Main Street and mainstream tattoos

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Danielson - posted Tue., Nov. 29, 2011
Johnny McDonough and Heather Findlay look over some sketches at Body Marx Tattoo Shop. Photos by D. Coffey.
Johnny McDonough and Heather Findlay look over some sketches at Body Marx Tattoo Shop. Photos by D. Coffey.

Heather Findlay's body is practically covered in ink. A black cat arches its back on her right arm. A woman with the words “Psych Ward” covers her bicep. The word “resilient” is etched into her forearm. Her left arm carries a jack-in-the-box, two hands holding a heart, roses for her mother and two sisters, and a bear playing a bagpipe. The tops of her fingers and her sternum and armpits are covered in tattoos. It's almost hard to imagine that this 40-year-old woman once wanted to work for Walt Disney World as an animator. Walt Disney doesn't hire people with tattoos, she said. When she found out, she was crushed.

It wasn't until a friend suggested she become a tattoo artist that she found her niche. That was 11 years ago. Since then, she has tattooed people from as far away as England, Ireland and Australia. She has worked in shops in Pennsylvania, Texas, Connecticut and North Carolina.

“My life is tattooing,” Findlay said as she worked on a drawing at the counter of Body Marx Tattoo Shop on Main Street in Danielson, owned by Johnny McDonough, where she was a visiting artist for the week. Her take on tattooing has been quoted in “Gender Online Journal” and “The Columbia Daily Tribune.” She is as passionate about the art behind it as the culture it engenders.

“I always wanted to be an artist,” Findlay said. “But to be good, you have to do it every day.” She works on designs for hours, drafting up to 15 revisions before showing it to a client. “People think they can draw. They think they can be artists in a couple of weeks,” she said.

When people come in with their own drawings, she is blunt. Of course parents and friends will love the work, she said. Findlay will sit down and talk with the person, sometimes arguing against having a tattoo done. She doesn't like it when people want names etched into their skins. Parents' names or children's names are one thing, but names of wives and girlfriends are another.

“They are the most popular cover-up,” she said.

McDonough agreed. “I always tell someone, 'When you need to cover it up, come back to see me.'”

Findlay and McDonough found each other with the help of the tattoo community. McDonough wanted help opening his shop, and Findlay was available. “She helped with everything,” he said. “Even though I'm the owner, she was the boss.”

Shows on Discovery and TLC that showcase tattoo artists are partly responsible for the growing popularity of the practice, according to Findlay. “It just blew up. That was the good part,” she said. But she is disdainful of the schools that charge upwards of $7,800 for a few weeks worth of training. Artists who apprentice for a year (Findlay is one) don't hold “graduates” of these schools (known as scratchers) in high regard.

“You can't learn this stuff in two weeks,” Findlay said. “We need to stop sales going to people who can hurt people.”

The health risks associated with tattoos include contracting staff infections, hepatitis, and MRSA. All tattoo shops in the state must meet annual inspection guidelines. The environment must be clean and staff must use proper sterilization techniques and be trained by physicians to recognize the warning signs of infection, difficulty breathing and allergic reactions.

A sign on the door leading into the shop takes it one step further: “If you are sick, drunk, on drugs, smelly, pregnant, dirty or else, please come back when you're not,” it reads.

Findlay has heard it all as a tattoo artist. People share intimate details of their lives as they sit under the pen. McDonough agreed. “It's therapy for people,” he said. He believes it helps physically, as well. “It's a release,” he said. “Pain can be a release. Going through pain can help.”

That might explain why so many people are getting tattoos these days. A survey conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology found that 36 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 had tattoos. And surprisingly, middle-aged women are more likely than any other demographic group to be in the market for a tattoo these days.

It's clear that tattoos have made it into the mainstream. But for some, like McDonough's mother, the art's placement on the body is hard to understand. “She hates tattoos,” McDonough said, “but she loves what I've become.”



Disney hasn't had a tattoo policy for new hires for years. And never had one for animators. If you work in the parks, you must cover your ink while in front of guests. A Google search can prove this in about 15 seconds. I can see using this fact that she thought this as part of the story makes sense as it directed her future career, however, a little homework would have fixed this factual error for the writer.

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