By Anna Sadovskaya, Senior Arts Editor
It was once the mark of a sailor: the washed-
out anchor on rough skin served as a permanent
reminder of grimy life at sea. It used to be the sign
of a gang-member: embedded designs announced
his loyalties before him. It travelled through
prison systems and biker bars, igniting a sense of
unease in the hearts of those outside. And now, it
resides on the inner bicep of a 21-year-old as an
expression of individuality.
"What people miss is that human beings have
been tattooing their bodies from day one, and
it comes from a very aboriginal rite of passage,
where we mark moments in time, a period in our
life, with a tattoo," said Jeff Zuck, tattoo artist and
owner of Name Brand Tattoo. "It's really not that
bizarre if we break it down to the roots of it. This
is our body, we've adorned it forever."
Though an ancient practice, tattoo artistry has
long been shrouded in mystery and taboo, only
recently seeing a refined emergence on college
students, young professionals and even business-
men and women who are enticed by the glowing
"Tattoo Parlor" signs. According to Zuck, who
was himself motivated by the gradual shift in tat-
too culture, this is the tattoo movement.
"I started tattooing at my house, and it's not
something I recommend to anyone," Zuck said.
"I didn't have tutelage, but that is how I started.
I've been tattooing 20 years, and 20 years ago, it
was just starting to be at that point where you
would see tattoos on interesting people: skate
boarders, people I look up to, musicians ... And
they were not so much the stereotypical biker,
druggie, criminal, and it started to be on people
that, in my young age, I thought to be very inspi-
Leap to ink
Brad Nugent, a tattoo artist at Lucky Monkey
Tattoo Parlour, like Zuck, started out tattooing
on his own, at home, with needles and an exacto
knife. His left arm is a tribute to his adolescent
experimentation as a "scratcher," or an unex-
perienced tattoo artist who ends up with a rough
tattoo as opposed to the graceful semblance of a
"I had a friend who was in a gang, and he had a
lot of gangtattoos: pitchforks and crowns and stuff.
And he said he had done it himself, and I said 'how'd
you do that?' And what you do is you take one nee-
dle, three needles, five needles and you wrap them
in thread and then you leave the amount of needle
exposed that you want penetrating the skin and
then you'd dip it in ink," Nugent walked through
the process, miming the needles fitting into the car-
tridge of an opened exacto knife.
Nugent spent years struggling as a rebellious teen
before he realized his true calling as a tattoo art-
ist. Going through school for refrigeration and air
conditioning in New York, Nugent took an art elec-
tive class where his creative talent came through
in a still-life assignment - where he drew his tat-
too equipment. Nugent's teacher took notice and
encouraged him to pursue his artistic interests.
"He said, 'What are you doing? Refrigeration, air
conditioning? Really? Don't you make art? Try to do
something with your art."'
Nugent quickly realized he was prepared to take
the leap into ink artistry. After years of forming
contacts, working at the art every day and losing
a side job, Nugent got into his groove and paid his
dues, finally settling into his career as a tattoo artist
at Lucky Monkey in Ann Arbor. He chose the small
University city because, aside from being a college
town, Ann Arbor is also home to tattoo-changing
artists and styles.
Types of tattoos such as tribal, Americana, black
and grey, traditional Japanese styles and gore,
among others, are offered in the city's many parlors,
with tattoo artists spending years honing their craft.
"I started studying (Japanese-style tattooing)
maybe 10, 12 years ago in the traditional sense ...
really emulatingethat style," Zuck said. "I've recently
taken a break from that and people continue to ask
who else there is to go to. I have one person who's
been working under me for five years who actually
understands that, grasps that and comes close to
that (style of tattooing). Outside of that, people are
going to have to travel a few states away, even to the
coast, to find someone that qualified."
Tony Caporusso, a traditional American tattoo
artist at Lucky Monkey Tattoo Parlour, described
his succession into tattoo territory as a fixation;
after his first tattoo at 18, he was hooked. Capo-
russo quit his job in advertising to pursue his call-
ing - hunched over shoulders, arms and elsewhere,
spreading ink into their skin, creating art.
"I've always been'an artist and an illustrator,
and as soon as I turned 18, I got my first tattoo. I
got more interested in the culture and the history
of tattooing and the art that went along with it,"
Caporusso said. "I started replicating traditional
flash and over the years of collecting tattoos, I just
got obsessed. It overtook my profession to the point
where I couldn't think about anything else and I
had to pursue that career change."
This dedication to their craft, along with help
from popular media (such as TLC's "LA Ink" and
photo sharing on Instagram) is providing the world
with a clear look into tattooing, with unprecedented
access to artists, their styles and their shops.
The tattoo renaissance
But this resurgence has been a long time coming
for some. To become a true artist, it takes years of
practice and continuous work, building up a port-
folio so a tattoo studio will take them on. Tattooists
just starting outhave the typicalhardships associat-
ed with starting a new career, along with the added
bonus ofneeding others to practice on.
"I had an opportunity at one point to apprentice
under Hot Stuff Deluxe in Texas, where I lived out
there for 12 years," Nugent recalled. "I didn't really
jump on the opportunity, because I didn't realize
what was in front of me and how hard it is to get an
apprenticeship, what kinds of sacrifices you have to
make in your life: doing grunt work for a year, not
even tattooing, just making artwork, stencils, filling
See INK'D, Page 38