Local Tattoo Artists Help Clients Express Themselves
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photography / Breezy Photography and Provided
Although Monte gravitated towards art all his life, he never considered tattooing as a career. Instead, he worked as a professional illustrator/designer.
“Tattooing wasn’t at the top of my list of choices,” says Monte, “but it is interesting how life can silently guide you in directions you didn’t see as possible.”
Realizing graphic design wasn’t his true passion, Monte began a tattoo apprenticeship in 1997 and emblazoned his first tattoo.
“Becoming a tattoo artist crept up on me,” says Monte. “Honestly, I didn’t see it coming, but once it grabbed hold of me, I’ve never looked back.”
Working countless tattoo trade shows and being published all over the world, Monte acquired quite the notoriety early in his career and was even awarded ‘Best Tattooist’ by the NTA (National Tattoo Association) in 2001.
He’s now been in the business for 26 years and opened Vault 74 Tattoo in 2019. It’s a hybrid studio as they offer project appointments and accommodate walk-ins as well.
Vault 74 Tattoo currently hosts the works of three additional artists – Jose Flores, Ryan “Sketch” Martin, and Sergio. They are versed in all tattoo styles – traditional, photo realism, line art, and both big and small designs.
Delaney, co-owner of Pink Inkk Collective Tattoo Studio, also showed artistic prowess early on. As a kid she used to take Sharpies to school and draw on her classmates. By her teenage years, her drawings looked quite realistic and she began to consider pursuing a career as a tattoo artist following high school.
She was given the opportunity to occupy an empty booth and began teaching herself in a professional environment observing and absorbing various techniques and styles of her fellow artists.
Now she co-owns Pink Inkk Collective Tattoo Studio with Zakk Phillips (nicknamed DK for the double K). DK has been in the industry for more than a decade. Delaney specializes in feminine line work, while her co-owner loves doing realism and black-and-gray, fully shaded pieces.
“We’re at opposite ends of the spectrum,” she says. “DK passes dainty and floral to me, and I pass realism to him.”
Before inking a tattoo, Delaney asks to clients fill out a questionnaire, inquiring about budget, tattoo size and placement. She also asks how long they are comfortable sitting, and what they want to achieve.
“An artist needs to be able to draw because not everyone has a Pinterest folder full of references,” she says. “Someone might say, ‘I want this memorial tattoo. Here are five things that remind me of my mom. Can you create something out of that?’ That’s my favorite part of the job.”
When Monte first started in the industry, there were things called ‘flash racks’ which were laminated cards with various tattoo design ideas. People would look through those and get their ideas. Now clients generally go online and check out an artist’s portfolio to get see the type of work they can do. People then come into a studio with pictures saved on their phones to demonstrate what they want.
Delaney’s client, Ellen Robison, says Delaney changed the way she viewed getting tattooed.
“I was instantly relieved when I walked into the shop and was met with a friendly, supportive, knowledgeable young tattoo artist,” says Robison. “Not only is Delaney a delight to be with, she’s also a skilled tattoo artist who works quickly and helps keep pain to a minimum.”
Stephanie Baker met Monte 20 years ago and was in awe of his talent.
“He had won a ton of awards and his art was beautiful,” says Baker, who has tattoos on her arms, feet, chest, and neck.
“I got a neck tattoo because I never wanted to work somewhere that wouldn’t allow tattoos,” Baker says. “I love that I can look at a tattoo and remember what life was like at the time I got it, remember an event or person that inspired that tattoo, or smile because it was some silly tattoo that I got just because it made me laugh.”
In the past, the word “tattoo” might have inspired thoughts of anchors, skulls and pinup girls. Now, however, not only is the sky the limit when it comes to tattoo designs, but people are also proud to display and talk about their artwork. Part of this can be credited to reality television shows that highlighted the artistry of tattoos in shows such as InkMaster.
“Years ago, a parent may have pulled their child close while in line at the store if they saw they had a tattoo,” Monte says. “Now, it’s more likely that a child will notice a tat and say, ‘Hey, that looks like yours, mommy!’”
According to Monte, varieties of professionals have always sought out tattoos, including doctors, lawyers even priests. What is changing, however, is public perception. That extends to workplace rules surrounding the visibility of tattoos.
“IU Health now allows their staff to show their tattoos,” Delaney says. “It’s cool to see nurses coming out of the woodwork, telling me that they have wanted a tat on their forearm and had to wait 25 years to get it.”
Tattoos often generate an emotion or a feeling, and this is often precisely why people want to show them off.
Birth flowers and butterflies are some of the most common designs that clients request. Crosses, hearts, semicolons, and infinity symbols also top the list. One of the most precious jobs Delaney has taken on is a full chest cover-up for her former school counselor following her double mastectomy.
“That was one of the first big pieces I tackled as an artist and I was so happy she chose me to do it,” Delaney says.
She also does a lot of tats for women who have escaped emotionally or physically abusive relationships.
“They’ll get something to build their confidence,” she says.
“Tattoos share all aspects of our lives,” says Monte. “You figure out the world together when you spend that amount of time in a chair. Memorial tattoos are always special with a client when they share stories of their loved ones, and fun tattoos for no reason make for an enjoyable experience as well.”
Monte also has some memorable stories of his own, like the time he went to Ozzfest and tattooed two members of the heavy metal band Pantera – late guitarist Dimebag Darrell, and bass player Rex Brown.
“We got the VIP experience, hung out and tattooed them in the green room,” says Monte, who is currently working on a couple of different tattoo body suits, one of which is for a client who’s doing 75% of his body in Lord of the Rings images.
“It’s all black and grey,” Monte says. “It’s conceptual photo-realism type design for the way it moves across his body. He lives in Colorado and comes here three to five times a year. I’ve been tattooing this beast for over seven years.”
“In the style that I do most, it’s kind of like a 360 degree painting where the client is the canvas – a piece of paper that talks back to you,” he says.
Pink Inkk Collective Tattoo Studio is located at 3115 Meridian Parke Drive, Suite G in Greenwood. For more information, call 317-743-8169 or find them on Facebook and Instagram.
Vault 74 Tattoo is located at 3130 Meridian Parke Drive, Suite E in Greenwood. For more information, visit vault74tattoo.com or find them on social media: Instagram: @vault74tattoo