Becoming a Tattoo Artist

Does your art look like a bunch of tattoos?

Do you look forward to the day when you’re the one doing the inking?

Well, you’re here on this page – so you’re on your way to becoming a tattoo artist.

Tattoo-Artist

But where does the process begin? How can you get started tattooing?

Every artist has a different story to tell you. But there are always a few common threads.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Becoming an Artist in Three Dimensions

Our first recommendation is that you examine your own portfolio.

What is your style? And how will you need to adapt it for tattooing?

Think about it – the human body has no straight lines.

If you have a tattoo beginner starter kit, it probably came with practice skin. If you already tried inking the skin, you probably did it on a tabletop, right?

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Welcome To Taylor Street Tattoo.com

Taylor Street Tattoo and Body Piercing is located at 
1150 W. Taylor Street.

Taylor Street Tattoo is open 7 days a week Noon to 10pm.
Taylor Street Tattoo is the closest studio to downtown, located in Chicago’s Little Italy on the University of Illinois at Chicago Campus.

We are a classic Tattoo Studio, adhearing to traditional values of giving our customers a clean, solid tattoo that is artistic, professional, and reliable. Our skilled tattoo artists have many years of experience and can handle any and all requests. We hold the highest standards of cleanliness and always use single service equipment for each customer.

We treat our customers with respect and make every effort to insure a comfortable experience. 

Phone. 312.455.TATU (8288)

Keith Underwood – Tradition and Lineage in Chicago

Crash:
I’m going to start with what really are my last questions, ok and then we’re going to back it up.

Keith:
Ok. whatever you say. 

Sum up your view of tattooing.

I definitely think that tattooing is something that is for the masses. Names, roses, whatever. Guys want to look tough and girls want to look cute. That’s it. I definitely think that in America- historically, that’s what it’s about. Giving the people what they want and in a clean, safe way and it’s probably a very basic view of tattooing but that’s what I’ve always been drawn to about it. 

That is a very simplistic, basic view … or should we say “traditional” view…

It is traditional. This is a street shop and that’s what I know. I mean when I book appointments they’re for hour-long tattoos, they’re not for backs or sleeves. I’m not interested in that stuff at all. They’re a big pain in the ass! I mean I have done them but it’s definitely not what I push; I push the hour-long tattoos. That’s cool, y’know. That’s what I like to do. I want my tattoos to look authentic, like it could have been done 40 years ago, y’know … with a limited color palette.

I like how you said about you’re going for “the authentic look,” working with the limited palette and the way you apply it and how you’re mixing colors kinda’ on the fly with red black mixing. It’s not something easy to achieve. People might think that it’s something that is real easy but it’s not…

I think that traditional tattoos are the hardest to do, and I see people fuck them up all the time. I don’t think that a six color green fade is very traditional, y’know? [laughter] 

A lot of people want to argue with that if Sailor Jerry had had that option, if he had had all of the colors that we have now, that he would have used them. That’s probably true. And he did use purple sometimes, though most often as shading on flash. He could have used it in his tattoos, but the fact is that he usually chose not to. So, I don’t know. That’s not really the point- whether he would have used whatever if he could have…it’s about how that art looks, how those old tattoos looked the way they did do them. I tattoo, and I want to tattoo, like it was done traditionally- lots of black, minimal color; that’s it. 

Give me some observations about the current state of tattooing your personal view of tattooing as a whole…where it’s at…

I think if I could back up to the last question one more thing I definitely want to say is that there are plenty of tattooers that are much better artists than me. I’m not much of an artist- I’m definitely just applying a craft that I learned how to do. I can get by as an artist- I do ok with certain aspects but I can’t really draw that well. OK…where were we? The current state of tattooing? 

Before we do that let’s cover this but what do you think about tattooers that aren’t really craftsmen- that don’t know how to cut springs or really know how mix ink? They don’t carry the traditions of the craft down with them. How important do you think those things are to tattooing? … let me put it that way.

I know people that don’t really know any of that stuff. And you can pretty much be a tattoo artist and not know anything about these things anymore. You don’t need to know how ink is made or where it comes from and you can still be a fantastic tattooer because you have artistic ability and all this information is out there and you can buy pre-made needles. I buy pre-made needles now because I hate making needles. But I know how to make them and have done it for years. A lot of what I know came from working with Malone and he made sure that I knew what I needed to know. 

What do you think has been lost when so many tattooers know nothing about the equipment or inks or how to set up and work on machines? 

I don’t know. Like I said, you can be a good tattooer and not understand any of that. There are people that come in all the time and say, “My son is a great artist. He should be a tattooer.” The truth is that there are a lot of great artists out there that are horrible tattooers! I kinda always thought being a tattooer was a bit more than applying a tattoo anyways…I always pictured it as being a rough and tumble business. And that’s what I always wanted to get into. Working in a tattoo shop was kinda like being a criminal in certain ways. Those days are gone and it’ll never be that way again. Things change and this is what we all have to do to do business. So, I mean for me to say that something’s lost isn’t necessarily true, it’s just different. And it’s different from what I do and, another thing, in a way I’m glad they don’t know how to do all the stuff I can do because I make money off of them because they don’t know how to do it and I do. So it doesn’t bother me one bit you know, it’’s fine. 

Right.

Mike Malone: A True Pirate by Crash

I wrote this intro on the plane ride back from Chicago to Atlanta after spending four days with Mike Malone, Keith Underwood, and the rest of the crew at Taylor Street Tattoo. My mind was filled with grandiose thoughts of our history, our craft, and even some self-righteous beliefs about the state tattooing these days. I apologize in advance if some of it comes out preachy, (I’m known to be that way sometimes), or even hypocritical, (also guilty from time to time), but I think maybe it’s worth printing anyway, exactly as I wrote it then, with the experience still fresh and alive in my mind and the reality of my time there still weighing on me like an extra layer of clothing. It was hard to put the impact of that week into words, but it was very real for me and this is what I wrote…

“Where have the magic and mystery gone?”

Virtually every tattooer knows the names of Don Ed Hardy, Horiyoshi III, and, of course, Sailor Jerry Collins, (hell, even a good percentage of non-tattooers now recognize these names thanks to art shows, rum bottles, and even clothing lines and energy drinks), but I am shocked at how many of our own peers remain ignorant of Mike Malone, his history, and his contributions to all of us. If we were to make a list of important historical tattooers, all of those men would be included of course, and many more besides- Bert Grimm, Doc Webb, Thom Devita, Cliff Raven, Greg Irons, and countless others. These men, to many of us, were real heroes of legend and myth, and few were privy to the hushed stories that made them so or to the whispered secrets of the craft shared only with trusted initiates. We used to gather around a table at the convention like warriors gathered around a campfire and share 3rd or 4th hand tales of one of these giants, our heroes- passing rumor off as magic and swearing each other to secrecy. It was an age of wonder. But it’s just not the same anymore.

It isn’t that all those stories are widely available (though some of them are); it can’t be that the men have lost their importance, or even that we have grown out of it … yet somehow the magic of mystery is missing these days. Perhaps it’s that tattooing or, more specifically, the history of tattooing, isn’t as important as it once was to the people who are engaged in the craft. Maybe it’s the west’s weak sense of history in general. Maybe it’s the over-saturation and commonness of tattooing these days and the broad acceptance of the art form by society. Maybe it just comes down to the apathy Americans are so known for everywhere else in the world and so ignorant of here at home. Maybe it’s simply about a lack of respect for what we do and where we came from. I really can’t put my finger on it, but it seems something has been lost. I’m not saying I know what it is or even that I’m not part of the problem myself … but this much I do know: that fire of myth was rekindled when I sat and talked with Mike Malone.

Mike Malone is a hero to tattooers everywhere- though they might not know it! He’s a living legend, and you should all be beating down his door just for the chance to talk to him for a little while and give him some of your money. This is the man most responsible (along with Ed Hardy) for making sure we all know what our legacy is and how to live up to it:

*It is Malone who inherited Sailor Jerry’s China Sea Tattoo shop in Honolulu after his Jerry’s untimely passing in 1973, and the vault of artwork and history accompanied with that- (30 years worth of original flash, handmade stencils, drawings, machines, formulas and correspondences- a lifetime’s worth of work), all preserved from obscurity because of Mike’s great love and respect for tattooings’ history. And he chose to share it with the rest of us bums. But Mike’s importance extends way beyond this.

*He helped organize one of the first gallery shows in NYC that showcased tattoo flash artwork. 

*He was the first American in who-knows-how-long to see and photograph extensive works by Kuniyoshi, making them available and usable to select tattooers who went on to transform tattooing in the west (and elsewhere) years before the collected works would be available publicly.

*He revolutionized the tattoo flash market with his famous “Mr. Flash” flash sets. A first, and the model still used today for flash sales. In addition, under the “Rollo” signature, he would personally put out over 300 individual flash pages through the years, and we’re still counting.

*He helped convince Paul Rogers to make and sell tattoo machines to the younger generation of tattooers, making that legendary and innovative man accessible to more than the handful of guys who knew where to find him.

*He has mentored or directly taught Kandi Everett, Scott Sterling, Ed’s own son- Doug Hardy, Seth Ciferri, Scott Harrison, and countless others, including myself. In fact, if it were not for Rollo’s encouragement and willingness to be involved with some young punk’s crazy tattoo journal idea, I might never have had the courage to make a single issue of the magazine you are holding in your hands now. And it’s because of his endless critiques and complaints about it that I consistently strive to make each issue better than the last.

Mike Malone has seen and done it all and he’s shared every bit of it with those individuals smart enough to seek him out. He has always remained accessible to the next generation, a distinction that few other “important” tattooers are known for these days. It is still possible to buy original Sailor Jerry flash, stencils, and drawings from Mike’s collection. (And I really don’t know why that is. I am stunned that every tattooer in the world hasn’t thrust money into Mike’s hands to own something that valuable, that sacred.) If you are polite and persistent, (and if he happens to like you), you can even get a tattoo from Mike or a page of flash painted to order. How many other legends are available to us in these same ways?

Mike likes to say- “Tattooers are PIRATES!” And if you don’t know why he feels that way, it’s high time you put down your pencils for a season and did some REAL homework: read the books that are available: take the trips that will put you around the people who are responsible for what you do, while you still can, and get a tattoo from one of them. Study the emergence and growth of tattooing in the United States. We all owe it to tattooing to learn our history, internalize as much of it as we possibly can, and make damn sure we share it with those who come after us. The “style” of tattooing one chooses to pursue is irrelevant to this discourse.

I don’t know if there really is something sacred about tattooing or not. I do know that there should be some form of mystery or magic involved in what we do; something held dear that will be passed along, valued and respected. It seems that respect is the one thing everyone seems to forget to teach in this busted up field of craftsmen, and it just might be the most important thing of all. Respect for our craft. Respect for our patriarchs. Respect for our tools and how to make them, tune them, mix them, and apply them. Respect for our teachers, bosses, peers, and coworkers- even our competition. And, ultimately, respect for ourselves, which these are all expressions of.

I was reminded of the importance of all these things by Mike Malone. I felt the mystery and magic again. I hope the weight of it can be carried over in this interview.

Tattoo Taboo: Neighborhood Objects Proposed Ink Shop by Durrel Dawson


TATTOO TABOO: Neighborhood Objects Proposed Ink Shop
by Durrel Dawson

With a bald head and too many tattoos to count, Keith Underwood may not fit some people’s idea of what a businessman would normally look like.

Underwood and his wife, Nicole, bought a building at 1150 W. Taylor St. to open a tattoo studio. But before his proposed tattoo business is accepted, he will have to overcome a few roadblocks.

He will need to obtain a special use permit from Chicago’s Zoning Board of Appeals before he can officially set up shop.

The Zoning Board of Appeals will have a public hearing, where anyone within 250 feet of Underwood’s property will be able to make a case for or against a tattoo studio in their neighborhood.

Underwood said negative perceptions about tattooing are common, which could compromise his chances of obtaining a special use permit.

To ease the fears of residents, Underwood rented out Hawkeye’s Bar & Grill on Taylor Street, and held a discussion for anyone who wanted to attend on Aug. 26.

According to Underwood, most of the concerns brought up during the discussion where concerning fears that a tattoo shop would bring bikers and gang members into the neighborhood.

He said the idea of gang members and bikers being the only people that get tattoos is false. 

Underwood estimated that most of his clientele would be college-aged students and middle to upper class young people.

An estimated 40 million Americans have tattoos, said Underwood.

“You don’t get those numbers from bikers and gang-bangers. You get those numbers from middle America. From suburban Americans spending their excess cash,” he said.

Underwood said some property owners were afraid a tattoo studio would encourage people to loiter, increasing crime rates. Because he and his wife live on the property, Underwood said he would not allow people to behave reckless

Underwood, who is certified in CPR, first aid, and prevention of disease transmission, said nobody brought up health concerns at the meeting.

“I have all these certifications but nobody seemed to care about that. All they cared about was what kind of clientele I was going to bring in,” he said.

Although some in the neighborhood do not want a tattoo studio to open, there are others who support Underwood.

Jim Spina, owner of Jamoch’s Cafe at 1066 W. Taylor St., said he was concerned about a tattoo shop at first, but changed his mind after meeting Underwood.

Spina said a tattoo studio is no worse than the neighborhood liquor store.

“He should be able to do what he wants. It’s a legitimate business. He’s not selling prostitution, but that’s the way people are acting,” Spina said. “If people don’t want him, why do they allow liquor stores?”

In June, Underwood held a meeting for the University Village Association’s Development Committee. The UVA is an advocate for the community surrounding the University of Illinois at Chicago and Little Italy with the goal of improving the quality of life.

At the meeting with the UVA, Underwood offered reasons why he should be allowed to open a tattoo studio on Taylor Street. Following the meeting, the development committee took an informal survey of neighborhood residents and businesses, said Christopher Provenzano, executive director of the UVA.

The survey said that a tattoo studio had been proposed for Taylor Street and asked if the residents would be in favor of or opposed to the tattoo studio. The UVA staff found that 15 people were in favor of the business, while 32 were against it. Seventeen were indifferent.

The development committee deliberated for five weeks before coming to a unanimous decision on July 8, and decided not to support a tattoo studio on Taylor Street.

“The results showed that there was no ground swell of overwhelming support for a tattoo studio. Rather, there was opposition to the idea of bringing a tattoo studio to Taylor Street,” said Provenzano.

“It also showed that a tattoo studio is a hot button issue for the community that evokes strong emotions and responses,” he said.

The UVA has not decided if it will make a case at Underwood’s public hearing for the Zoning Board of Appeals, but he has began to gather signatures and addresses of people in the area that support him.

“I believe that the University Village Association is going to act like the neighborhood representative and they are going to say that nobody wants this business. So the signatures are basically just to dispute that,” he said.

Last week, Underwood estimated he had gotten almost 200 signatures from residents of the community as well as UIC students. He invited residents that support him to sign his petition.

“Ring my doorbell during normal hours and I will come down and you can sign my petition,” Underwood said.

Provenzano said the UVA took its time in gathering information before coming to its decision. He pointed out that a month had passed after the UVA’s decision before Underwood’s meeting with the community.

“I applaud him for this effort. Unfortunately, it could have benefited him much more if he had done his ground work with the public months earlier, prior to coming to the UVA,” said Provenzano.

Staff writer Durrell Dawson can be reached at
[email protected]

(2003-09-23)

Tattoo Or Not Tattoo: Aprimer in Chicago Politics by Ramsin Canon

Keith Underwood may lose everything — hundreds of thousands of dollars, his business, and possibly his home. The master tattoo artist, entrepreneur and inventor committed the ultimate sin in today’s Chicago: He challenged the strength of a development group and tried to join a community.

Keith Underwood may as well be a politician. When he walks down Taylor Street on the city’s Near West Side or sits in a bar, half of the people who stroll by give him a friendly wave.

“A lot of people up and down Taylor Street know me now,” he says sheepishly but with some pride. This is because in August of last year, before trying to get a Special Use Variance from the Zoning Appeals Board in order to open a tattoo parlor in the building he and his wife Nicole, a juvenile probation officer, own at 1150 W. Taylor, he took his case to his new neighbors. He rented out a banquet room to educate them on the new, modern tattooing industry, which is a far cry from the seedy red-light district joints of the past. He hired James Banks, nephew of 36th Ward Alderman William J.P. Banks, to represent him. He showed his goodwill by getting petition signatures in support of his enterprise from almost 200 of his neighbors. He put together a PowerPoint presentation illustrating the advantages a tattoo parlor would bring to the Taylor Street commercial district and allaying fears that it would draw an unwanted element of gangbangers and bikers.

He navigated the red tape and neighborhood politics of Chicago like a pro — like a precinct captain, even though he moved to the Chicago area from Poughkeepsie, New York, only in 1996. At just 28 years old, Mr. Underwood has built a name for himself as one of the preeminent tattoo artists in the country. He holds a patent on a cordless tattoo gun that will soon become a godsend to wildlife researchers, ranchers, and pet owners as well as tattoo artists. After buying the building at 1150 W. Taylor in June of 2003, he began planning his campaign to win the zoning variance with the same organizational acumen a good campaign manager would use. Like any craftsman, he wanted to have his own business. “For anybody who’s come up in the trades, you want one day to have your own business. That’s the dream,” he says.

Yet he met fierce resistance from the University Village Association, an un-elected, non-governmental neighborhood association under the direction of the big interests in the area — St. Ignatius College Prep, an elite private school; UIC; RUSH-Presbyterian Hospital; LaSalle Bank; and several real estate and development companies. Among the board members is one Oscar D’Angelo, a clout-heavy, disbarred lawyer and Operation Greylord casualty who is known locally at the “Mayor of Taylor Street.” (Mr. D’Angelo could not be reached for comment.) The UVA serves as an unofficial advisory agency to the City Council on matters affecting the Taylor Street and former Maxwell Street areas. They dominate the area to such an extent that some business owners refused to comment for this article for fear of reprisal. Despite some strong support — and, more importantly, overwhelming indifference — from the residents, the UVA could afford to grind Mr. Underwood’s dreams into the ground because like the community organizations in so many neighborhoods, they are not accountable to anybody. One of the UVA board members was quoted in the Near West Gazette as saying, “You think every time I take a vote, I do a plebiscite?”

For months, Underwood fought for his right to work and live at peace with his neighbors. Suddenly, an anonymous flier appeared all over the area, allegedly from a precinct captain who had served that precinct for eight years (despite the fact that only four years ago, that precinct was in the 42nd Ward), alleging that Mr. Underwood had said he didn’t care if he attracted gang members; that residents could “stay the f— out,” if they don’t like it; the flier painted ridiculous, nightmarish scenarios of gang fights breaking out and referring to the business as “degenerate,” comparing it to a peep show. The flier urged residents to call the alderman and show up at zoning hearing. The Alderman’s office told Underwood there was no precinct captain for that area and had no knowledge of the letter.

“I own the building,” Underwood says. “I want to be a good neighbor. If I own a building, if I live here, why would I want to draw a bad element? Why would I want property values to go down?”

Underwood didn’t fight spitefully, he didn’t spout rhetoric or challenge authorities. He played by the rules and used that most democratic of weapons: persuasion. The local Near West Gazette’s reporter Gail Mansfield covered the story every step of the way, bringing the fight to the attention of many of the area’s residents, including your humble reporter — who subsequently wrote a column for Gapers Block based on that series of articles. The Chicago Flame, UIC’s paper, wrote a strong editorial in support of Underwood in September. But elements of the UVA, dedicated to a vision of a sterile “Little Italy” theme, would not budge. Since 1999, board members of the UVA or the organizations they represent have directly given at least $50,240 — that’s a conservative estimate, excluding many PACs, fundraising events, etc. — to prominent local and state political campaigns. Nearly half of that figure comes from Mr. D’Angelo and his family. The UVA by its nature is a political beast and is hard-wired into City Hall.

Or so they thought. When it was finally time for the Zoning Appeals Board to vote, the UVA brought out a series of witnesses, including a groundskeeper from St. Ignatius College Prep, to testify as to the potential dangers of a tattoo parlor in the area. In support of Underwood were several fellow tattoo artists, a registered nurse who testified as to the extreme care in sanitation Underwood goes through, his immediate neighbors and nearby business owners, the head of the Taylor Street Business and Community Organization, and satisfied customers. Even Alderman Daniel Solis, who originally had promised only a letter of support, showed up in person and gave a 10-minute testimony on Underwood’s behalf. The ZBA voted 3-2 in favor of the permit.

Underwood waited. He approached the UVA’s executive director, Chris Provenzano, and made a peace offering. “I said, ‘No hard feelings, I understand why you did what you did.’ I told him I wanted to work with the UVA, and become a business member of the UVA. So I wrote a check for $150, which they took, and became a member of the UVA.” Finally comfortable, he went ahead and signed a contract to fix up the storefront and build his parlor. He could finally begin to do the job he loved.

Then on April 21, he received a summons and was notified of a suit brought against him, the Zoning Board of Appeals, Underwood’s attorney James Banks, Underwood’s wife Nicole, several of the witnesses who had offered testimony, and the City of Chicago itself. The plaintiffs? Two residents, St. Ignatius College Prep — and their groundskeeper — and the Catholic Bishop of Chicago. They allege that the Zoning Board of Appeals did not follow correct procedure in their hearing, that the dissenting opinion of Joseph J. Spingola, the board’s chairman and a long-time resident of the Taylor Street area, was correct in arguing that there was insufficient proof that Underwood deserved a zoning variance.

Although the University Village Association is not listed as a plaintiff, at least one of the original plaintiffs — since removed — claimed that a representative of the UVA came by to get a signature for the suit. Further, the summons was originally transmitted from a fax machine that had the UVA’s stamp on it. Yet I must reiterate that the University Village Association is not listed as an appellant.

“I thought the UVA considered this a dead issue. [President of the Board] Don Oder said as much — I go in the office and say [to Chris Provenzano], ‘You know what, since I’m a business member, and you’re not listed as an appellant, I’d like the support of the UVA in my business’ time of need.’ He said they already made a decision on me, [and they] decided not to support [me].”

The UVA did not return requests for comment by press time.

The case will go the circuit court to be heard. If the court agrees with this suit, Underwood could stand to lose the $500,000 or so he has invested into buying his building and opening his parlor. He could lose it all and face a crushing debt because the UVA knows what Taylor Street should be, and damn the opinions of the residents — and damn free enterprise. Mr. Underwood urges readers who may live in the vicinity of a tattoo parlor, or who otherwise would like to support his case, to contact him at [email protected]

Mr. Underwood’s case is remarkable only in that he has put up such a spirited fight against the development interests which, in today’s Chicago, have supplanted precinct captain and patronage organizations that once influenced how small business owners and residents behaved socially and politically.

It is important to note that not all of the UVA members have opposed the business and that there are indeed residents and business owners who oppose the opening of a tattoo parlor. But how much is enough? How much can we allow our neighborhoods and communities be dominated by vested, clouted interests that can dictate not only the types of businesses we let in, but perhaps more — perhaps the type of businessperson we let? Or the type of resident? In a city where we have sacrificed real deliberative democracy for efficiency, we must be allowed something. We must at least have control of our own neighborhoods, of the streets we walk every day. Development, progress, investment — these are important things without which our neighborhoods cannot survive. Neighborhoods and communities need groups that can lobby City Hall, that can centralize the wishes and desires of local business owners and residents.

But if we ever forget who really owns our neighborhoods — us — then we are nothing but transients, and pity the Chicagoans who follow us.

(2004-05-05)

Tattoo Or Not Tattoo: Aprimer in Chicago Politics

We call Chicago The Great American City not because its so great; we call it that because its so American. And by American, we mean it really, really likes money. The unfettered love of capitalism in Chicago is its hallmark. Tear down landmarks, pave the parks, rename the stadiums: whatever it takes to make a buck.

So imagine Keith Underwood’s surprise when he was told that he would not be allowed to open a tattoo parlor on the 1100 block of West Taylor Street. Tattoos are hot fashion right now, and not just among the lumpenproletariat or hipster crowd. Sunny public relations associates lift up Diesel pant legs to reveal butterflies or angels on their ankles; computer programmers with slouched shoulders and bad skin will peel back sleeves to show the nautical stars or Chicago flags on their upper arms. Any tattoo parlor, especially one located in the vicinity of a college campus as Underwood’s proposed parlor would be, figures to be a huge success.

But Underwood was told, point-blank, No. And the reason why — and how — it could happen tells us all something about how Chicago’s political system really works.

Underwood, like any good businessman and citizen, brought his proposal for a tattoo parlor to the University Village Association, a non-political organization of “concerned interests’ who are to serve, supposedly, as an advisory board for planning and development in the Taylor Street neighborhood. Theoretically, the University Village Association has absolutely no say in whether or not Underwood can open his business or not. Except when they can, which is now.

The men and women who sit on the UVA’s board are all representatives of major real estate interests, UIC, the Illinois Medical District (including Rush-Presbyterian), and Chicago power-broker, Operation Greylord casualty and eccentric millionaire Oscar D’Angelo. So when issues come to the attention of the central zoning and permit committees in the City Council, it is only natural that they turn to locals for advice. And what locals could possibly give better advice than the one manned by the people who own everything?

So the UVA’s “no” was essentially a “no” from the City.

Underwood appealed to the neighborhood, handing out fliers introducing himself and holding a Meet The Proprietor type meeting at a local bar. Underwood did his best to show everybody present, which included neighbors, UVA representatives, and emissaries from 25th Ward Alderman and HDO chairman Danny Solis that he was legit. The erstwhile tattoo artist — who, we were informed, holds a US patent for a safer tattoo gun and has won numerous awards for his craft — talked about his commitment to the neighborhood, where he and his wife reside, and showed his skill for business by narrating a spiffy Powerpoint presentation.

No dice. UVA board members and, to be fair, a few neighboring business proprietors, grumbled about the potential clientele. Specifically, they were worried about “bikers and gangbangers.” And, I suppose, they have a point. I mean, we’ve all seen bikers and gangbangers. They all have tattoos! Have you ever seen a tattoo-less gangbanger? It’s kind of part-and-parcel of the whole gangbanger thing. But you know what else gangbangers do? Eat. Buy cigarettes and alcohol. And candy. All of which they can do on Taylor Street. To be less smug about it, their argument was specious.

Don Oder, the president of the UVA, made matters worse when he informed the increasingly agitated audience that the UVA was under no obligation to bend to the majority in this instance. When pressed, D’Angelo jumped to his defense, asking the assembled, “You think every time I take a vote, I do a plebiscite?” Maybe he expected warm-hearted laughter, but it was chilling.

The UVA is a non-governmental, non-elected committee run by the major interests in the area, and they use their clout with City Hall as a club against independent business people on Taylor Street and the surrounding area; that would be bad enough, but they have also attacked the CHA and challenged the renovation and rebuilding of the squat housing projects in the area. They want them completely eliminated. And the residents of the Taylor Street area, once known as “The Patch,” have no say in what happens; and the UVA makes no bones about it.

This problem isn’t specific to Taylor Street, either. For every neighborhood, there is a “community organization” that represents the major interests and has exclusive access to the ears at City Hall. The Bucktown Community Organization, supposedly a community enterprise, serves the real estate powerhouses in that neighborhood. The Near South Planning Board has dictated the major changes in the South Loop over the last few years. Edgewater, Bronzeville, Beverly, Archer Heights, the Near North all feature groups with varying levels of power and influence — not all malevolent, but almost all exclusionary and therefore dangerous. Hyde Park is especially plagued with such community associations, and I use the word plagued because many of them have conflicting views and agendas. The historied and esteemed HPKCC — Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference — has always fought, though often ineffectively, for a compromise between the Universty of Chicago’s expansionist “redevelopment” aims and peace with the neighboring (read: Black) community.

In many ways, these neighborhood associations and real estate developers groups have replaced the traditional Chicago precinct captain organization. There are still thousands of precinct captains in Chicago, but can you name yours? There was a time when your captain was your direct link to the Alderman. Well, actually, your building or street captain would have been a link to your block captain, who would be your link to the precinct captain, who would be a link to the Ward’s Democratic Committeeman, who would then tell your Alderman what to do. Except when they were the same person. The precinct machine mobilized opinion and regulated the neighborhood based on what was sure to bring in the most votes. This seems to have been traded for what can bring the most money into the neighborhood, relying on voter apathy to keep the incumbent in power.

Meanwhile, Keith Underwood sits at home with fallow ink, wondering why an unelected club for the wealthy won’t let him work.

Wanna put in a word for Keith Underwood? Call the UVA at (312) 243-3773, or email Alderman Danny Solis (25th) at [email protected]

(2003-09-24)

THIN SKIN A Tattooing Tradition Lives On-For Now. by Angela Stich

To the untrained eye, the modest storefront at Taylor Street Tattoo might look like any other parlor: sheets of tattoo designs paper the walls and cases of body jewelry line the front counter. Closer inspection, though, will uncover a gallery of hand-watercolored flash sheets from some of the most famous tattoo artists in history, mostly done in the American Traditional (the “sailor tattoo” style marked by colorful pinup girls and nautical themes) style.

Owner Keith Underwood, 29, takes a drag off his cigarette on the back porch of the shop and recounts the history of American Traditional tattooing–the abridged version–spanning from Chicago to Honolulu and back. “Sailor” Jerry Collins began his tattooing career here in Chicago on South State Street while he was enlisted at Great Lakes Naval Base in the 1930s. His naval career took him to Hawaii, where he opened China Sea Tattoo and eventually trained Mike “Rollo” Malone and “Don” Ed Hardy, who had traveled to Hawaii to learn his style. Malone took over the shop when Sailor Jerry died in 1973 and mentored Underwood in the American Traditional style. Malone closed in 2001 to retire to Chicago, where Underwood was looking to open up his own shop. In March 2004, Underwood opened up shop in the first floor storefront of he and his wife’s 1150 West Taylor Street home, where he and Malone paint, build tattoo machines, and tattoo. “A lot more goes on here than just tattooing,” Underwood says.

Taylor Street is a major stopping point for tattoo artists and collectors, says Underwood, to get tattooed or “just to stop by and talk to the Old Man [Malone], or to buy a T-shirt or memento. There aren’t a lot of shops like that in Chicago that are a touristy stop for tattooers.”

The shop’s future is up in the air amid controversy stemming from administrators at nearby St. Ignatius College Prep. According to Underwood, school officials (who did not return phone calls at press time) are “afraid for their students” assuming that their students will get tattooed at the shop, or that the shop will bring undesirable clientele into the neighborhood.

“I live here and shop here and eat here. I’m more invested in this neighborhood than most of the people who are against me,” Underwood says. Underwood even gave a check to St. Ignatius’s tuition-assistance program when they solicited him for donations.

“They’ll take my money and write me a thank you letter while they’re suing me at the same time,” he laughs.

St. Ignatius filed an appeal against the City of Chicago for granting Underwood a Special Use Variance. If the court decides in St. Ignatius’s favor, Underwood will have to close his doors pending an appeal from the Illinois Supreme Court.

“Now I’m in the hole. I opened with the understanding that I would have a license,” says Underwood, who’s sunk over half a million dollars into his business. “It would be tough to start over.”

(2005-04-05)

Read it on NEWCITY.COM

Thinking about Inking? by Heather Shouse

“Tattooing today, 99 percent of that shit looks like an explosion in Baskin-Robbins—it’s Candyland crap.” Those are the words of Mike “Rollo” Malone, a tattoo legend who thinks he’s 64 but can’t remember. Malone started tattooing out of his New York apartment during the ’60s, when the craft was illegal there. Now, he “takes up space” at Taylor Street Tattoo, where he tattoos occasionally and mentors often.

Malone’s story—peppered with epithets and tales of ex-wives—gives a fascinating glimpse into American tattoo history. His connection with inking started when his sailor grandfather let him tag along to a shop while Gramps added to the anchors and ships that covered his arms. When Malone grew up, he became obsessed with photographing tattoos and started practicing his own work on “whoever would sit still.” Soon, he fell in with “big whips” like Ed Hardy and the late “Sailor Jerry” Collins, two pioneers who gave classic tattoos a shot in the arm by using better equipment and creating brilliant colors. When Collins died in ’73, Malone inherited his Honolulu tattoo parlor, changed the name to China Sea Tattoo Co., and tattooed “thousands of asses and just as many assholes” for nearly 20 years before closing up shop a few years ago.

Malone’s fabled past drew in Taylor Street’s owner Keith Underwood, who wanted to learn tattooing from a master. “I sought him out, started corresponding with him, buying machines and paintings from him,” Underwood says. “I’d send him my stuff, he’d say ‘I’m tired of all you young kids sending me this shit. It’s so bad you should just quit.’”

But Underwood didn’t. He packed up and went to work for Malone in ’99, honing his skills before opening Taylor Street last year, a place he describes as “a straight-up street shop where we tattoo panthers, roses, banners with sweetheart’s names.”

It’s the kind of shop where Malone felt like cooling his heels after years of runnin’ and gunnin’. “Keith and these other kids here, they’re genuine, no bullshit,” Malone coughs. “They can tattoo rings around me and do it in less time, but that’s just the way of things.”

(2006-07)

Read it on CHICAGOFLAME.COM

Spanish Tattoo Aftercare Instructions

1. Remuva la benda entre 3 a 4 horas.
NO SE RE-BENDA (NO SE PONGA OTRA BENDA)

2. Labese el tatuaje diario con jabon ante-bacterial y agua caliente. Sequese despacio con toalla limpia. NO USE NIGUN TIPO DE TOALLA DURA!!! Las puntes de los dedos funsionan mejor. Labese de esta forma cada hora o lo mas pronto posible. (Lo mas que se labe el tatuaje lo mas pronto se la alivia).

3. No se moje el tatuaje tanto o ensene alrededor de sal, solo con agua fresca por lo menos de 3 semanas. Su tatuaje debe de estar completamente aliviado para que pueda madar.

4. Apliquese el lubricamento o Curel o algo similar. Pongase aloe crema en el tatuaje durante el dia con manos limpias. Un poco va un largo tiempo. NO SE LO MOISTRATISE TANTO, MUCHA CREMA PUEDE HACERALE MAL PARA UN NUEVO TATUAJE!!!

5. NO TENGA EL TATUAJE DIRECTAMENTE AL SOL POR 3 SEMANAS (ESO INCLULLE CAMAS ATIFICIAL PARA QUEMARSE!!!) Despues que se alla aliviado, no tenga el tatuaje mucho en el sol para que el color ne se valla desapareciendo. Si no puede mantenerlo de el sol use ina buena locion para que no se que en el tatuaje.

6. El tatuaje se le cay el pellejo despues que este aliviado y tambien da comeson como si anda quemada. ESTA ES NORMAL!!! NO SE RASQUE O JUEGE CON EL!!! Dejelo enpas y su tambien se aliviara.

Para Preguntas Llame – Taylor Street Tattoo – 312.455.TATU (8288).