Readers of the previous edition of Weekly Ink will remember a gentleman by the name of Cartoon that I put in the spotlight. At the end of our interview, Cartoon was nice enough to put me in touch with the owner and manager of Made You Look Custom Tattoo. Tattoo artist JB is a soft-spoken intellectual who not only cares about pushing the tattooing industry forward, but providing a service that is one in a thousand. We met early Saturday morning and discussed everything from what differentiates a good shop from a great one, to how the industry of tattooing has evolved over the last 10 years.
JB started tattooing in 2012. After leaving the shop he was at, he went back to his private studio. His friends, family and clients then suggested he open his own spot. He set out to do so and, as a result, Made You Look Custom Tattoo was created.
I asked JB about what goes into the hiring process of finding and selecting his artists. Without hesitation, JB replied, “I go through a process of making sure that they are an artist first and foremost because that passion will come out in their tattooing.” He also elaborated that knowing their work and watching their entire process from how they set up, to them drawing the concept and finally tattooing are all factors. He emphasized the importance of following the health guidelines of both the shop and the health department in everything they do.
Next, I asked him what differentiates a good shop from a great shop.
Once again, with absolute certainty JB explained, “A good shop does solid work and puts out good customer service, but a great shop combines those two factors and provides a comfortable environment.” Furthermore, he discussed how a great shop needs to give back to the industry. I learned how great shops are forerunners in pushing the envelope of tattooing because they treat it as an art. JB mentioned in a thoughtful statement, “If you stop learning to help better the industry then there is no progress.”
In just five minutes of talking to JB, I uncovered a level of such strong respect and admiration for this craft unlike anything I had previously encountered. I decided to challenge his statement and ask how his shop was giving back to the industry.
JB said with sincerity, “We try to make sure our clients are educated. There are a lot of misconceptions about the quality, pricing and even placement of tattoos. With that being said, it's also the ability to keep up on the statues of a tattoo. A lot of our clients consider us family.” He discussed the importance of getting clients to understand what the artist can do and then using that to create the piece the person desires. He briefly mentioned, “I’ve seen a lot of great pieces that, because they are not what the client wants, they are unhappy. There is a misconnection that occurs when the artist or establishment does not take time to make sure the client is satisfied.”
I asked JB what personal touches his shop gives over other places.
In a heartfelt response that never broke his professional demeanor, JB said, “The personal touch we can give is that we care, be it something impulsive that we caution against or if it's a piece you have wanted for a while. We care about the piece and the fact that it is something you are showing the world for the rest of your life because it's meaningful to you. Even when it comes to pricing, some people may not have as much as others but everyone wants to feel like they get the same quality pieces and we do that.”
The beauty of Made You Look is that everyday when they open their doors, they are not just aiming to improve their shop, but the industry as a whole. In a memorable quote, JB joked tongue-in-cheek, “How can we better serve our customers? Because at the end of the day that's how we eat. If you are not satisfied we are not satisfied.”
I asked JB if there was anything he would go back in time to give himself a heads-up about in the four years his shop has been open.
Interestingly, the answer was nothing. In a thought-provoking explanation, JB said, “Because everything I did–from the size of the booths to what the client encounters when they first enter the door up to when they leave–was all based on my experiences prior to the shop.”
When JB was a young tattooist, he would ask clients “why they were sitting in my chair, looking at other artists who I felt were better than me and then listening to those particular things they experienced.” In taking that information and being mindful of it, he built his shop.
With a hint of deserved pride, JB claimed, “We are known for having a comfortable environment, providing great work and being friendly. You can go to a thousand shops and many of them will not have all three of those traits.”
My personal favorite moment of the interview was when JB shared some wisdom, saying, “I learned as a young man, you can't make all the mistakes there are to make. It’s for you to learn from the ones you make and also the ones others make.”
In an attempt to shift gears and touch on the bigger picture of tattooing, I asked about the ways the industry has changed over the past five years.
“There are more real artists in the industry, including Madison. When I first came to Madison and got into tattooing, you saw a lot of Japanese and American traditional pieces. You really did not see a diversity of work. But over the past five to 10 years you saw the industry get more daring, with artists willing to be forefront with their work. In the past, you have to first be dead to get paid for your artwork, but now there is a way to render your own desired artwork and get paid. In Madison, there began to be more people who actually wanted a custom tattoo rather than a ‘place and stick ‘em’ or a tattoo that 10 other people have. People are looking into more custom ways to express their art.”
In a final quote, as his first client of the day entered the shop, he informed me, “I'm an artist first and foremost. I love everything—though I do love doing realism—but I’ll do everything.”