by Kym Byrnes, photography by Phil Grout
It starts just above Ally May’s hip, the bluish purple butterfly almost resting on her hip bone. The butterfly hovers above an intricately decorated bird cage that stretches halfway down the 19-year-old’s thigh, with a vine of hibiscus flowers flowing through it.
The images, forever inked on her body, represent experiences, memories and emotions forever in her heart.
Ally May is among the estimated 45 million Americans who have at least one tattoo – a statistic provided by author Charlie Connell in the Nov. 12, 2015 issue of Inked magazine. Every year, Americans spend 1,650,500,000 on tattoos, he adds.
For many, tattoos are more about telling a story, offering an insight into the person wearing the ink, and less about making a statement.
“The flowers are to remember my friend who passed away, the butterfly symbolizes freedom and it has purple because that’s the color for Crohn’s disease awareness, which I was diagnosed with at 15,” said May said as she detailed her tattoo.
“After being diagnosed I had a series of surgeries, then a diagnosis of widespread arthritis and fibromyalgia. So the bird cage also goes along with that. Having a chronic illness is just something I have, but it’s not who I am; and I refuse to let it define me or keep me ‘locked inside of a cage’.”
Eric Klunk, the artist who tattooed May, said that every day at Absolutely Skin Images, 205 Carlisle St. is different, which is one part of the job he really likes.
Klunk was a graphic designer for 15 years before falling into the tattoo business at the urging of friends. Now 40, Klunk said he really likes taking people’s ideas and interests and turning them into relevant images to be inked on the body.
“Every day is different, one day I’m doing a simple little infinity sign and the next day I’m doing a whole back,” Klunk said. “It’s cool hearing people’s ideas and working with them to create something they’ll be happy with.”
Chris Staub said he contemplated getting a tattoo for years.
The 40-year-old owner of Staub’s Landing restaurant said he’s about 20 hours into a back tattoo that he thinks will take more than 40 hours to complete.
Staub describes the tattoo as a tree of life with the trunk going up the center of his back and the limbs spreading out across his upper back and shoulders. His children’s initials are carved into the tree stump. The tree’s roots turn into Octopus tentacles, representing growing up in Ocean City, Md.
Under the tree limbs it looks like the skin is torn away and there are three dimensional gears exposed, because the body is like a machine, Staub said. And when it is finished there will be a clock in there as well, representing the passage of time as our lives move forward.
“Tattoos last forever so I didn’t want to get something I would regret. I wanted something interesting and I wanted it to mean something to me,” Staub said. “It’s not necessarily for anyone else, I can wear a t-shirt and you’d never know it’s there. It’s for me, it’s not really a showpiece or anything else.”
Klunk and another Hanover tattoo artist, Tiffany Weigle, said that they encourage customers to be original in their tattoo design choices. Klunk said with the advent of the internet and sites like Pinterest, people often bring in a tattoo they’ve found that someone else has and ask for the same thing. Klunk said he likes to work with the client, extracting elements they like in the design they found on the internet, but then personalizing it so what they have on their body for a lifetime is unique.
Weigle, a Gettysburg native, learned the art of tattooing while living in Michigan. She said getting a good apprenticeship was key in her learning. After returning to the Hanover area, she worked at Baltimore Street Tattoos for seven years and is now preparing to open a new shop in North Hanover.
“Tattoo trends are ever evolving, some are good and some are bad,” Weigle said. “Watercolor tattoos, trash polka, neo-traditionals, Henna and hyper realism are some current style trends.”
And themes come and go too.
“I remember when I started tattooing everyone was getting tribal tattoos, nautical stars and lower back butterfly or dolphin tattoos,” Weigle said. “Now I see infinity knots, dandelions, dreamcatchers and feathers with little birds flying from it, everywhere.”
Weigle said that some trends don’t hold up well over time.
“Some of the not so good trends – tiny tattoos, white tattoos and finger tattoos – are hard to accomplish and over time can bleed together or completely fade away,” Weigle said, adding that popular areas right now to get tattoos include, ribs, thighs and the upper abs area or ‘under-boob’ location as its referred to.
Chris Livesay just got his second tattoo of Slash, a guitarist best known for his work with Guns N’ Roses. He said his first Slash tattoo, which he got last year at the age of 18, took about 45 minutes. The one he just got took 3.5 hours.
“He’s the reason I play guitar, the reason I do a lot of stuff, he’s my main inspiration, my role model,” Livesay said. “I’ve looked up to him since I was 4 or 5 years old, he just means something to me.”
As tattoos have become more socially acceptable, more tattoo shops have popped up around Hanover. Jim Smith, owner of Absolutely Skin Images said that he rented a shop on Broadway in 1991 and then bought his current shop on Carlisle St. in 1993. He said when he opened his shop, there was a tattoo shop in Baltimore, one in Chambersburg and one in Columbia across the Susquehanna. Now, there are a handful just in Hanover. And according to Smith, many of the tattoo artists working in Hanover worked with him at some point.
Smith said that over the years, thanks to the internet and television, tattoos have become more acceptable and more popular. Tattoo size has also changed over the years, Smith said. Now it’s not uncommon for people to get a “sleeve”. A half sleeve is a tattoo that covers the arm from the shoulder to the elbow and a full sleeve is a tattoo that covers the shoulder to the wrist.
“We see more and more of this and actually built our prices accordingly,” Smith said. “We now have a half day rate of 4 hours for $250 or a full day rate of 8 hours for $400. An artist would rather spend a half day or a full day working on one big masterpiece than doing a bunch of hand-sized tattoos.”
For some, the ink on their body is personal and hidden and discreet; and for others, their tattoos help explain who they are to the world.
“The best part about getting a tattoo is knowing that you’re changing your body forever, and that’s an exciting feeling to me,” Ally May said.
- Never come in intoxicated or under the influence of drugs including heavy painkillers and nerve blockers. It actually makes the tattoo process worse when you take those medications for the purpose of blocking out the pain of the tattoo.
- Always know the name of the artist you are referred to and ask for them when you call or come in. Artists always like to know about referrals!
- Always have an idea of what you want design-wise before you make your appointment. The more you have to show the artist and the clearer and more precise your vision is, the better the artist can achieve the tattoo you want.
- Always have good hygiene.
- Always tip your artist. There really is no set percentage or amount associated with this, it is purely at the clients discretion based on how pleased they are with the services. Cash is always preferred over credit, but artists appreciate it however they get it.