Art has always been one of mankind’s best forms of self-expression. So-called “wearable” art – in the form of tattoos – has been around for centuries.
Once commonly used as a practical means of identifying someone, tattoos have come into their own as colorful body art. Whidbey Island is home to many talented artists who use their customers’ skin as the canvas on which to make their permanent mark.
“I always drew in school. I thought I’d be an artist, I thought I’d do musical theater,” said Amanda Creek, who recently opened a tattoo studio on Pioneer Way in downtown Oak Harbor. “A friend of mine worked at a tattoo shop and one of the artists said my drawings were really good and I should learn to tattoo.”
That is exactly what she did. Creek, who lived in Virginia at the time, found an apprenticeship, and after 18 months of training, she became an official tattoo artist. She’s been doing it more than eight years now and has seen the popularity of tattooing as an art form grow.
“Right now it’s really popular, it’s more accepted,” said Creek. “Everyone seems to have a tattoo. It’s art, everybody loves it.”
“When you tattoo, you’re composing pieces,” said Andrew Schultz, who owns Black Mast Tattoo Co. in Greenbank with his fiancé, Jacqueline Reyes. “It’s just like if you went to an art gallery, it’s going to provoke an emotion. You are moved so much by someone’s imagery and their art, by their drawing or painting on the wall and that you say ‘I need this, I want to get this on my body.’”
There is some kind of emotional connection to virtually every tattoo, said Schultz, whether it’s the exhilaration of getting the first, or the story and meaning behind a piece of art.
“There’s always something behind it,” he said. “I never thought I’d be hearing so many sad stories but you bring a closure to it. It always thrills me when someone sits down, gets it and they’re just so moved by it that it changes their life.”
“I think a lot of that is the most important reason why people get tattooed,” said Creek. “Especially in the beginning. Once you start getting a lot, you just start getting things that are fun or funny or just make you happy.”
“It’s the celebration of the lighter side of life, too,” Schultz said.
“What’s really interesting from when I was younger is that getting a tattoo was kind of like a badge of honor because you’d reached this new point in your life,” said Reyes, who is currently doing her apprenticeship with Schultz. “But now what I’ve noticed as the tattoo industry has evolved, more people are getting tattoos because it’s moving, or it’s fashion or jewelry for them.”
“It’s like an accessory,” said Creek. “You put it on and you feel good, you feel confident and you’re happier. It’s something you can express yourself with.”
Creek can share the reason behind each of her 25 tattoos.
“I have a Navy tattoo for my dad because he was in the Navy; an old car because I like cool old stuff; the Beatle’s “Yellow Submarine” for my mom; a gumball machine for my dad because I remember when I was little we’d always get candy all the time,” she said as she pointed to the various images on her arms.
Creek has even commemorated the time she accidentally ran over a squirrel on her way to work with the tattoo of an acorn that reads “In loving memory.”
Shultz, who said he has so many tattoos he just thinks of them as one big piece now, said there is also an art to choosing the best location for a tattoo.
“As we look at the body we look at more of the framing of the art,” he said. “You feel like a bad person unless you give them a tattoo that not only looks good today, but looks good seven years from now.”
“I think because we’re so invested in our consumers to give them something one-of-a-kind, for each consumer, they’re feeding your imagination, your artistic growth, to create something,” Reyes said. “So every time you’re getting more and more people coming in for tattoos, you as an artist grow, because you’ve got to take someone’s idea and all their values and put it into this piece.”
“It’s like the paper is moving, the canvas is alive, and you have to be aware of how your client feels,” said Creek. “You get to talk to your work. It’s nice to get to know people.”
Another factor in the growing popularity of tattoos, feels Creek, are the changes within the industry itself.
“It’s not something that’s scary and needs to be hidden away or kept secret. It’s accepted because it’s safe,” she said. “Luckily the health department is involved in every tattoo shop. We have to make sure that everything is up to standard. There’s not anything in the ink that’s going to hurt someone, there’s less likely to be an allergic reaction.”
“I think we put more pride in our tools today,” said Schultz. “As a whole, we want to make needles better, they want to make inks better, they want to see a higher standard.”
Creek also offers tattoos for women who have gone through mastectomies.
“If they want to get flowers or designs and even pigmentation, I am absolutely excited to be able to offer that,” she said, adding she feels lucky and honored to be given such an opportunity. “It’s amazing to do a tattoo that’s so much more meaningful than just a picture. It’s confidence and it’s happiness and it’s healing. It’s amazing.”
There are life lessons to be learned through the art of tattoo as well, said Schultz.
“I find, for myself at least, when I was getting tattooed there’s no way I wanted to sit six hours for my neck, but I had to put together my diligence, my discipline, my respect and not walk away from something, I had to see it all the way through,” he said. “And you start to apply those in your regular daily life and you realize the things you do overcome.”
For information, Creek can be reached at www.amandacreek.com and Black Mast Tattoo Co. can be found on Facebook or reached at (360) 632-2350.