as well.

“I’m a strong believer that once you think you know it all, you’re stuck like that,” Chad says. “When somebody here learns something new, they share it with everyone else. This is a big thing that holds our shop together,”

Aces-N-Eights Tattoo
Lakewood, Washington

Country as Hell – Wasted Talent Tattoos

Wasted Talent Tattoos – Rogers, Texas. You might have more Facebook friends than Rogers, Texas has inhabitants. Seriously. The square acre of local businesses and country homes that straddles the road from Temple to Houston boasts a population of a whopping 1,209. For perspective, that’s less than a third of the size of Houston’s average public high school.

It’s a classic holdover of the Americana of yesteryear, a pass-through gem of a town full of aging buildings and friendly folk who love their football almost as much as they detest the confinement of city living. But beyond that, it’s difficult for the uninitiated to pinpoint the cause for its recent uptick in visitors. The city’s website dubs it the “Best Kept Secret in Central Texas,” but they’re not clear on what that secret is. They mention a handful of businesses, a capable fire department, and a Dollar General, but none of that is particularly unique.

For those in the know, the secret isn’t a secret at all. It’s Wasted Talent Tattoos, a custom studio founded by native son, Chris Ramos, that has already inspired the pilgrimages of ink enthusiasts from around the region and beyond after only a year in business.

It’s an impressive story, especially considering that Chris started his career as a 12-year-old in a garage inking his friends with a homemade machine he’d fashioned from discarded VCR parts. For those reeling at the idea of being tattooed by a self-taught wildling, worry not; he eventually put in four years at a shop in the neighboring city of Belton and smoothed out any remaining rough edges. Even so, it would be easy to write him off as a “scratcher,” but to do so would also be lazy.

As his wife, Kristina is quick to point out, “He was still professional. He still wore gloves, he still did what he needed to. Actual scratchers don’t do that. They don’t protect the area they’re tattooing, they don’t clean it, they don’t wear gloves, they don’t sanitize.”

Kristina is more than just Chris’s doting wife. She’s also the mother of his two children, his first love since 14, and the backbone of his work. She’s the unofficial fifth employee of a business with four on the books, the one responsible for all the “adulting” that a tattoo business entails, the overseer of the everyday details that Chris admits would fall through the cracks if it were left to him.

Considering the stereotype of small town America, it’s a wonder they haven’t been driven out for peddling their sinful services. Luckily, Rogers doesn’t fit the stereotype.

“They don’t see us as tattoo people,” Chris suggests. “They just see us as another family growing their business.”

“They were more excited about having a tattoo shop in Rogers than anything,” Kristina, chimes in. “They were thinking it would be more publicity, more people coming out this way and letting little Rogers become more well known.”

Tattoo by Mark Garza

Their excitement is merited. The shop maintains a fully booked calendar at least three months in advance with clientele coming from as far as Canada. And according to Chris, nine out of ten of his visitors will hit the Mexican joint next door for dinner, grab a soda and snack at the drug store or even go across the street to pick up a trinket or two from the antique shop. It’s a win for everyone.

All of this has been accomplished with barely a web presence to speak of. Their Facebook page has been virtually dormant since Chris’s phone “crapped out” on him a month ago. They don’t even have an Instagram account. He chalks it all up to friendly service and quality of work, though he’s quick to back step on the latter in fear of sounding cocky.

Feather Tattoo by Jamie Wise

The true clincher is the fact that he knows his market and fits the bill. He and his staff are exactly what his town needs…individuals who embody the local culture but whose talent shines brightly enough to bring in the outsiders.

“I’m country as hell,” he says proudly. “We have more of a family vibe . . . We constantly have country music and oldies playing, like, low rider oldies. I don’t necessarily like the rocker vibe or gangster vibe of tattoo shops. I mean, it’s cool and all, but a lot of people in my region aren’t too welcomed by it.”

It’s just the country way; hard work, mutual respect, and most importantly, humility. He sums it up with his parting words, paraphrasing a quote from his hero:

“Don’t ever think you’re the best. There’s always something to learn. Every tattoo, you learn something new. It was Sailor Jerry who said, ‘Once you think you’re top dog, you’re on your way out.’”

Main Line Ink

Danny Siviter’s path into the world of tattoos was anything but conventional.

Having grown up in the evangelical church during its heyday in the 80s and 90s, most of his earliest doodles were more than likely found on the margins of Sunday school curricula and church offering envelopes, media that don’t exactly pair well with pin-up girls and pirate skulls. Nevertheless, the trade would become his livelihood, eventually leading him to his current role as co-owner of Main Line Tattoo in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Now five years in business, Main Line Tattoo has quickly evolved from a fledgling, downtown owner-operated studio to Chattanooga’s number one ink destination. As of this past year, that is no longer an arbitrary statement; their name just made the top of the list of tattoo parlors in the local paper’s annual “Best of the Best,” an honor that came as a total surprise to Danny.

“Anyone has the opportunity to go online and vote so its literally the people of Chattanooga who decide,” Danny explains, “Which in my opinion is one the best awards a local business could ever receive.”

Tattoo by Jennifer Edge

There are any number of reasons why such an honor was bestowed on the shop. It could have been the inviting atmosphere augmented by the open floor plan and rugged, but aesthetically pleasing décor. That was an aspect on which Danny and his partner, Jennifer Edge focused from the very beginning.

“Since we had an empty shell of a building, we got started fresh with no walls,” He recalls. “We decided to instead of building separate rooms we built half walls. It keeps the vibe open, so we can all talk to each other as well as greet every person that walks in.”

But then again, it could also be the diverse and highly skilled team of artists who man (or woman) the chairs. When the topic is broached, Danny wastes no time singing their praises like the choir boy he could have become.

Tattoo by Anier Fernandez

“Anier Fernandez is a phenomenal artist from Cuba who just came out of his apprenticeship with us and is out of the gate swinging. Kitty Konniption . . . does incredible illustrative tattoos, taking her inspiration from her love for Anime and Japanese culture as well as her love for traditional tattooing. Josh . . . can do it all. He’s the kind of artist that will take a sharpie and freehand a masterpiece. Jennifer Edge works her magic doing abstract illustrative tattoos. Her creativity and imagination never run dry. I’ve been doing a lot of black illustrative and dot work style lately.

Of course, each factor plays a part, but when pressed, Danny points to the general attitude of the staff.

“Being nice, good customer service; that is what put us there more than anything. Of course, we strive to put out the best work we can, but a tattoo experience goes far beyond the tattoo. If you hate the attitudes or someone is a dick to you, you’re less likely to ever go back.”

Tattoo by Danny Siviter

Considering his upbringing, one might logically assume Danny’s choice in profession to be a departure. Given, the passage in the Bible that forbids marking or cutting the body also instructs the reader not to wear fabrics of mixed thread or trim the corners of their beard, but the church’s general attitude toward tattooing has never been much better than begrudging tolerance. But assumption will most often lead to inaccuracy, and this instance reflects the rule rather than the exception.

“I do still hold on to my faith,” he states, unapologetically. But don’t expect a sermon. In fact, don’t expect much beyond open conversation. “I never force my beliefs on anyone and I respect anyone’s beliefs no matter how different they may be to mine,” he continues. “That’s where Christianity often gets it so wrong. They are so quick to judge and so slow to love. It’s not always as difficult as Christians make it out to be. We were taught to love . . . Sometimes I get questions and sometimes I get criticism. But no matter what, everyone has been respectful because they can see that I give the same level of respect.”
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