Just this March, we did a local shop feature on Tattooed Heart Studios, the custom tattoo studio that works right next to our facilities. Throughout the day, it isn’t unusual to hear the music from the office next door, or the resounding, contagious laughter of artist Amy Nicholls. The Tattooed Heart Studios feature puts a spotlight on John F. Garancheski III — but the rest of his team reached out to us recently for the opportunity to meet up, indulge in a few cocktails, and get to know each other a little better. It was only a few days later that we were sitting down to spinach artichoke dip, burgers, salads, and grapefruit crushes at The Ale House Columbia (we definitely recommend going!)
The artists at Tattooed Heart Studios are tight-knit people who operate under a collective team mentality. Since John has been on vacation exploring with his family, only six members of the team were in attendance: Amy Nicholls, Kinsey Roehm, Meredith Bertschin, Andrea Jensen, Natalie Seki, and Amber Ramirez. See the whole team below at their Tattooed Heart Studios Exhibition hosted in our MilkCrate Creative Space:
We kicked dinner off with a bizarre ice-breaker question (because what better way to get to know each other?) The question was as follows: if you were to discover a mysterious book written in an ancient language, would you read aloud from it? After mutually agreeing that we would all, in fact, read aloud from the ancient script (come what may — an indication that we are all curious, somewhat reckless individuals), everyone was feeling compelled to be open and honest.
We first chatted about the Tattooed Heart Studios exhibit, which was the first this studio has hosted in our MilkCrate. For those of you who are thinking of a literal milk crate, allow us to clarify: the MilkCrate is a place where we hold quarterly art shows and occasional seminars.
“The fact that the space is open to us is incredible,” said Amy Nicholls.
The exhibit was a real hit, an event that was family-oriented, eye-opening, and overall a great way for our PainfulPleasures team and the Tattooed Heart Studios crew to collaborate:
“It was cool to see the teamwork come together,” Andrea Jensen said in regard to preparation for the exhibit. “Everyone was so helpful. Someone had a hammer if you had a nail.”
The front room of the exhibit featured a custom piece by each artist; customers could purchase their favorite prints and merch from a sales area in the back. The exhibit allowed the artists to “share their clients” outside of the studio, providing the opportunity for their respective clients to purchase prints or custom work from other artists at Tattooed Heart. In fact, two of Amy’s clients, Tony and Dawn Schettino, purchased a custom piece from everybody on the team! This idea of “client sharing” and encouraging each other’s artwork speaks volumes for Tattooed Heart’s devotion to creating pieces you’ll love forever:
“What makes us special is we encourage clients to work with teammates who will best realize their custom piece,” Andrea said.
The family-oriented aspect of the event was especially important to the Tattooed Heart Team; they were thrilled that children showed up to admire and appreciate the artwork, including paintings and custom prints.
“[Events like this] expose people to tattoos in a way that’s mainstream,” said Andrea.
It’s perhaps the family-oriented atmosphere, the friendly nature of the Tattooed Heart team, and this mainstream mentality that is opening people’s eyes to what was originally considered to be taboo or a “low-brow” art form. Almost everyone who attended the exhibit asked, “When’s the next one?”, a heartening assurance that people wanted more of this to come.
After chatting about the great turnout at the exhibit, we started talking a little more about tattooing in general, and what it means to each of the artists at Tattooed Heart. We can’t lie… a lot of our dinner was spent goofing around, ordering more fruity drinks (save for Kinsey, who favored a virgin, extra spicy Bloody Mary — “purity with a kick,” Amy called it), and discussing topics such as cotillion, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and horror fiction; but there was certainly time to get to know a little about each artist’s background.
Natalie Seki is a soft-spoken, cat-loving specialist when it comes to Japanese-inspired ink painting, calligraphy, and brushwork tattoos; she comes from Brazil. She found Tattooed Heart Studios after purchasing her supplies through us for a long time, and has since become a wonderful addition to the Tattooed Heart team in terms of talent and personality.
“I’ve always seen tattooing as a relation between both souls, the client’s and mine. [...] Like a flower that has roots in deep waters and is made visible on the skin. It’s about the translation of lives and memories on the skin. And also, it’s about me, myself, telling the story.”
Meredith Bertschin, whose roots are in illustration and American traditional tattooing, is working on a book about tattoo history. Her skillset in creating American traditional work has evolved and branched off into more playful tattoos; you can see Pokemon, Disney icons, and other cartoons in her portfolio. Sharp, intelligent, and reserved, she has a keen and analytical take on what inspires her most about tattooing:
“What’s interesting to look at is cultures colliding. Seeing what has been considered a low brow trade becoming culturally accepted and respected as a whole is awesome. Coming from an illustrative background, [I understand that] tattoos are equivalent to any other form of fine art [...] educating people about that is great.”
Amy Nicholls, the one with the iconic laugh, talks about tattooing with passion. She believes in the healing effects of tattooing, and discourages any kind of anxiety, negative energy, or fearfulness during her tattooing sessions. Maintaining positive energy, after all, allows for an enjoyable experience. She has a deep relationship with her art and her clients, and an optimistic attitude about life, artistic expression, and evolving as a person and a specialist, no matter what your talent may be:
“I can tell you what I like about tattooing. It’s something you can do forever. It’s about analyzing our lives and experiences artistically, technically, and cathartically. It’s something you hone. There isn’t really a cap on it. It helps me get through life… it’s a perpetual ladder that has no end, and you can’t wait to keep climbing it. Once you start climbing, you realize that it’s really all about the climb!”
Andrea Jensen, who specializes in color, intricate patterns, and natural subjects like animals and bugs, apprenticed under Amy. She taught middle school for five years before pursuing her tattoo career, which has ultimately led to a sense of self-fulfillment and discovery.
“I think tattooing finds you at the right time [...] Art, for me, has always been a healing tool. There’s been a lot of traumas that it helped me heal and patch. I help clients heal, too… I get to help people heal themselves and view themselves. I get to pass on that art of healing.”
Kinsey Roehm has become an important member of the Tattooed Heart team, specializing in energetic line work, watercolors, and abstract expressionism. She has a knack for expression, herself, and declares that she makes quite an authentic monkey impersonation. Unfortunately, we were unable to hear Kinsey’s monkey sounds, being in an intimate restaurant setting — but we are determined to witness it eventually; let the monkey emerge, Kinsey!
“The thing I like most about tattooing is it’s something that seems inherent in the human experience. Historically, we have always been decorating ourselves. It’s something we’ve done for centuries. I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Amber Ramirez, creator of whimsical art, is currently an apprentice at Tattooed Heart. She has a passion for alien-themed horror/Sci-Fi fiction, and finds her inspiration both in nature and the surreal:
“I feel like being born on Halloween has been the catalyst for what inspires my art. I not only have a passion for flora and fauna, but also for all things weird, and supernatural. I feel like a lot of my art portrays these passions, but always with an oddly cute touch. It's common to see crystals, bugs, skulls, and flowers in my work. Finding the beauty in the abnormal is something that I want to continue exploring in my art, and soon, my tattoos. In the next few months I will be moving onto the next big step of my apprenticeship — tattooing people!"
Chatting with the charming ladies of Tattooed Heart Studios was inspiring, warm, and full of laughs. Tattooed Heart has many more endeavors planned for the future, including a collaborative t-shirt featuring all of their individual styles.
As we grow as a distributor and Tattooed Heart grows as a tattoo studio, we hope to strengthen our relationships, host more events in the MilkCrate Creative Space, and, hopefully, sit down to many more bowls of hot spinach-artichoke dip.