Tattoo art is not only a job, but a way of life. For Drake, owner of the Local Tattoo & Laser Co. and a tattoo artist for 22 years, the journey into the tattoo industry started during the early 90s. “I fell into it honestly,” said Drake. “It was really underground back in the early 90s, so it was hard to find a job, and I just got lucky and landed a spot.”
Drake began his career as a pencil artist,working at Splash of Color, then located on South Cedar in Lansing. The parlor has since moved to East Lansing. Drake’s experience there helped him open his own tattoo business. The Local Tattoo & Laser Co., located at 2020 E. Michigan Ave. in Lansing, has been in business for the past four years.
“We set up our tattoo rooms the same way they have theirs set up,” said Drake. “Because I worked there so long and I only know that way.”
Jay Ellis, a tattoo artist who works for Drake, said that he has seen a shift in the types of art that are featured in tattoo parlors during his seven years in the business.
“We have seen a change to more realism type art as far as what customers are requesting,” said Ellis. “Also the equipment and technology is far more advanced these days.”
According to Drake, the biggest change in the tattoo industry is the emphasis on educated artists who have gone to art school.
“The newest generation of tattoo artists are bachelor degree holders,” said Drake. “Coming right out and able to do anything that you want.”
Drake also notices the change in equipment from electric-coil machines (which are quite loud) compared to the newer rotary machines (which are almost silent). Although many tattoo parlors have made the shift towards the rotary tattoo machines, Drake is hesitant to make the shift just yet.
“My buddies have told me that they like the way I tattoo with electric coil,” said Drake. “I may go rotary, but I don’t know if I want my work to suffer from the transition.”
When a person first comes in for a tattoo, there are a few basic steps. The customer has to know what they want first.
“If the customer comes in and absolutely has no idea what they want, we’ll tell them to go home and think more about it,” said Ellis.
After a customer finds out what they want for a tattoo, they then have to figure out where on the body the tattoo should go.
“Some parts of the body stretch out more,” said Ellis. “Like when you’re doing a tattoo near the rib area, you really have to make sure you take into account how much the skin stretches when sketching the tattoo.”
According to Ellis, half of the time customers come in with their own custom art that they want done on their body.
“There is a collaboration process when dealing with custom made art,” said Ellis. “We find that some customers are open to small changes being made to make the finished piece better.”
The starting price for most tattoos is around $50 .An average tattoo usually takes around 15 to 20 minutes to complete.
According to Drake the best part about being a tattoo artist is the canvas an artist gets to use.
“The fact that you get to put art on people’s bodies,” said Drake. “It’s an awesome canvas to work on. It’s like no other canvas.”
Drake has few complaints about the career about but he warns that, as with any business, it is tough at first to make a profit and be successful.
“Your first year into it you can’t think you’re going to make $30,000,” said Drake. “It takes 100 percent dedication. If it’s not a lifestyle then you won’t be successful.”