Updated: 6 days ago
As our business continues to grow, I can’t help but reminisce about our humble beginnings. So, here’s a short story of how it all started and how we’ve gotten to where we are today.
When Carrie and I met, we were working at one of Oshkosh’s oldest tattoo institutions, Steves Tattoo. We were a couple of young tattooers, working side by side, sharing a booth at a busy street shop. There were a bunch of others working there then, but I always found myself bouncing ideas off of Carrie. Maybe I just wanted an excuse to talk to her. I’ve always been inspired by her art and perspective. Unfortunately, the good times can’t last forever. Changes were coming, and we had no idea.
The tattoo industry, like any other, can be volatile. Our mentor, my teacher, was forced to close his studio here, and Carrie and I had to make a difficult choice. To either take an offer to relocate to Madison to open a studio for our former employer, or to go it alone and do our own thing. The universe seems to have its way of sending signals and opening doors at important moments in our lives. In my case, 6 months before we found ourselves without a shop, I had lost my mother after her 2-year battle with lung cancer. I suppose that experience, along with everything else at the time, seemed to point to the only real option being to roll the dice and see what happens. I think Carrie and I both didn’t want to wonder if our idea of what a tattoo studio could be could work. We definitely didn’t want to live with the regret of not taking our shot when we could.
Through a friend, we secured the buildings that would become our home on North Main St in Oshkosh and went to work carving out our studio. We dove into the deep end, I had no experience with construction or property management. Believe it or not, our current studio space was then a screen printing shop, and in the center of the space was an enormous conveyor t-shirt dryer. Our commercial space has been home to many different businesses throughout its history; from a grocery store to a speakeasy. Perhaps that’s why we’ve always felt so at home.
We opened our doors on April 20th, 2012; and managed to actually do some tattooing! To this day we still have the dated and signed first dollar bill from our first official client hanging on our wall. From the go, it seemed that folks liked what Carrie and I had created, and I’m proud to say that we hit the ground running and haven’t stopped since. A few years in we had to add an assistant to help field calls and handle some of the day-to-day work around the shop, and it was around that time that we decided to add piercing and jewelry to our lineup of offerings. Believe it or not, Carrie trained me to pierce when we worked at Steves! She had gotten her own start in the tattoo industry working at a busy street shop in the Wisconsin Dells where she had first learned to pierce. We found that a lot of people expected piercing services to be offered at every tattoo studio in this area, and wanted to offer our clients more, despite neither of us having the time at that point to pierce ourselves.
Molly joined us a few years after that, first helping out as our assistant. This is generally how people get their first jobs in the tattoo industry; they begin as a client and later sometimes get asked to answer the phone or push a mop. If that goes well, maybe they can take on more. Molly’s bubbly personality and interest in people made her a natural fit for body piercing. So, Carrie took her on as an apprentice and taught her how to pierce. Today as I write this we are both certain the student has become the master, just a few years later. Molly continues to advance in her craft, following the newest information available and bringing her unique aesthetics to our offerings, curating our current jewelry selection online and on display in-store.
During this period we expanded our studio and started hosting guest artists, which was a change for Carrie and me. We had worked exclusively with each other for years at that point and were very comfortable with how each other operated. Bringing in new faces can shake things up, which creatively isn’t always a bad thing. Some of our guests came through more regularly, some just once. It became clear though that everyone has their own ideas about how a tattoo studio should operate, and some of those ideas didn’t coincide with our own.
Since the beginning, we’ve mostly worked by appointment. The tattoos we are often asked to do involve hours of preparation and are not the sort that can be drawn in ten minutes and tattooed in five. Of course, there are also plenty of folks who want a simpler piece. Typically, what shop owners will do is train an apprentice to handle this kind of work, or just hire a newer artist who is starting out to do walk-ins. We had considered doing just that, but we realized that in the end, that wasn’t the kind of shop we wanted to run. Neither of us wanted to manage a shop full of people. We’re happy being what we are, and a few years ago went to an appointment-only studio. That change and the downsizing of our shop coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic. We believed then and still believe that the health and safety of not only ourselves, but our community, is of paramount importance. Having an appointment-only shop guarantees that we keep the number of people in our shop to a minimum at all times and that everyone is being taken care of without having to wait. We went all out and added a bunch of additional sanitation measures to our shop when we downsized and remodeled, and in doing so got some recognition from the State of Wisconsin! So yay us.
Some couples use work as an excuse to get away from their spouse. Not so in our case! I couldn’t be luckier to have such a talented and dedicated partner in life and business. I think that’s primarily why we’ve kept our studio small after all of these years. We all like working together and want to keep it that way. Some things are worth more than gold.
So that’s how it started, where it went, and how it’s going. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
Til next time ~Steve