Sunday, December 16, 2007

Media: Tricks of the tattoo trade

From Daily Republic (Subscription required)
By Carol Bogart Daily Republic December 15, 2007 10:55

SUISUN CITY - A huge stencil covered 20-year-old Ed Kalista's back.

Soon, massive 'dragon wings' jutted out from the large black 'spine' tattoo.

Tattoo artists Auric Goldfingers and Shawn Kalista Ed's father worked in tandem, converting the stenciled outline into a permanent tattoo. The work will take as long as six hours. Ed will return for yet another session to do the shading.

The time invested in a large, intricate tattoo such as this could cost as much as $2,000, Goldfingers said.

Shawn Kalista's interest in drawing surfaced when he was a kid who liked drawing space ships. The father of two and a Navy veteran used to have a sweeper business. Two years ago, he decided the 15- to 18-hour days were too much. His son encouraged him to pursue tattooing.

'Do you like to draw?' Ed asked his dad. 'Do you like to do be proud of what you do?'

The answers were 'yes' and 'yes.' Shawn Kalista, 42, and Goldfingers, 35, are longtime buds who perform together in area heavy metal bands. In 2006, the two took 'everything we had' and invested in outfitting Suisun Ink at 501 Main St., Suite A.

Although the two are partners in the business, Shawn Kalista has worked without pay for the past year. He served an apprenticeship under the more experienced Goldfingers to learn the craft. Their business, they say, is not a 'flash art' shop where clients look in a book and pick a design. All their designs are custom.

The first tattoo Shawn Kalista ever did was a bar code on the back of Ed's neck. The father described that experience as 'quite nerve-wracking. It was not fun. I had a son who would not sit still.'

'It huuuurrrrrtt!' Ed Kalista said.

Shawn Kalista is more confident now that his apprenticeship is complete. When he becomes 'staff' in January, he will make $100 an hour, plus tips, but only when he's actually working, said Greg Luzon, the shop's new apprentice.

Depending on the design, the artists can make a lot of money in a single day. Goldfingers said his longest 'marathon' was 9.5 hours. Now he tries to limit a session to no more than five.

The partners are sinking 'every moment and every dollar' into Suisun Ink, with plans to open another shop in Europe within two years, they said.

Luzon, 24, is a 2002 Fairfield High School graduate. He already has learned that a moving 'canvas' can be a problem. Luzon remembers inking a design on the abdomen of a friend who made things difficult by breathing.

'People will inevitably move, and we're not perfect,' Shawn Kalista said. 'The best carpenter isn't the one who doesn't make mistakes, but the one who you can't find his mistakes.'

All agree that an ad-libbed design is OK, as long as the client leaves satisfied.

Most do, they said.

Repeat customers often come in for a fourth and fifth tattoo, Goldfinger said. One client came in last week and bought two tattoo gift certificates as stocking stuffers, Shawn Kalista added. Luzon remembered the client and her husband who arrived with the client's mother, blindfolded, to collect her 'surprise' birthday tattoo.

Although there is no demand for 'holiday' tattoos, Goldfingers said, 'theme' tattoos such as Sept. 11, 2001, are popular.

Ed Kalista's girlfriend of about two months, Amanda McCraw, 21, watched patiently as Ed's 'wings' took shape. She has no tattoos but said her boyfriend's tattoos are 'hot.' Her brother has lots of tattoos, she said, and her mom had a Celtic cross tattooed on an ankle when she turned 50.

McCraw would like to have one, but she said they're 'too expensive' for a college student.

The shop is careful to obey state law: No tattoos on teens younger than 18. Shawn Kalista said he has a younger son who wants one now but will have to wait. The artists also remove sterilized needles from their sealed packaging in front of a client to alleviate any concerns.

Before Shawn Kalista ever put needle to human skin, he spent many hours 'tracing.'

'It teaches you how to follow lines,' he said.

And it pays off.

'You might spend hours working on the drawing before you ever put it on the person.'

For more information about Suisun Ink, call 427-8282.

Reach Carol Bogart at 427-6955 or at

No comments: