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Hardest Jobs Series -- Tattoo studio owner says “dust jackets” are his career

American Ink and Iron owner, When creative people are in control, good things happen.


 Shop owner/artist/piercer Scott Langley looks on as artist Jeremie Haugland re-touches a design to his wife’s (Katie) ankle.


By Bettina Huseby

Progress columnist

   Tattoo artist Scott Langley says in his career he’s learned not to judge a book by its cover, even though “dust jackets” are his livelihood.

   Scott was up from Florida visiting friends in Ellijay. He felt out of place. “People were waving to me. I thought there was a parade going on. But my friends here said no, that’s just what they do up here! They go to town and wave at people!”

He was so impressed he decided to move here. “The people are friendly. And doing business here is more relaxed. The mountains are laid-back. We’re 5 or 10 years behind a fast city. I don’t have to worry about a lot of the stuff that happens in the city.”

   I asked what it takes to be a tattoo artist. First and foremost, you have to be artistic. Scott notices colors, angles and shapes in everything he sees. All the men in his family are fine artists of one kind or another, working in pastels, charcoal and oil. He grew up seeing them spend a lot of money on supplies, but not making much money in return.

   Then he watched a friend receive a tattoo and it sparked his interest. He began an apprenticeship and opened his first tattoo shop in Ellijay in 2000. Later he opened Studio X in Pickens County. It flourished.


   Having someone draw on you is an up-close and personal experience. People bond with one another. Unlikely friendships form. Scott has met all kinds of folks. He’s learned not to judge a book by its cover, even though “dust jackets” are his livelihood.

   A favorite early project was an illustration of a chocolate lab; done on an elderly man whose dog had died. Another time a co-worker had “will you marry me” tattooed on his arm. He covered it up, and then asked his girlfriend to remove the bandage. (She said yes!)

   When creative people are in control, good things happen. They held a beefcake beauty contest on Facebook for breast cancer research. The winner, Lance Mazzilli, was crowned “Mr. Tattootutu 2010.” He stood at the curb outside the shop for a whole day, wearing a pink tutu and waving at cars.

American Ink & Iron Company is Scott’s new shop, located next door to Rocco’s Pub on Hwy. 515 South. The minimum is just $50. He’d rather see a client take small steps toward the design he really wants instead of trying to stay on a budget and end up dissatisfied. “After all, this is a lifelong decision.”

And because it hurts to get tattooed, breaking the project into several shorter sessions lessens the client’s discomfort. How much does it hurt? Scott said on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst, it’s around a 3. It feels like someone is touching your sunburn. It’s annoying. It doesn’t feel good. But the pain is localized and dissipates once the service is over.

There are plenty of rules about who can and can’t get service. The often-photographed sign out front humorously states: “18 for tattoos, parental consent for piercings under 18, if you’re broke, pregnant, drunk, stoned, dirty, smelly, ignorant, or a pain in the $%#, come back when you’re not.”

Scott educates young people on the consequences of getting a visible tattoo. Not everyone is accepting of them. A visible tattoo might not mesh with your future career choice. So, think before you ink!

Personally, he won’t do any design that is sacrilegious. And he will not tattoo the face. Once, a fellow came in to Studio X wanting “STUPID” written across his forehead. Naturally, he didn’t get it there.

The most popular thing for women right now is the flank tattoo. It involves their sides (above the rib cage) done in flowers and swirlies. Plenty of time is taken to discuss the placement, size and design, to make sure the piece flows well with the body. Some women also choose text, as in Bible quotes. And feet are another favorite choice for something fun to peek out of pretty sandals.

Speaking of text, I asked if he’s ever had a “typo.” He smiled and said everybody who works with him is a good speller. On the release form he makes the client spell out exactly what she wants the tattoo to say, so everybody is happy with it.

How does the tattoo process work? It’s simple, in a complex way. A non-toxic, fine-particle ink is injected under the skin with a sterile needle. There are lots of colors, including darks for outlines and brights for fill-ins. Ink may be applied solid or softly fading in and out.

The heavy black outline is optional. There’s a technique called blood-lining where the outline is drawn with pure water. This raises a thin, red blood-line on the skin for reference so color may be filled in. As the tattoo heals, the blood line will disappear and leave a softer, more natural image in its place.

The first few weeks of a tattoo’s life are very important. Ointment must be applied in exact amounts at specific times or the image will heal looking prematurely aged. Luckily, infection is rare. It’s also a great idea to wear sun block in the tanning bed or while outside. UV rays break down brighter colors quickly. American Ink & Iron will touch-up color free within the first 90 days.

Artist Jeremie Haugland and apprentice Kayla Tilley work alongside Scott. Kayla is developing a strong clientele. Scott said, “It’s good to have a lady on staff. Guys like ’em. Girls like ’em. And some people think they have a lighter hand so the application won’t hurt as much. Whether or not that’s true, if it helps them mentally to get through the service, then OK.”

The bright clean shop has a conversation sofa, a big TV and a computer for video games. There are three open stations and a private one for piercings and inking on “private parts.” Popular piercings right now are the triple helix on the front cuff of the ear, the industrial bar from front to back of the ear and a rook inside the ear.

American Ink & Iron Co., 47 Mountainside Village Pkwy., Jasper, Ga. 30143; 706-253-IRON (4766), 678-602-1168. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Open Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight. Sundays and Mondays by appointment only.

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