Maureen McMullen, Multimedia journalism
Tattoos used to be an art form worn only by members of counter-cultures determined to rebel against a mainstream lifestyle, which is a nicer way of phrasing what an older relative once told me upon seeing my newly-laid ink: “In my day, the only people with tattoos were sailors and hookers!” But with tattoos leaving subcultures and appearing more often in the main stream, No Coast Tattoo sticks to its roots in a growing industry.
When No Coast Tattoo opened its doors in May, four local tattoo artists were eager to take an independent approach to their trade. Noah Kilsdonk, Brice Schneider and Tim Lund, who had worked together at 46 and 2 Tattoo, along with Lucas Stram from Addictions Tattoo keeps buzz of tattoo machines constant in Downtown Fargo’s newest tattoo shop.
Hoping to move away from working under someone else in another studios, each member of the artist-owned shop is able to maintain a degree of professional freedom.
“Why not be your own boss?” said Kilsdonk. “That’s the American dream, isn’t it?”
Tattooing transforms as an industry
In his nine years as a tattoo artist, Kilsdonk has watched tattooing evolve as a craft and anindustry. With constant improvement in technique and ingenuity in equipment, the possibilities in the trade continue to expand.
“I think definitely seen it become more of an art form,” said Kilsdonk. “But that could be with the progression of tattooing as an artist.”
With its growth as an art form, changes in the tattoo industry are found not only in the techniques and mastery in their application, but also in the audience on choosing to go “under the needle”.
Tattoos surface in mainstream
Once an art form appearing almost exclusively among those considered to be social
misfits, the etched-on artwork, in the past 20 years, expands past various subcultures and found a place in the mainstream.
“It’s definitely not just the sailors and the bikers who are getting the tattoos,” said Kilsdonk. “It’s the moms and the dads and daughters, sons, doctors, lawyers…everybody.”
Kilsdonk suspects that some of the growth the tattoo industry has seen in the general population could be attributed to the commercialization of flash art (see photo gallery). In the mid-2000’s flash art appeared more and more frequently on merchandise from widely-marketed brands such as Ed Hardy.
“They’re classical designs that had been around long before Ed Hardy tattooed or before whatever the hell that guy’s name is that monopolized those designs,” Kilsdonk said. “But he changed them to the point where it wasn’t the same thing as it started as.”
Ed Hardy brands flash art
The person that Kilsdonk is referring to is French designer Christian Audigier. In 2004, Audigier purchased licensing rights to turn the designs of Don Ed Hardy into the clothing
brand they’re best known for.
Hardy’s designs reflected what Kilsdonk identified as “traditional” or “Americana” style; tattoo designs that elect bold linework and minimalistic lighting and shading and a style found throughout No Coast’s portfolio.
Although Hardy was a student of Sailor Jerry Collins, a tattoo artist widely credited with pioneering traditional American tattoos, some tattoo artists consider his work to be a bastardized version of the style of tattoo.
“Unfortunately with media and popularity of that Ed Hardy designs, which are classical designs that just kind of got tweaked and altered and butchered and weren’t just his designs,” said Kilsdonk.
Tattoos grapple with acceptance as an art form
Despite the growth in popularity in recent years, Kilsdonk said that tattoos still aren’t widely accepted as a form of fine art.
“I definitely think that a lot of the other, you know, classically-trained artists don’t think we’re an art form,” said Kilsdonk.
Brice Schneider, a fellow tattoo artist at No Coast, says much of the doubt of the doubt about tattoos being a fine art form stems from a regional attitude.
“You have to come from the mentality that we’re in Fargo, North Dakota,” said Schneider. “We’re a little behind in everything, not just tattoos; clothing, music…everything.”
Tattoo artists’ utilization of skin as a canvas may lead some people to disregard the trade as a refined art form. But what exactly goes into becoming a tattoo artist? Because it’s a non-traditional profession, it might be easy to underestimate the skill and training involved with a license to put permanent artwork on someone’s skin.
Training culminates lifestyle
Megan Brabec, 22, has been tattooing No Coast customers for little over a month now. Brabec began her apprenticeship at No Coast shortly before graduating from Minnesota
State University Moorhead last year with a Fine Arts degree in painting.
“It’s fun for me because I’ve always been involved in the arts and I’ve always been involved with painting,” said Brabec. “It’s fun for me to compare the two things that I grew up doing and what I’m doing now.”
As more people began bringing their designs to Kilsdonk for references, he became both familiar and impressed with her work. While apprenticeships are often competitive and hard to come by, Brabec’s dedication to the ark set her apart.
“There’s not much room for slacking,” said Brabec. “It’s the same thing and as a fine arts artist; I don’t see a difference between the fine arts like that. I see tattooing as fine art form, but that’s always a debatable thing.”
Apprenticeships build thick skin
Tattoo apprenticeships typically take two to three years to complete, and Brabec is on her seventh month. Initially, her role as shop apprentice mostly involved drawing, cleaning, and enduring plenty of guff from your mentors.
“You want to start from the beginning and work your way up from drawing to cleaning toilets and doing run-of-the-mill stuff which develops you as a person in this industry,” said Kilsdonk. “Yeah, I’m going to yell at the apprentice once or twice; if they don’t listen to my demands, they’re not going to listen to a customer’s demands.”
Though tattoo apprentices often find themselves at the butt of the shop’s jokes, Brabec said that it’s mostly light-hearted banter.
“They’re not bullies to me or anything like that,” said Brabec. “You get a lot of shit to build up a thicker skin; it’s all just keeping in mind that this is short-term, and this is the way an apprenticeship goes.”
Edited by Madalyn Laske, MSUM Multimedia Journalism major