My first tattoo was in first grade when I was on the receiving end of a pencil fight. That dark mark is still visible today on the palm of my left hand. It would be another twenty years before I received another. But my experience has been that once you receive your first tattoo (whether planned or not) you keep coming back.
There are countless tattoo tales about a secret ingredient added to the pigment that makes recipients crave more ink. Others say it is something indefinable in the tattoo studio’s environs that acts as a mojo to draw unsuspecting innocents back repeatedly to replicate their original transformational experience. Or as Stoney St. Clair simply stated at the end of each of his tattoos, “You’ll be back. I put ‘come back’ in the ink.”
That was certainly true for Elisabeth Weinzirl, who returned to the Grimm studio every year while her husband attended an AMA convention. A true exhibitionist she would pull down her top or lift her skirt anytime and anywhere to show off her belly spider web or her dophins jumping across her buttucks.
Oregon, with over 1,000 licensed tattoo artists (and with tattoo equipment readily available online now, probably 1,000 more working away in their apartments, basements and at parties and raves) is talent heavy from top to bottom. Tom Slick and Terry Tweed held court in SE Portland for many years. Other tattoo royalty that worked in the state for decades, were Bert Grimm, Rio diGennaro, Bones, Don Nolan, Cliff Raven, Jack Armstrong and Don Deaton. The region has attracted a second generation of world class artists from near and far and now includes women among the ranks. Women in tattooing 30 years ago were so rare, that only the wives of current tattooers were given a pass. When Vyvyn Lazonga opened her own shop in Seattle, it was shocking to the old guard.
When I expressed interest in learning, Bert Grimm’s wife, Julia, said it would ruin my reputation and I would never be able to marry. She finally relented when my then boyfriend signed a paper that said it wouldn’t prevent him from marrying me some time down the road.
Today the female ranks rival those of the men both in numbers and talent. Many people are originally drawn to the tattoo profession because it is fluid. You can literally pick up your machine and hit the road. I have always felt that there is an energy vortex in the Pacific Northwest that draws tattoo artists to the active scene, and once they get a feel for the place, most just stay put and join the Oregon family. I started my career in 1978 and so this marks my 40th anniversary of pushing ink. As any artist, we grow and develop as our skills and desires evolve, but this nurturing artistic environment lures tattooers and their collectors, many of whom make Oregon their permanent home.