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The Illustrating Men: Tattoo Artists
by Nicole Jovel + photos by Chris Jackson
So, you want to get a tattoo? The search for the artist that's right for you is a significant part of the puzzle.
Ten years ago, when Hagerstown native Christopher Rudisill wanted to get a tattoo, he did his homework first. He visited a few shops, reviewed artist portfolios, and asked questions. “Some people will do their best to try to save a buck on a tattoo,” he says, “but you should take your time to think about not only what you’re going to put on your body, but who’s going to put it there. You’re going to have it for the rest of your life.”
After careful consideration, Christopher ended up at Hub City Tattoo in Jason Lewis’s chair. The tattoo of a window with broken glass and a drop of blood holds a lot of meaning for him and he was so happy with the result that he’s since gone back to Lewis at least a dozen times. “I am definitely a regular,” he says. “When I have an idea for a tattoo he makes it better.”
The Hometown Artist
Jason is also from Hagerstown — a 1994 South Hagerstown High School graduate — and has been tattooing for over 13 years. “I tried a few jobs beforehand that had nothing to do with art and now I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I’d always had a bit of an art background,” he says, “and this seemed like the most feasible job opportunity for me to do artwork.” Jason did an apprenticeship under another artist to learn the trade and all that comes with it, like safety regulations and supply costs.
What he likes the best about being an artist of this kind is that everyday is different and he never knows who, and with what idea, will walk through his door. “I had a woman come in who got her first tattoo as an anniversary present to her husband. She was 72,” he says. Though he did a butterfly for her, Jason’s known for his skill at black and grey work. His best clients, he says are the ones who are open minded. “They’re making a decision for something they have to live with so I’m not going to say they shouldn’t put what they want on them, but as far as doing this for a living, I generally have a better idea of what works for people or when something won’t translate well.”
When does a master’s degree-educated college professor make a career change to a tattoo artist? If you’re Waynesboro transplant Brett Borland, it finds you. “I didn’t aspire to be a tattoo artist,” says the Florida native who came to the area for a job. “I was teaching drawing and print-making at Shepherd [University] and had friends who were tattooing and needed some help.” After spending time at a local shop and learning the ropes, he quit teaching and started tattooing full-time. After almost 10 years of tattooing, he opened his own place two years ago, Yours Truly Tattoo, that is moving this month to Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown.
Brett’s Kandinsky-esque style is unique and “can get pretty weird sometimes,” he says. But the vibe in his shop shows a different side of him. “It’s a really nice, inviting place that we keep super clean and we greet everyone that comes in the door.” Perhaps because of the welcoming environment, Brett says his clientele is an eclectic mix, “I could tattoo a doctor one day and a carpenter the next.”
Usually his clients come in with at least a general idea of what they want. “I work with them to make their ideas ‘tattoo-possible,’” he says. No matter the idea, he says his favorite part of the job is the challenge of doing things with his hands and seeing the ideas materialize. He’s much busier as a tattoo artist than he was as a college professor, but he’s not planning a career change back to teaching anytime soon. “Even though it’s a lot more work, it’s a more laid back profession and a lot less stressful.”
The Confidential Creator
He doesn’t do Facebook and doesn’t seek out the limelight. But when Hagerstown tattoo artist Travis Lowery tried out for “Ink Masters,” a reality competition for tattoo artists on the basic cable channel Spike, he made it through three trial rounds. He went at the urging of his girlfriend, not because he wants to be famous. “They keep calling me to come back, but it’s not my thing,” he says. “I don’t want to do tattoos with someone looking over my shoulder.”
That’s why the former Floridian is happy working for himself at Wise Guys Tattoos. He can focus on his art, and live a quiet, private life with his family. “When I’m at work, I’ll talk to anybody about anything, tattoos or anything, but when I’m outside of work, I just want to be with my family and enjoy life,” he says.
He never imagined that he’d become a tattoo artist, but was always interested in various forms of art. He’s done airbrushing on hotrods and sculpting, and loves to go to the Salvation Army in search of old leather jackets that he can stitch to remake into new creations or old sewing machines that he uses the gears of to make robots.
“I moved back up from Florida to help my mom and I wanted to do something I enjoy, and I love tattoos,” says Travis. “I can’t sit still and get bored really easily. That’s why I love tattoos because it’s always different.” With almost a decade of tattooing under his belt now, Travis says he can ink different styles from portraits to traditional to realism, and likes designs that don’t look flat or one-dimensional, “I like to make it look like its coming right off your arm.”
The Risk Taker
When Shayne Foy was just 25, he moved from his hometown, Mt. Airy, Md., to Hagerstown to start his own business. He took a chance on the tattooing skills he had learned from other artists and picked downtown Hagerstown because of its affordability. “I’m more or less self-taught and I just went for it,” he says. “I decided I wanted to work for myself.” He first opened the doors to Temple Art Tattoo Studio in 1996, and “the rest is history,” he says.
The industry has changed in that time and he says tattooing has become much more mainstream, “Getting a tattoo is a lot more acceptable than it was when I started 19 years ago. The old stigma was bikers and sailors, now it’s soccer moms getting tattoos. It’s anybody and everybody who wants to make a statement of self-expression.”
In his opinion, there are both pros and cons to tattoos becoming more popular. “Now everybody wants to be a tattoo artist. People are out there trying it without proper training,” he says. “I don’t condone the way I learned. I wouldn’t suggest it to anybody. A proper apprenticeship is the best way to do it.” Without proper training, there are unskilled people who are giving tattoos in unsafe environments for bottom dollar, and Shayne says it’s damaging to the industry. “Good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good. If you’re price shopping and someone beats me out on price, I’m OK with that as long as they’re good.”
His favorite tattoos to do have a sense of realism and he credits that artistic ability to his family. “My mother and grandmother were artists and several aunts and uncles were, too, so it runs in my family.” But if you come into Shayne’s shop and ask him to tattoo someone else’s name on you, don’t be surprised if he tries to talk you out of it. “Sometimes I’ll tell someone ‘no’ for their own good,” he says.
The Family Man
Dave Kruseman credits his wife Kim, whom he co-owns Old Line Tattoo Gallery with, for his successful tattooing career. The father of two says, “it’s all thanks to my wife for letting this happen for our family. Every ship needs a captain.”
Originally from Oceanside, Calif., Dave was living in North Carolina and working construction when he decided to make a career change. “I wasn’t excited about regular work so I did an apprenticeship with a guy by the name of James Vaughn. It sounded exciting to me to become a tattoo artist,” he says. “It’s a great feeling to wake up everyday and not be bummed out by a dead-end job, and instead love what you do.”
A friend talked Dave and his wife into coming to Maryland three years ago and he says they love it here, “I really like Maryland. It’s got a ton of character and history and being this close to D.C. is pretty awesome.” Being located not too far from large highways and airports is also a plus because Kruseman draws clients from across the country to his shop in the Valley Mall, which he says goes against the norm. “We’re located in a mall because we wanted to have a broader audience and broader clientele. Going to a typical street shop with blacked out windows, you ask for a guy named Spider or Spike to give you your tattoo,” he says. “Here we have a sense of legitimacy, and how could it be dangerous when it’s next to Sears.”
Though Dave is a well-rounded artist, he says he’s known for big, bright, traditional tattoos. He recommends that everyone ask to see an artist’s portfolio before they do any work. “That way you can see what they are really capable of with your own eyes,” he says. At Old Line, a drawing consultation is done with each client beforehand so that any adjustments can be made to the art before it’s permanent. “People come in because they want to memorialize someone they lost or it’s on their bucket list,” he says. “We’re full-on quality control at Olde Line.”
This is by no means, nor is it intended to be, an encyclopedic compendium of tattoo artists in the area. This is not a “greatest hits” collection, and it’s not a endorsement for where we think you should get a tattoo. This is merely an eclectic smattering of some of the talent that the area is lucky enough to have at its inky disposal. Tattoos are a highly personal — though sometimes quite public — and permanent mark that the owner will carry for the rest of his or her days (or shell out big cash and undergo lots of pain for laser removal). If you’re planning a tattoo, do your research, develop a relationship with your artist, and don’t rush into it.
About the studios:
Hub City Tattoo
Artist: Jason Lewis
1423 Dual Highway
Yours Truly Tattoo
Artist: Brett Borland
13338 Pennsylvania Avenue
Wise Guys Tattoos
Artist: Travis Lowery
1826 Dual Highway
Temple Art Tattoo Studio
Artist: Shayne Foy
110 North Potomac Street
Old Line Tattoo Gallery
Artist: Dave Kruseman
17301 Valley Mall Road (inside the mall next to Sears)