Many of our visitors to the Inn have tattoos and many come to Salem to have work done by specific artists. At last count, there were about 13 studios in Salem. I decided that something so meaningful to so many people deserved a post. So I walked around the corner from the Inn to Studio Thirteen Tattoo and was invited to chat with some of the artists.
Mike Christie, the owner, told me how he came to choose the name of the studio. The number thirteen has long been significant in his life. Studio 13 Tattoo is located at 13 Gedney Street. Although the number thirteen is considered unlucky in the “real” world, in the tattoo community it is not. At the time of opening the studio, he had been tattooing for 13 years. He had attended 13 conventions. A colleague who had died was buried on the 13th of the month. The house he lives in now is #13 on his street. This post is being published on the 13th of March. And so go the coincidences.
Mike Christie at Work
Mike’s story is a rags-to-riches one, but one that came from determination, hard work, and hope. He struggled with an opioid addiction but got through a rehab program and got sober. He was homeless, (13 years ago), but he began tattooing and entered back into society—Mike will tell you that tattooing saved his life. It gave him a sense of self-respect and self-love. He was able to use his artistic talent to make a living and gift his clients with symbols that are important to them. He surrounds himself with warm, decent people, far away from the drug and alcohol scene which is prevalent throughout tattooist society. He has created a welcoming community within his shop.
One reason Mike chose tattooing as a vocation was that he wanted to express himself artistically without going to a traditional art school; instead, he apprenticed for two years, as is common for tattooists to learn their trade. His earliest tattoos were done at house parties since tattooing was illegal in Massachusetts at the time. The first tattoo Mike did was a spark plug and a piston with a clown behind them. His style now is mainly black and white portraiture. People request images of loved ones in memoriam, their children, pets are big, and favorite musicians are as well (Mike has Johnny Cash, Bob Marley, and Stevie Ray Vaughan tattooed on him). Other artists have other styles, and mosts artists have their own following. There are as many styles as there are artists.
Examples of Mike Christie’s Work
Mike charges $175/hour and limits his work to one client per day. Often he will work on that one person for 7-8 hours. His clientele is loyal, and they are often repeat customers. They have followed his Instagram account (@mikechristieink, [email protected]) as he moved from shop to shop. He is grateful for their loyalty, and I imagine they are grateful for his gift of artistry. He is booked out for 5 months so plan your Salem visit accordingly!
Mike Matthews at work
Mike Matthews, (@mikematthewstattoos, [email protected]) another artist at Studio 13, was also generous enough to have a conversation with me. We met in Mike’s space, a small room housing a salon-type chair, and his dark, fantastical artwork on the walls, which is what his clients typically request.
Delicate Black and White Drawings by Mike Matthews
Black and White Tattoos by Mike Matthews
Mike Matthews Explaining His Tattoos to Me
When asked about his own tattoos, the answer was deeply personal, as are most people’s reasons to have tattoos done. He was happy to explain the significance regarding his right arm sleeve of tattoos. The symbols he chose are metaphysical. A Maine Coon cat paces his forearm, as Mike believes that cats are half in this world and half in a more mysterious place. Trailing up from here, there are beautiful, playful blue flowers as well as circular symbols of sacred geometry. A clock numbered with all 12s decorates the front of his forearm and represents the circular nature of time. Included with these more esoteric symbols is a cross, as Mike grew up Catholic and is paying homage to that. It all culminates with the Green Man on his upper arm, a pagan symbol of rebirth and springtime. The lone tattoo on his other arm is also a cross, and when Mike unfolds his arms fully, the tattoos together represent Source.
When I asked how tattoos are made, he explained to me that the designs first start as a collaboration between the customer and him. Customers usually have an idea of what they want and part of Mike’s work is to interpret that and create a stencil, which is a black and white outline that is then transferred to the skin. When moving forward to the tattoo pen, it is important to trust that drawn design, as skin can stretch and the design warp if the lines are not followed carefully enough. The needle itself pierces the skin at about 100 times a second, creating holes and them filling them with ink. It can be a painful process, so Mike watches for signs of discomfort in his clients and offer breaks as needed. Designs can take many sittings.
Brianna Collins at Work
Then I chatted with Brianna Collins (@Zombrietattoos, [email protected]), the apprentice at Studio 13. She has almost finished her two years. Apprentices are responsible for keeping the shop cleaned, stations stocked with supplies, cleaning up, and answering phones. This is all for no pay, but the reward is an education from experienced artists and well as learning how a business runs. Brianna said that though there is very little competition in Salem amongst artists, that there is enough work to go around, she is always in competition with herself. She is seeking perfection in her work, which is wry, lighthearted.
Brianna Collins’ Work
If you are interested in visiting Studio 13 Tattoo, please call 978-498-4252.