Tattoos go mainstream… with a touch of rebel
People of a certain age can remember when tattoos were mostly associated with motorcycle gangs, ex-cons and crusty sailors.
What a difference a generation or two can make. In an age of increasingly open self-expression, people from all walks of life are taking the tattoo plunge.
It was evident over the weekend when thousands converged on the Seattle Center to attend the annual Tattoo Expo where they could meet artists from all over the U.S. and beyond, and – if they were so inclined – submit to the tattoo needle.
To be sure, the expo still had a rebel feel about it; participating businesses included All Hope Aside Tattoo, Slave to the Needle, Mordor, Madame Lazonga’s, and Good Karma Body Art.
Artists and visitors alike sported a broad range of tattoos, with many people seemingly covered from the neck down.
At the same time, there was a family atmosphere about it, plenty of kids and suburban types wandering the aisles.
Among the participating artists was a trio from Dark Horse Tattoo in Edmonds.
Owner Sasha King, a tattoo artist for eight years, bought Dark Horse Tattoo after working at a tattoo shop in Everett.
Although he had studied illustration in school, he initially ended up in IT, working as a computer technician at Washington Mutual.
WaMu’s collapse may have been the sign King was waiting for; he cashed out his retirement and bought Dark Horse.
In his first years in the business, King said most tattoo parlors were still run by “bikers.”
“If you did something wrong, you could get your hand broken,” he said, only half jokingly.
Now, “I mainly tattoo working professionals,” he said. They see lots of people from the medical profession, Boeing and other aerospace employees, as well as hairdressers and stay-at-home moms.
“A lot of Edmonds police come into my shop, too,” he said.
King specializes in custom work; he said his style includes “realism,” “illustrative,” and “black and green.”
Dark Horse tattooist Jimmy Schmidt, who landed in the Northwest from Miami looking for an apprenticeship, said he tends toward “American traditional, with bold lines and colors – more classic.”
Schmidt said he has been drawing all this life, and grew up around tattoo parlors.
Finding his way to Washington has been a happy move. “Everyone here is pretty chill,” he said.
King said the shop’s third tattooist, Duane Lagervall, harkens back to an earlier era, specializing in the “American biker style” – motorcycle related art – along with “tribal, fine line designs.”
First-timers typically get something small and simple – a flower on an ankle, a loved one’s initials on a shoulder, “like housewives who want to dip their toe in the water,” King said.
But when they come in for their next tattoo, they’re more bold. And at Dark Horse, King said, “People know they can get what they want.”
Like clothes, tattoos follow trends and styles. Last year, lots of people were getting infinity symbols along with some verbiage. There was a period when feathers were hot. Hispanic styles – think Day of the Dead – as well as Asian art also are popular now.
“I do quite a few portraits,” King said. People want a lover, spouse or child permanently engraved on their body.
Of course, while hands, arms and shoulders – as well as the occasional head and neck tattoo – are visible in public, many tattoos are hidden from all but a person’s closest acquaintances.
King said women often ask for a tattoo under a breast or pantyline. Someone recently asked for one under a butt cheek.
“But the weirdest thing I ever did was under a chin,” he said.
King’s own first tattoo was some ivy on one of this wrists. Schmidt’s was a deceased brother’s birthdate on his shoulder.
Both now sport a variety on both of their arms and, well, who knows where else.
For people thinking about “dipping their toes in,” tattoos are surprisingly affordable. A small one may cost $60-$70. Larger ones run into a few hundred.
King said the most expensive one he recalls doing was about $700.
And soon, the tattoo parlor may be coming to you. King has purchased an old ambulance and is converting it to become a mobile tattoo parlor. Don’t be surprised if you see them soon at a party, wedding or other event.
Meanwhile, if you can’t wait for Dark Horse on wheels or next year’s expo, you can find them at 23423 Hwy. 99, Ste. B, Edmonds. Walk-ins are welcome.