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Love leaves a mark

Grade A Tattoo’s Heart for Heart’s Day helps out the American Heart Association

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2005-02-07


They say true love lasts forever, and perhaps there’s no greater proof of your eternal devotion — to your spouse, to your significant other, heck, to your favorite make of automobile — than displaying a permanent reminder of it on your skin. Grade A Tattoos is giving people a unique opportunity to show their affection with Heart for Heart’s Day on February 14th. “We’re going to open at 12:01 a.m. and we’re going to be tattooing for the next 24 hours,” says Jackie Gould, co-owner of Grade A.

It’s not only a chance to prove your love and devotion; it’s also a chance to help out with a good cause. “There’s a minimal $20 set-up fee that covers cost of ink, the equipment, and the sterilization. After that, we’re asking for a free-will offering, with all the proceeds going to the American Heart Association,” Gould says.

Clients can choose from 69 basic heart designs, and they’re not all hearts and flowers. Anti-romantics, the unattached, and the broken-hearted can customize their message to reflect their own personality and outlook.

The 69 tattoos are based on classic designs credited to a guy named Sailor Jerry, who worked in California and Honolulu around World War II. They’re small but striking, with sort of a retro look to them. “They’re just no nonsense designs,” says Jeff Stumpp, one of the tattoo artists at Grade A. “They’re what we consider classics — bold lines, simple colors, and dark shading. They’re designed to stand the test of time. As the body changes, the tattoo will age with the person.”

It’s no secret that tattoos have made their mark on the mainstream in the last few years. Not long ago, they were the province of sailors, bikers, street gangs, metal heads, and members of the armed forces. But now… “It’s definitely not as outlaw as it used to be,” Stumpp says, adding that these days, tattoos and piercings (which Grade A also does) can show up on some unlikely people. He tells the story of a 40ish “CPA-type guy” who came in, asking about piercings. Stumpp assumed the guy was asking for his son or daughter — until he saw the tiny silver barbell in his tongue. Stumpp apologized. “Every time you think you can stereotype someone, a person will walk in with something you don’t expect.”

“A few years ago, you didn’t see moms bringing in their 17-year-olds in to get tattoos,” says Rich McKenney, another artist at Grade A who does double duty as the studio’s office manager. McKenney says that they’ve had people come in with kids as young as 13 or 14, but Grade A won’t work on anyone under 16. It’s not a legal thing, McKenney explains, it’s more of a maturity thing. “That person is still growing, and you don’t know what they’re going to want in a year. I wouldn’t let my own daughter do it at that age, so why would I do it to someone else’s daughter?” For the record, tattooing someone under 18 requires the presence of a parent in the room.

But if tattoos aren’t as underground as they used to be, there’s still a stigma attached to it. The image of the grubby tattooist working in a dimly lit hovel may be a cliché, but it’s still a prevalent one. That might explain why Jackie Gould runs such a tight ship. Tucked into the unthreatening environs of the Marketplace at Canterbury, the well-lit studio is practically gleaming. She opened Grade A several years ago with her son. “I said, ‘if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.’” Doing it right includes compliance with all the rules and regulations of the industry. “We’re the only studio in Indiana that’s approved by the Association of Professional Piercers,” she says. “That’s a long process to get in there. Our sterilization room is used in the training video for OSHA.”

In fact, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) visits Grade A once a year to give a seminar. Devoting six hours to the principles of sterilization and infection control isn’t the Grade A artists’ idea of a fun day, but they do it — it’s not only good for Grade A itself, but for the profession in general. “Artists today are a lot more concerned about making sure things are sterile, they’re more knowledgeable about the equipment, and they’re more knowledgeable about anatomy,” Stumpp says.

Many of the tattooists — like Stumpp and McKenney — have backgrounds in art, which they say isn’t all that uncommon these days. They’re part of a generation of artists to whom tattooing is simply another creative medium. “Almost every good tattoo artist also works in different mediums. They don’t limit themselves to tattooing. It’s definitely our main focus here, but we can do other things,” says McKenney.

While the artists at Grade A see a lot of “normal types” interested in tattoo work, perhaps the biggest misperception they run into regularly comes from wannabes: people who see tattooing as a sort of lifestyle choice with few qualifications necessary. “People think this is an easy job,” McKenney says. “They don’t know how to draw, they don’t know how to tattoo, but they want to get into it because of what they think is the lifestyle. But it’s not a lifestyle. It’s a skill.”

More information on Grade a can be found at www.gradeatattoos.com

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