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Tattoos more acceptable, profitable

Cloud Nine, Ivory Tower, Smiling Buddha build strong Boro base of clients

                 Once upon a time, tattoos were taboo. A man with a tattoo was considered rakish and women simply did not have one.

                Well, times have changed.

                Satetesboro tattoo artists are enjoying a thriving business, with a clientele that includes grandparents and quite a few females. What was once considered shameful and daring by some is now widely accepted as an art form and way of expressing one's personality.

                The Boro is home to three successful tattoo businesses where the artists have seen some changes over the years in both the styles of tattoos in demand and the clientele seeking the permanent forms of body art.

                Ivory Tower's Ross Craven has tattooed for 14 years, the past 11 in Statesboro. His clientele includes rap stars Nelly, Camouflage and Pastor Troy;  football star Adrian Petersen and rising country music star Eric Lee Beddingfield, who is also from Statesboro.

                He's seen it all, he said.

                "Nothing in the tattoo industry could be called unusual," he said. "I've done anything from fish hooks and bobbers, memorials and bar codes."

                Greg Aksdal, owner of Smiling Buddha Tattoos, said one of his most unusual tattoos was "a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from a tack on the back of a guy's head." He also did a rubber duck with a sailor's hat.

                Stephen Waters with Cloud Nine said he has created a scientific diagram of a mosquito on a man's arm, a heart on a pinky finger and "a pair of angel wings, old and raggedy, with the spinal cord showing" on a man's back.

                But the most common tattoos aren't quite that controversial.

                Waters, a tattoo artist for three years, specializes in lettering and flowers, and said those are popular right now.  Aksdal said his clients ask for mostly flowers, butterflies and colorful designs on their lower backs if they are female, and "religious, oriental style, dragons and koi fish" for the men.

                Craven said memorial tattoos are hot at the moment, as are custom designs.

                "Yesterday's tattoos like barbed wire, roses, the Tasmanian devil" are fading in popularity now that reality shows featuring tattoos show people there are more options. People are becoming more enlightened and realize "you don't have to get a stick figure," Craven said. "Tattoos are becoming a highly collectible art form."

                "There is more individuality, and we're trying to push that," he said. "Ninety percent of our clients will walk in with the subject matter in hand or will talk to us about a design."

                Tattoos cost anywhere from $30 to thousands, depending upon the parlor and how large – and time consuming – the tattoo is.

                The minimum for a tattoo at Ivory Tower is $45, and the really large ones cost $100 an hour, Craven said. He once did a tattoo that took 40 hours.

                Smiling Buddha tattoos start at $45, said Aksdal, who has been in the business since 1999. Waters said his smallest and most simple tattoos start at $30. Size and location as well as how intricate the pattern is affects the price as well, he said.

                Who is getting tattoos these days? Aksdal said his clientele ranges "from 18 to people in their 70's."

                "In the last 10 to 15 years it's changed drastically," he said. "It used to be 18 to 30, but now tattoos have gotten more accepted. A lot more middle aged people are getting them."

                Waters said the oldest client he tattooed is 64.  Craven said most of his clients are from 18 to the middle 30s but he has worked on older clients.

                Surprisingly, while Georgia Southern University students do make up a large percentage of customers, the tattoo business is not reliant on the university business alone.

                Business from university students is seasonal, Aksdal said. Waters said Cloud Nine's business attracts a great number of students due to its location at University Plaza, near campus.

                Ivory Tower is located just off Fair Road near the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Center, on Max Lockwood Drive. Smiling Buddha is located on Ga. 67, across from the Kiwanis fairgrounds.

                Is getting a tattoo safe? Yes, Craven said. As a matter of fact, he was instrumental in getting Bulloch County to set guidelines for tattoo parlors.

                "We use a new needle for each client," he said. "Everything is sterile, and we use a whole new setup for each individual, as required by law."

                "The health department requires each artist and shop to have a permit," said Aksdal.

                The artist must be certified in first aid, blood borne pathogens, CPR and pass a background check, he said. Also, artists must be tested annually for hepatitis B and C, HIV and tuberculosis, he said.

                Each tattooist considers his work as art.

                "It's absolutely a form of art," Waters said. "I pride myself in being an artist. If you don't have an artistic ability, you shouldn't be in this line of work."

                Craven said a great deal of time and effort is put into tattoos and for the most part, they are considered art by both the tattooist and the person getting the tattoo.

                And for some, it's an addiction.

                "I have a friend – his name is Tattoo – who is fully covered," he siad. "He has 340 tattoos but he considers it to be just one."

                Tattoos – for both the creator and the client – are "a form of self-expression," Aksdal said. "Tattoos are not like they were 30 or 40 years ago. There is a greater emphasis on custom tattoos, and better quality artwork."

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