Inside the life of a tattoo artist

Published 6:00 am Sunday, April 3, 2016

By Cecily Lane

Bright red skate shoes tap the foot pedal of an electric tattoo machine. Heavy guitar and drums blare through the speakers. Purring to life, the needle vibrates over the lines of a magnolia, sketched on an otherwise bare forearm. Controlling the strokes of the electric needle is tattoo artist Doug Hollis, owner and operator of Oxford Tattoo Company.

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“I was always interested in tattooing, skateboarding and listening to punk rock,” he said.

Doug’s shop has been situated on Frontage Road for 11 years, but his history with tattoos long preceded ownership of the quaint shop.

“I got into tattooing right out of high school, and (I’ve) been doing it ever since,” he said.

Befitting the life of a tattoo fiend, colorful collages cover his sleeveless arms, leaving little space for future expansion. When he was 16, Hollis got “a clover on my chest because I thought I was Irish, because I had red hair,” he said of his first tattoo, “but I’m actually not. My grandparents are from Czechoslovakia.”

Permanently inked flowers, swords, fires and waves cover the skin under his T-shirt and jeans, like experiences, lessons and memories.

His favorite personal tattoo is a wolf on his kneecap, inked by friend Jason Thomas.

“I learned a lot in that tattoo, just from watching him,” he said.

It’s not something you go to school for. As an apprentice, Hollis was a tattoo artist in training, watching and learning for about a year before using a tattoo machine.

He’s worked both with and under several characters including Cody Rardin, whom he now shares the shop with; and Jason Thomas, who gave him the best lessons about his machine.

“If you can’t handle the mechanical side and the artistic side, you’re not gonna make it,” said Hollis, “you should know how to use your tools and handle them.”

Not a tattooer, “just working to pay the bills,” Hollis works in the best interests of his customers while sometimes protecting them from themselves.

“There are a lot of bad tattoo trends going around,” he said, “and I don’t wanna lose sleep because I ruined you. If you can’t get a job after you graduate, I don’t want to be the guy that did that to you,” he said. “If you get heavily tattooed, you’re going to be discriminated against.”

Of his own experiences covered in tattoos, Hollis said, “People cross the street. They scoff. That’s just how it is. The nice old ladies who used to say ‘hey’ to you now hide their purse. It’s not for everybody.”

Quality focus

No matter what, Hollis wants every client to receive a quality tattoo, and he will turn clients away.

“I just try to make everybody happy,” he said, “even if a guy is a total jerk, and I wouldn’t want to work with him. If we can’t meet in the middle, I lose sleep over that.”

Being a tattoo artist is more than just a job to Hollis.

“I used to tell people, I didn’t get into this business to work hard,” he said. “I just want to listen to music and hang out with my friends and make nice tattoos. If you stop me from doing that at any part of the day, you’re out. This is my shop. It’s gonna be my way, or it’s not gonna be.”

Having seen his less inviting and accommodating side, Cody Rardin said he learned everything he knows about tattooing from Hollis. He also described Hollis’s approach to customer service as “angry,” but also fairly “caring.” He’s going to give you a nice tattoo, whether you want one or not,” Rardin joked.

Hollis is protective of his clients.

“Kids come in here and hate my guts … but you’ll thank me later,” Hollis said, tipping his hat.

Yasmine Reyes, who recently visited the shop with her mom, noticed Hollis’ somewhat standoffish attitude that “seemed like he isn’t interested in anyone’s opinion of him. But tattooing is definitely his life.”

The reality of Hollis’ demeanor is that he wants “to make tattoos and hang out with my homies.”

He said he “didn’t get into tattooing to get rich,” but he does strive “to make everybody happy, and it really bums me out when I can’t.”