From Tainted Stain to Art Form

From Tainted Stain
to Tantalizing Art FormLocal Tattoo Artists Put Their Stamp
on the Emerald Coast  By Rachel Bruce

Ink, needles, bare skin and an open mind are what one needs to appreciate the art of tattooing. Tracing back nearly 5,000 years, forms of tattoo art have been around since ancient Egyptian life. But even while tattoos have been around for thousands of years, the idea of decorating bodies with permanent ink remains controversial.

“I’m just not quite finished yet,” says Jim Wolfe, owner of Tattoo Zoo in Fort Walton Beach. Photo by Scott Holstein

While the tattoo business once thrived only during tourist season, it’s now turned into a year-round success, said Jeff Bullard, owner of Tattoos Forever. Shops like Tattoos Forever and Tattoo Zoo, both located in downtown Fort Walton Beach on Miracle Strip Parkway, are popular places for military and locals, as well as tourists. “It used to be that tattooing was most popular amongst tourists in the spring and summer, and winter seasons would be slow. But now, it’s become so popular that spring break is just a big boost for us,” said Bullard, who sports 35 tattoos.

A tattoo artist for more than 20 years, Bullard opened the first tattoo shops in Panama City Beach (1993), Destin (1994) and Fort Walton Beach (1996). The 52-year-old Fort Walton Beach native explained that he loved tattoos so much he just hoped he could grow the business. “I thought that someone else would want tattoos just as much as I wanted a business creating tattoos,” he said.

Over the years, he has seen trends come and go. But, generally speaking, the most popular tattoos have been butterflies and roses for women and ancient tribal symbols for men. Depending on the size of the tattoo, prices can range from $50 to whatever people are willing to spend.

For Tattoo Zoo owner Jim Wolfe, tattooing is a lifestyle. “The reason I chose this form of art versus something else is that it’s kind of a mix between the personal interaction with clients and the economics of it. It’s one-on-one with a customer, they will have it forever, and they buy it right there,” he said. The 54-year-old Fort Walton Beach local has a series of tattoos on 75 percent of his body including a spider on the back of his head, Jesus Christ praying on his back, and random letters on his hands. Still, Wolfe confesses, “I’m just not quite finished yet.”

Between his Fort Walton Beach and Crestview locations Jeff Bullard showcases the talents of eight tattoo and piercing artists. Photo by Scott HolsteinBetween his Fort Walton Beach and Crestview locations Jeff Bullard showcases the talents of eight tattoo and piercing artists. Photo by Scott Holstein

Both shop owners urged prospective customers to put thought into getting a tattoo before they make the plunge. Because it’s permanent, they want their customers to love what they have selected or designed.

These “ink” artists recommend their clients take time to look through the thousands of graphics available and consider putting their own personal twist on their favorite, so the design is original and represents who they are.

The artistic aspect of applying tattoos is what Wolfe enjoys most. “I’m making a mark on someone who wants it forever,” he said. He’s glad to see more people “warming up” to the art of tattoos and to see that it’s becoming much more mainstream.

Not surprisingly, Wolfe has never appreciated the way people stereotype those who choose tattoos. He recalled a client from the early ’80s, a well-respected businessman whose suit covered his many tattoos because he was afraid of others’ reactions to his body art. “That was when people really didn’t like the look of people with tattoos,” Wolfe said.

These tattoo aficionados say their clientele runs the gamut from musicians and sailors to attorneys and doctors. Bullard describes the average customer as being 25 to 30 years old, eclectic and open-minded.

Fort Walton Beach local Angela Harper is a mother in her early 30s and a regular at Tattoos Forever. “I got my first tattoo in 1997 because I wanted something for my boyfriend at the time. Since then I just get things that mean something to me,” she said. Harper has seven tattoos — two of them are her children’s names — and likes the idea of permanently stamping her body with things that mean so much to her. “The way everyone judges people these days, especially women, is so awful. But I still have to deal with the reality, so I put my tattoos in places where I can hide them,” she said.

Putting tattoos in the right place is very important cautions Bullard. Depending on the person’s work environment, at the least, visible stamps could send negative vibes to some employers. At the worst, they could be against company policy.

But for Bullard, giving someone a tattoo is an honor. “I’m making a mark on someone that they’re going to carry with them until the day they die. That’s such a profound thing that someone wants to wear your art and carry it around forever,” he said.


Think Before You Ink

Before stamping Make sure you’ve put a lot of thought into a tattoo. Knowing what you want is very important to the artist as well. Keep in mind that tattoos on lips or skin that’s frequently exposed to the sun will fade.

How to prepare It’s like a medical procedure. Get a good night’s sleep; eat a good breakfast. Don’t come in with a sun burn to get a tattoo.

Post stamp Stay off the beach and out of the sun. Avoid heavily chlorinated water. Clean the tattoo with a soft soap and moisturize the area with a non-perfumed lotion. The healing process takes up to 10 days.