Now you’re inking |

Now you’re inking

Caramie Schnell
Matt IndenJustin Martin, owner of the Eagle-Vail Ink Lounge above Paddys restaurant, fills in a tattoo on The Vail Trails tattoo guinea pig, Mollie.

Mollie (not her real name) isn’t as wholesome as she seems on first glance. Though you probably wouldn’t guess it upon meeting her, she has three tattoos already hidden beneath her attire – and she’s about to get her fourth. Hunched over, she listens intently to the soothing voice of the tattoo artist. Although it’s not her first tattoo, her slightly red face betrays her nervousness. After all, each tattoo experience is a little different, Mollie says. I was a little nervous before I got (to the shop) – anticipation I guess. I wasn’t nervous about getting the actual tattoo, so much, because I’ve gotten them before and I like getting them. As with anything, people prepare themselves for the worst so they’re not surprised or caught off guard.More surprising than Mollie’s tattoo is where she is getting it – no, not where she’s getting it on her body, but where it’s being done. Vail, which long lacked any kind of tattoo culture, now has a tattoo parlor of its own: The Eagle-Vail Ink Lounge, located above Paddy’s in the Eagle-Vail business center. As Justin Martin, the owner of The Lounge, finally touches the needle to Mollie’s skin, she relaxes. The characteristic buzzing noise fills the office and she begins to crack jokes and laugh a bit more. As with most things in life, the anticipation loomed larger than what the actual event warranted. He was very informative, he always let me know what he was doing before he did it, Mollie says. He was a lot gentler and didn’t dig into me like the last guy did. This is not surprising, considering Martin’s experience in the business. Though he’s been in the tattoo industry since 2002 (when he began his apprenticeship), he spent four years in Los Angeles training as a comic book artist and has a significant artistic background – My first memory is of drawing. I was three years old when my mother put a pencil in my hand.I published my first comic in ’98. But I realized pretty quick that with comic books, you can’t make a living. I saw tattooing as a way to take the art and be a professional and actually go out and make a living.After Martin’s apprenticeship at The Outer Layer in Glenwood Springs, he purchased half stake in Pinz and Needlez, another tattoo shop in Glenwood, and renamed it Mountain Ink. All of last year Martin, along with his apprentice Brandon Combs, commuted from Edwards to Glenwood on a daily basis. This spring Martin sold the Glenwood shop and now works six miles from his home at his newest business venture.Having the shop up here has been great. We’re just getting the word out, getting fliers in people’s hands, Martin says. I definitely see a future here.The most difficult obstacle Martin had with opening a shop in the county was finding the right spot (read: affordable). In former days tattoos were thought of as very urban, and a tattoo parlor might have been associated with a kind of lifestyle not appreciated in the sunny mountains. But tattoos, and local attitudes toward them, seem to be changing, Martin says. We have had people say, Oh my God, it’s too urban,’ but those people are in the minority. The majority of people are like, we need this up here, we need something quality.’So far, Martin says his demographics have been all over the place – from 16-year-old’s flanked by a parent to 60-year-old’s that have wanted a tattoo for most of their lives. We do have our bikers that come in, but we get more kids coming in with their mothers than we do bikers. Lately I’ve tattooed students, an acupuncturist, a construction business owner, and a single-mother. Ninety percent of the tattoos are completely customized – the idea might come from a picture, but by the time it gets on the skin, it’s completely unique.The missing ink

Tattoos may be new to the valley, but they’re older than history.The word tattoo actually comes from the Tahitian word tatu, which means to mark something. According to, the first tattoo machine was invented by Thomas Edison and eventually improved upon by Samuel O’Reilly in 1891. Present-day tattoo machines work by using groups of small needles dipped in ink. The needle inserts a small drop of ink about an 1/8 inch below the skin at a rate of 3,000 punctures per minute. Most scientists believe that tattooing goes back as far as 12,000 B.C. The earliest tattoos can be found in Egypt during the same time the great pyramids were being constructed. As the Egyptian empire spread, so did the art of tattooing – to Crete, Greece, Persia, Arabia and finally to China. Each civilization utilized tattooing for different purposes – the Greeks for communication among spies, the Romans to mark their criminals and slaves and in Japan tattooing eventually developed into a religious and ceremonial right.According to the book The Man in the Ice (Conrad Spindler, 1994, New York, Harmony Books), a group of hikers discovered a mummified body in the Otzal Alps in the south Tyrol of Italy in 1991. At first authorities thought the man was of modern origin but carbon dating showed the iceman probably lived around 3,300 B.C. The iceman also sported blue tattoos on several areas of his body – wrist, spine, knee, calf, heel, foot and ankle. Colored paste made with charcoal was rubbed into wounds on the skin. Archeologists believe that the tattoos were not solely used for artistic purposes, but may have also been used as treatment for aching joints. Dr. Paul Shankman, a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has been studying tattooing, especially as it relates to Samoan culture, since the mid-60s. If you look at the South Pacific and especially Polynesia, tattooing was a very ancient custom and this is where Europeans got their own ideas about tattooing.When Dr. Shankman first began traveling to Samoa to study tattoos, he found that very few younger generation Samoans were tattooed. Though it was an important part of their culture, missionaries frowned upon it. The practice of tattooing was actually dying out and then, beginning in the ’70s, there was a real revival of tattooing.Today, Dr. Shankman says that many Samoans living in the U.S. travel back to the islands to get tattooed. Traditional Samoan tattoo artists oftentimes travel to America just to tattoo young Samoan men and women. Traditionally tattoos functioned as a mark of manhood, before the Europeans arrived. It signified that you were a man, a warrior, a potential chief, Dr. Shankman says. Today it’s more an identity marker, it says I am a real Samoan, I’m not just a Samoan in name only, I’m willing to go through this ritual and ordeal to show I’m committed to Samoan culture.’Samoan tattoos themselves are quite extensive, especially for young men. For guys the tattoo extends from the lower back around to just below your navel and all the way down to just below the knees, including everything in between.The process, which usually takes two to three weeks to complete, is quite painful, time consuming and expensive. Dr. Shankman says that non-Samoan people in the U.S. are more likely to get tattoos as a way of asserting their independence and individuality, rather than an attempt to fit into a larger culture or society. It’s about making a personal statement, whereas for Samoans, it’s about making a social statement.

Martin and Dr. Shankman agree that there’s a cultural-shift taking place regarding people’s perceptions of tattoos.I saw (a tattoo) the other day on a friend who is in their late 50’s, so I agree, tattoos are becoming much more acceptable, Dr. Shankman says. In the ’60s I can remember going to meetings where people were giving papers on tattooing and it was considered lower class – gang members, bikers, prison population, social deviance. Now it’s very much a part of mainstream culture, though not everybody accepts tattoos, of course.Martin admits as well that there is still some prejudice when it comes to tattoos.I have people come in and say keep it under the unemployment line,’ which he says is a reference to the neckline and the fact that a tattoo above the neckline can keep a person unemployed. Another indication of a shift in perceptions is a show set to premiere on The Learning Channel on July 19 called Miami Ink. According to the channel’s website, the reality show will look at the inside workings of a tattoo parlor and the customers that frequent the shop. The show features four tattoo artists who open a custom tattoo parlor together. Clients on the show include 18-year-old teens, suburban housewives, famous actors and professionals. The Arts and Entertainment Channel, A&E, is also starting a similar show called Inked.Back in The Lounge, Mollie says that she’s not interested in making a big show of her tattoos – on TV or even in the newspaper (which is why we’re not showing her face or using her real name for this story). While she probably wouldn’t get a tattoo on an area of her body that would always be visible, it’s not a matter of caring what people think. Instead it’s a matter of preference. I like things to be hidden. Getting glimpses of it is more intriguing than having it totally exposed, she says. Plus, I don’t think that having a tattoo determines what you’re capable of, or your personality.As the buzzing of the tattoo gun quiets, Mollie cranes her neck around to see the newest artistic addition to her body. For Mollie, an artist herself, the Chinese symbols tattooed on her back are the newest outward expression of her inner artist.It’s very delicate, I like that. It’s perfect. The characters mean creative imagination,’ which is meaningful when it comes to my life.As Mollie quips, its about time this valley got hip to the tat. Caramie Schnell can be reached at

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