How COVID-19 Affected the Northland Tattoo Industry
How COVID-19 Affected the Northland Tattoo Industry

How COVID-19 Affected the Northland Tattoo Industry

DULUTH – Dean Moore received COVID-19 in 2020. Since his nearly month-long hospitalization, the 53-year-old Duluthian has had two heart attacks and suffers from ongoing neurological problems to which he attributes the virus.

When his body was ready for it, Moore decided to get a permanent reminder of what he was surviving.

A close-up of a tattoo on April 12 that Dean Moore of Duluth received after becoming seriously ill with COVID-19.

Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“I treat the bad things in life with humor,” he said. “I came up with the idea of ​​a full-color COVID molecule – and I won, so I beat it up. I gave it a black eye.… It’s on oxygen.

“I took an easier approach,” he continued.

While it won’t top many pandemic to-do lists to get meat punctured at close quarters, most Northland tattoo shops reopened after closing to an ever-growing waiting list of wannabe customers itching to get inked.

The Twin Ports tattoo industry remains strong through the COVID-19 pandemic

Living Art Studio owner Chris Owen of Duluth concentrates while applying ink to a tattoo he is making at his workstation at the studio’s new Canal Park location on April 7th. During the pandemic, business did not go down well for them, and Owen believes there is something to it: “The pain and challenge of getting a tattoo, as it is not a pleasant process, is often a very welcome distraction when life is in a turbulent season.”

Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

And that applies throughout the country; 50% of Americans have at least one. Nearly 30,000 artists are working in the U.S. tattoo industry, which is expected to generate $ 1.4 billion in revenue by 2022, according to IBISWorld data.

In Northland, however, some stores closed forever, others expanded, and many artists in the area reported mixed blessings from the mandatory break. True North still operates in Cloquet, as does Saginaw’s Mad Tatter Studio.

Skin Deep

and

INK tattoo

keeps it down in the Superior.

And in Duluth you can find shops in almost every neighborhood:

Anchors End

center,

Gitchee Gumee

on Miller Hill,

Benchmark

in Chester Park,

Peach

in East Hillside,

Voyageur

in Lincoln Park.

In West Duluth,

Black label

opened

for high demand

in June 2021, and

Living Art Studio

extended space, and staff, after a move to Canal Park.

The Twin Ports tattoo industry remains strong through the COVID-19 pandemic

Chris Owen, tattoo artist and owner of Living Art Studio in Duluth, is applying ink to a tattoo on the arm of Molly Elizabeth of Duluth on April 7th.

Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The pain and challenge of getting a tattoo is not a pleasant process, but it is often a very welcome distraction when life is in a turbulent season, said Living Art owner Chris Owen. This may be the reason why the company has had a recovery. In any crisis, there is opportunity, he added.

In any case, it would have been difficult to land their high-tourist location, and the mandatory closure was a much-needed respite for Owen, who used the time to rest and update the store’s online presence and digital features.

The Twin Ports tattoo industry remains strong through the COVID-19 pandemic

Living Art Studio owner Chris Owen of Duluth applies ink to a tattoo he makes at his workstation at the studio’s new Canal Park location on April 7th.

Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

It took about four months to build their new space on Canal Park Drive. Owen added staffing, piercing, laser removal and microblading services, and when they reopened in October 2021, they were overwhelmed by the demand for tattoos and the store’s remodeling needs.

In many ways they still are.

“They’re waiting for us to get hold of them, just like they’re waiting to get a liver,” Owen said. “It’s a lot of pressure to get people taken care of sooner rather than later in my industry. Is it essential? No, but is it in high demand and something that people will continue to spend money on no matter what else is going on. ”

The Twin Ports tattoo industry remains strong through the COVID-19 pandemic

Living Art Studio owner Chris Owen of Duluth applies ink to a tattoo he makes at his workstation at the studio’s new Canal Park location on April 7th.

Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

At Living Art, the artists tattoo 400-500 customers a month. Along with the usual suspicious ideas, people get memorials, pandemic-inspired works and the handwriting of their loved ones. In general, if their body art is any indication, people are ultimately hopeful, Owen said.

The Twin Ports tattoo industry remains strong through the COVID-19 pandemic

Tattoo artist Chris Owen from Duluth watches as Molly Elizabeth from Duluth checks out her work during a session at Living Art Studio on April 7th.

Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The owners of Superior’s INK Tattoo saw many shifts in and out of the store. Jill Korhonen and Abby Jean Goodell reopened in June 2020 after being isolated for two weeks. They shifted their schedules to work alternative days, they switched to appointment only. They initiated a thorough screening process and stopped allowing extra people into the store.

Tattoo artists Jill Korhonen, left, and Abby Jean Goodell pose at INK Tattoo

Tattoo artists Jill Korhonen, left, and Abby Jean Goodell line up at INK Tattoo in Superior on April 6th.

Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

For Goodell, the latter was a welcome change to a more focused connection and experience between the artist, the client and the art. A cancer diagnosis in Korhonen’s family means strict restrictions and a precise safety guide, which customers must read and respond to before Korhonen plans them. Customers have been very supportive, Korhonen said, and many communicate gratitude with the store’s efforts.

Tattoo artist Abby Jean Goodell tattoos at crescent on the finger of Chelsea Branley

Tattoo artist Abby Jean Goodell is tattooing a crescent on the finger of Chelsea Branley at the INK Tattoo in Superior on April 6th.

Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Tattoo artist Abby Jean Goodell is working on a piece of crescent on the finger of Chelsea Branley

Tattoo artist Abby Jean Goodell is working on a crescent piece on the finger of Chelsea Branley at INK Tattoo in Superior on April 6th.

Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The body art industry, which was already at the forefront of the use of plastic gloves and careful disinfection practices, was in a way well equipped for the pandemic shifts in business. But it was not immune to the effects of demand and cost.

Material costs rose for items like Aquaphor ointment, gloves, paper towels, detergents and Saran wrap, which they often use in the store to cover surfaces, Goodell said. So she and Korhone raised their prices to keep up.

Several of their customers have exponentially added ink since 2020 – starting with minimal or zero pieces to complete a body-covering work of art. After two years, Korhonen recently completed Anya Russom’s back piece, which spans from one shoulder to the next.

Anya Russom headshot.jpg

Anya Russom

Contribution / Anya Russom

Anya Russom's back tattoo shows flowers and garden greenery.

Anya Russom’s back tattoo shows flowers and garden greenery.

Contribution / Anya Russom

“I did not have much going on,” Russom recalled. “I can not travel, can not go out, what else can I do, maybe get this tattoo.”

Russom lived with an immunocompromised family member, and through INK’s security process, Russom and Korhonen both felt peace of mind on the way forward. “I was so locked up and I had not seen friends at all, I was very isolated. It was a way for me to practice self-care. It gave me something to look forward to. ”

Tattoo artist Abby Jean Goodell gets more ink on his machine

Tattoo artist Abby Jean Goodell gets more ink on her machine as she tattoos a crescent on the finger of Chelsea Branley at INK Tattoo in Superior on April 6th.

Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

People often get tattooed for various reasons to work through something. It is common in the industry to think of this as ink therapy. You’re their artist – and their confidant, Goodell said.

It’s time to really be in your body, Korhonen added.

“I think of us as healers,” Goodell said. “We help people work through personal things.”

In some cultures, tattoos are believed to have healing powers, and others value their practicality. In the 18th century, sailors tattooed their initials on their bodies for easy identification, according to

Washington Post

.

“It’s definitely something I never see disappear. It’s an old art form,” Owen said. “We are where therapists come to therapy.”

Tattoo artists Jill Korhonen, left, and Abby Jean Goodell pose during a Dolly Parton portrait on INK Tattoo

Tattoo artists Jill Korhonen, left, and Abby Jean Goodell pose during a Dolly Parton portrait at INK Tattoo in Superior on April 6th.

Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

INK owners said they have seen tattoos help clients recover their bodies after a bodily trauma; they help validate identity, help a journey of self-acceptance, and a tattoo has helped at least one client feel safe walking the sleeves.

There is confidence, intimacy and a bit of surrender when someone permanently changes your body, sometimes in places of interest, Korhonen said.

The closure gave Goodell a break for deeper work. The pandemic brought a lot of past trauma and mental health issues to the surface, said Goodell, who started in therapy last winter.

It has helped her become a better tattoo artist and a better communicator, she said.

The freshly tattooed finger from Chelsea Branley rests on an armrest at INK Tattoo

The freshly tattooed finger from Chelsea Branley on INK Tattoo after being performed by tattoo artist Abby Joodell in Superior on April 6th.

Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The pandemic created stress and anxiety, and it provided more downtime to deal with mental health, Korhonen said. Slowing down allowed her to keep better boundaries, to focus on the family and her own self-care. They also both got time to get their own ink.

Along with some unicorns, Korhonen completed a large tattoo on her chest that she does not think she would have had the time – or courage – to finish before. “I felt a little braver in doing something so painful.

“I’ve been through some s – t the last two years. I can put it in perspective. I’ll probably manage,” she remembered.


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