Local ink shops leave lasting mark

Here is a recent piece I wrote published in The Herald covering how tattoo shops are giving back for the holidays! Headline credit goes to my awesome editor-in-chief Caleb, whose blog can be found here. A different perspective on tattoo culture:

Takako Okumura, staff photographer Tony Gaines, a junior computer and information technology major of Texarkana, has seven tattoos that represent different parts of his life.

Takako Okumura, staff photographer
Tony Gaines, a junior computer and information technology major of Texarkana, has seven tattoos that represent different parts of his life.

Tis the season for a tattoo: the holidays are approaching and local tattoo shops are preparing for fundraisers to help out the community.

InkFlikted Tattoos in Paragould will host a toy drive through Dec. 15, and donations will be sent to the Department of Human Services for foster children. According to the shop’s Facebook page, customers can receive $20 off any tattoo that is at least $40 if they bring in an unwrapped, $10 toy.

Black Arrow Tattoo will also be giving back to the community, with plans to work with animal shelters to get pets adopted. Freddie Bowers, a tattoo artist at the shop, said he wants to spread awareness of animal abuse, and have others realize pets can be good for the elderly, people with autism and those with PTSD.

Bowers said he would like to set aside one day for organizations to present their animals and have an adoption weekend, and take up donations that would go toward caring for the animals.

In the past, Black Arrow has participated in Tats for Tots, a blood drive for the American Red Cross and the shop has also sponsored a barbecue for the Blessed Sacrament Church.

Boom Booms Body Art is another local tattoo shop that will be participating in fundraising for the holidays. This will be the seventh year owner Blake Randel has prepared the Toys for Tats donation, where customers can bring in a toy and receive 50 percent off anything in store: tattoos, piercings, body jewelry and even gift cards.

“We’ve got a good following,” Randel said. “People come out of the woodworks to donate.”

The stereotypes surrounding tattoo artists and their ink tend to overshadow this type of fundraising and community service that the parlors participate in, however. Some labels that have been placed on Bowers include shady, self-centered and non-family oriented.

“The biggest thing is they don’t expect me to be well-spoken,” he said. He added that people are usually shocked when they discover he has his own spiritual walk.

Bowers said that initially, a lot of the stereotypes are justified, but it is better to get to know a tattoo artist.

“We are very much like you. We have families, we have bills,” he said. “Just get to know us.”

The labels don’t phase Randel as much. He said everybody has their own opinion.

“I’m a good person. I employ good people,” he said. “We’re the type of people who will stop and help you fix a flat, whether you want us to or not.”

According to, 36 percent of 18-25 year-olds have a tattoo. A-State students that fall into that category have also noticed a certain perception about tattoos. Aaron Stearns, a senior graphic design major of Little Rock, said he especially feels there is a stereotype here in the South.

“I think that people are automatically put in the category of a ruffian or someone who’s always into trouble, doing drugs, not educated,” Stearns said. “Which is not the case, but it also depends on how many tattoos you have. I feel the more you have, the more rebellious people assume you to be. Never judge people (on) how they look, though. You’ll be putting your foot in your mouth before you know it.”

Stearns, who has a tattoo of a solid black skeleton key on the inside of his left arm, said he has either had people react positively to his body art or just ignore it. He said even his parents thought the key was cool, despite not knowing about if for four months.

When it comes to job hunting, Stearns hasn’t had many issues with potential employers.

“I’m a graphic designer, so I feel that tattoos in my line of work are more welcomed and looked upon as self expression through a form of art,” he said, adding it is a relative subject, however. “I wouldn’t recommend getting two full sleeves if you’re looking to become a doctor or an accountant. You might have a bit of trouble then.”

Tony Gaines, a junior computer and information technology major of Texarkana, has seven tattoos that represent certain times in his life or symbolize something important to him. His favorite tattoo is one that reads “familia” (family).

“I’m multicultural and like to show my different cultures in my ink,” Gaines said. “This shows my roots and that family is most important to me.”

His tattoo is outlined in red, which symbolizes how blood makes people stronger and closer than anything.

“A lot of my family members share this tattoo and add their own style to it,” he said.

Gaines said he feels tattoos are normally associated with being trashy or thuggish, but that is not his opinion at all.

“I see tattoos as art, and my body is a canvas,” he said. “I show you artwork that symbolizes different meanings to me that are worth the permanent markings.”

When traveling to other areas such as Texas, Gaines said the people there love his tattoos and appreciate them as artwork instead of irrelevant markings. He has even had people take photos of his ink because they liked how crisp the color looks.

Gaines added he has never been turned down for a job just because of his tattoos.

“It seems as though society is more understanding when it comes to tattoos now,” he said, adding that the most he has been told is to cover them up.


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