By ELIZABETH SCHAFER, Associate Editor
Call them a fad, a fashion statement, an addiction, a personal statement, and, in some cases, a cry for help. But whatever you call call them, tattoos are definitely a growing trend — not just for students, but society at large.
All you have to do is ask two of Mt. Pleasant’s most popular tattoo artists. Both say business is great.
“We have people come from all over to get tattoos, from Toronto to Alaska,” said Jason Rhodes, the main artist and owner of Intricate Decor on Pickard Street.
And as tattoos continue to grow in popularity, they also have become more acceptable in today’s society. As a result, some of the best artists are hidden in small towns like Mt. Pleasant.
Intricate Décor is one example of that. If you have ever driven by there, the place is always packed, with people standing and talking out on the porch.
Evolved Artforms on South Mission Street is a second hot spot. “The one by Arby’s.” That’s how it’s mostly explained if you are a townie. It used to be the home of Heritage Tattoo, where Eric Ochsenkehl, now the owner of Evolved Artforms, was the manager.
One of the big boosts to business is that the age range of clients has clearly changed. Both men agreed that anyone from 16 to 65 have come in to get tattoos.
Rhodes has been tattooing since 1994, starting as an airbrush artist working on t-shirts outside of a tattoo shop in Greenville and then in Grand Rapids. Heading to the shop at noon on a Tuesday when the shop opened, they were already busy. Rhodes has five other artists at the shop, all easy going talented men.
Intricate Décor also offers body piercing and scarification, where a cut is made into the skin to create a scar in an artistic pattern or shape. They are the only ones in town that offer scarification.
Although tattooing is their main game, doing mainly large-scale custom work, the shop minimum is $40.
“Since the internet, everyone is bringing in their own ideas,” said Rhodes. “Memorial stuff is really popular right now.” That usually involves getting a tattoo of the dates of a loved one who has died and maybe photos inset in a tattoo.
“We are mostly client based, not college based,” Rhodes said, meaning once someone starts with an artist and is happy, they just continue to go to the same place or artist.
So it’s no surprising to hear that Intricate Décor gets attached to its clients, or rather, the clients get attached to Intricate and keep coming back. Tattooing a sleeve or large area can be very time consuming, and expensive, according to both artists. And it’s best to ultimately trust the artist who will be working on that project.
Ochsenkehl’s talent really impressed me as well. Ochsenkehl is an easy-going man with no visible tattoos and a strong sense for the business aspect of the industry. He’s also an incredible artist.
Starting in Midland, Ochsenkehl said he always knew he could draw, so he just went with it. “I started tattooing generic stuff to pay the bills,” he explained.
Also having a $40 minimum, he said, is pretty standard.
Asking him what was popular at his shop, he answered, “Just look on Pinterest.” 60% are symbols.
Ochsenkehl said half of the work at Evolved Artforms is custom and they also do body piercing.
Very business-oriented, Ochsenkehl said he has made a point of knowing the business side of his job, including the variety of permits that can be involved in owning a tattoo shop. “You have to have a special use permit, which is nearly impossible to obtain,” he said. The shop also carries the license for the artist.
I couldn’t help but ask him if he has ever had someone freak out from having the wrong word tattooed on their body. Ochsenkehl swore that 99 out of 100 times the person is the one who initially commits the spelling error. He said most artists, when doing writing, will go from right to left, instead of the normal left to right. This is because it is less likely for the artists to make a mistake due to muscle memory. “Then it becomes a line, not a letter; you don’t have to fight what your hand may normally want to do,” he said. “This job requires you to be perfect 100 percent of the time.”
Personally Ochsenkehl doesn’t have any tattoos above the neckline, or ones that show when he’s wearing a shirt and pants. “In this business people are non-judgmental, and open minded. But the rest of society may not operate that way. Anything you can’t cover up with shirt sleeves or that is on the hands or face, where are you going to get a job?”
While this is Ochsenkehl’s personal opinion, he assures customers that he and the other artists will tattoo anywhere the customer may desire.
“We do lots of cover up with names; I’d say about 8 out of 10 cover-up jobs are names,” he said. So, his advice? Think twice before tattooing the name of your latest squeeze.
Evolved Artforms has four other artists besides Ochsenkehl. Also, occasionally they will have guest artists, most recently Zack Ross.
“The quality of the ink and the artist has changed so much since I started,” Ochsenkehl said. “Educated people are now walking around with full sleeves. The ink and equipment have evolved leaps and bounds as well.”