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Tattoos: Creative form of student expression

October 19, 2007

Getting “inked” seems to be more popular today than ever. Just turn on the television and you will see several reality TV programs such as “Miami Ink,” “Inked” and “LA Ink,” all dedicated to the art of tattooing. But you don’t have to watch national television to see that tattoos are commonplace in today’s society; look no further than your own campus and community.

Thirty-six percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 and 40 percent between the ages of 26 and 40 have a tattoo, according to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center.

Students share stories behind getting inked

UW-River Falls harbors numerous individuals who contribute to this statistic, and each person has their own reason for getting inked. Some people’s tattoos hold a special meaning, while others simply think they look cool.

Sophomore Amber Starr has a tattoo on her waist that she designed three years ago. It is a swirl that turns into a star.  At the end of every point on the star, an arrow points in a different direction.

“I drew it when I was 16 and told everyone I was going to get it tattooed on me, and no one believed me,” Starr said. “I got it as soon as I was 18.”
It represents chaos she said, as she considers herself to be a chaotic person.

Sophomore Collin O’Brien has a tattoo of a treble clef on his leg with the letter “m” worked into it. O’Brien, a music major, said the treble clef represents his love for music, and the “m” is his zodiac sign.

“I wanted to get one because it expresses who I am, and it’s a piece of art I will always have with me,” O’Brien said.

Freshman Meagan Lambrecht has flowers tattooed on her lower back, but she said her tattoo doesn’t have any specific meaning.

“I just liked how it looked,” Lambrecht said.

Venture into the world of tattoos online or walk into a tattoo parlor and you will see that people get just about anything inked on their body.  Dragons, skulls, guns, human portraits, tribal designs, flowers, animals, words and phrases – the possibilities are endless.

Sophomore Scott Vadnais has five tattoos, including a zebra head on his left bicep that has an interesting derivation.

“My mom brought back a [zebra] mask from Tanzania,” Vadnais said.  “I was just like, ah, that would look sick.”

There are potential negative health effects of getting inked.  Blood-borne diseases, skin disorders, skin infections and allergic reactions are all possible outcomes of getting a tattoo, according to the Mayo Clinic Web site, http://www.mayoclinic.com.

But the tattoo industry is thoroughly monitored for the maintenance of health standards. Everlasting Tattoo Studio in River Falls, currently run by Jayson Graham, is no exception.

“The shop has to be licensed by the state of Wisconsin,” Graham said.  “You have to have local business permits, and the health inspectors are pretty rigorous on licenses and the shop.”

He also mentioned some other standards, such as monthly spore testing for autoclave equipment.  Needles, razor blades and ink must be discarded after use, and must be opened in front of the client.  Beyond the shop license, each individual tattoo artist must be fully licensed by the state of Wisconsin.
“The Food Safety and Recreational Licensing staff are responsible for managing programs that enforce applicable state administrative codes for the inspection and licensure of … tattoo and body piercing establishments in Wisconsin,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services Web site, http://dhfs.wisconsin.gov/.

Finding somewhere to get inked is not a difficult task.  There are approximately 20,000 tattoo parlors in the United States, according to http://www.vanishingtattoo.com.

Tattoo studio holds rich history

If you are from River Falls or attend school at UWRF, there is a local option:  Everlasting Tattoo Studio, started by Ritt Graham, 54, was originally opened on Main Street in 1997.  Graham was diagnosed with colon cancer and hasn’t been able to do tattoos for about two years, so his son Jayson stepped up to the plate.  The studio was forced to relocate as a result of his father’s illness.

“When my dad got sick we couldn’t afford it, and we had to move to a smaller shop,” Graham said.

Everlasting Tattoo Studio now occupies a small space at 110 E. Elm St.  The studio is laden with art samples and photo albums of past work, years worth of trophies, plaques and awards from several different competitions, and official shop licenses at the front desk.

Graham has an interesting history to offer; he grew up around tattooing.

“My dad started off about 30 some years ago when I was about seven years old,” Graham said.

Graham said he had a knack for art when he was young, but never thought he would grow up to be a tattoo artist.

However, at the age of 14 he was getting into trouble, so his mother brought him to his father’s shop with an ultimatum.  She told his father that he had to teach Graham something or he was going to be sent to lock-up, so the young man began learning how to tattoo.  Graham described his learning experience.

“He was harder on me than anybody else, that’s for sure,” Graham said.  “But it paid off.”

By the age of 16 he started professionally tattooing at his father’s shop, South Paul Tattoo Studio, in New York.  He remained there until the age of 19, and then moved to Canada.  Graham remained in Canada for about five years, where he opened two studios, East Coast Ink and Tribal Quest.  After his northern venture he moved to Minnesota, where he worked at Acme Tattoo Company for about three years.  Graham then opened up Everlasting Tattoo Studio in Duluth, Minn., with his father.  He owned that studio for nearly 10 years.

“I had a booming shop in Duluth, man,” Graham said.  “I had four guys working for me.”

While in Duluth, Graham taught a rap artist named Big Hoss, from a group called the Kottonmouth Kings, how to tattoo.  Graham then helped the rapper open a studio in California called Hosstyle Tattoos.

Graham then moved to River Falls where he has been trying to balance his father’s illness and business at Everlasting Tattoo Studio.

“This year we’ve been struggling because my dad has cancer,” Graham said.  “We were closed a lot due to my dad’s health.”

He was the only family member taking care of his father, which occupied much of his time.  Graham was disheartened after hearing that people assumed he was often absent from the shop because he was just “messing around.”

“Basically, family comes first, business later, and we’re [Everlasting Tattoo Studio] going to be around for a long time,” Graham said.

A grand reopening is in store for some time in the next few weeks, and there may be some promotions for college students Graham said.

Getting inked: up close and personal
River Falls native Laura Richison visited the studio in celebration of her twentieth birthday Sept. 29.  Her boyfriend was getting her a tattoo as a gift.

“I wanted a tattoo for a few months, but I just didn’t have money for it,” Richison said.

She was there to get an asymmetrical ambigram on her foot, which is a piece of art that looks like one word, but becomes another word when flipped upside down.

Graham was finishing up the outline drawing of her ambigram on a sheet of paper, which reads “love, hope,” as Richison entered the studio with a conveyed sense of excitement and a hint of nervousness.  Drawing the outline of the work to be done on a client is generally the first step in the tattoo process.
Graham showed Richison and her boyfriend the outline drawing to get their approval, which they gave with confidence.  Graham prepared his work station and explained some details about the machines he works with.

One machine is designed strictly for outlining the tattoo, while the other is for shading.

Graham placed the temporary outline drawing on her foot and then asked for Richison’s final seal of approval before actually applying the ink.  Soon the buzzing of the outlining machine filled the air, while the first bits of contact on Richison’s skin drew deep breaths and a painful giggle from the girl.

Within an hour the tattoo was finished, but for health reasons it had to be covered shortly after.

“I’m glad it’s done – it hurt,” Richison said.  “I think it’s going to be really cool once I can look at it.”

Graham gracefully set his tools down and made sure one last time that Richison was satisfied.  He then explained what he likes so much about being a tattoo artist and the permanence attached to getting inked.

“My favorite part is making people happy,” Graham said.  “I’ll be with you after your soul leaves your body.”