Edited by Matt Dodge
Unlike toy stores, bubble tea huts, and artisanal salt shops, Portland can support many tattoo parlors. We cornered a few of our favorite artists in their studios and asked tough questions about the industry. Remember, the process of selecting the artist right for you is part of the fun of getting inked. Learn something about them — it won’t hurt a bit.
Photographed by Tristan Spinski
Chris Dingwell Tattoo
142 High St.
HOMETOWN: Cincinnati, OH.
In Portland since ’99.
STYLE: Illustrational tattooing. I do a lot of photographic realism as well as anything that has a “painterly” style. I do basically anything.
MOST MEMORABLE PIECE: One of the most interesting projects I’ve done recently was for a guy here locally who is a graphic designer and he designed his own image based on some work … a new style they’re calling “trash polka” tattooing. Really interesting, very graphic work.
TREND THAT NEEDS TO DIE: There are a thousand. The only real trend I can see — and a lot of people blame this on the television shows — I think a lot more people are … trying to do stuff that’s really personal and unique to them. But a lot of my clients end up coming to me having sort of created and thought through their entire design by themselves without realizing they’re not artists, they’re not tattooers, they’re not trained. People doing too much thinking for themselves and not trusting the artist they’re working with.
ANOTHER ARTIST YOU’RE DOWN WITH: The guy that stands out to me the most right now would be Chad Chase, who’s not actually in Portland, but runs Venom Ink Tattoo in Sanford. He’s been down there for many years. I just got tattooed by him. He’s developing a good reputation nationally for all of Maine, not just Portland.
21 Pleasant Street
Home: Alabama. In Portland since ’99.
Style: A mix between traditional and naturalist. I do a lot of animals; I do a lot of different things. There are certain rules of traditional tattooing that I always aim to be using, like solid line work, saturated color, or saturated black and gray. But as long as it’s a clean tattoo, I do lots of different things.
Most memorable piece: The ones that we’ve incorporated ashes into. We can do a small portion of a passed animal or a passed person. Those can be very heavy moments that can be hard to forget. I have a tattoo like that — my dog’s ashes are in a butterfly on my shoulder.
Trend that needs to die: I guess watercolor tattoos? I don’t know, I can’t even say that because there are people that do them really well. No, I think tattoos are always trending; if it goes away it’s just going to come back in 10 years. Tattoos are fashion these days.
Another artist you’re down with: Aside from Phuc [Tran, at Tsunami]? I really respect Chris Dingwell’s work. He’s been tattooing for a really long time, always doing something new. As far as tattooers that continually push their boundaries and try new things, I think he’s stayed ahead of the curve for a really long time.
31 Forest Ave.
Hometown: San Diego, CA. In Portland for “about 25 years.”
Style: Pretty much whatever people want. When I first started doing this, you had to be really versatile because everyone wants something different. I do a lot of larger pieces — not just single, individual tattoos — and I do a lot of work that is more themed.
Most memorable piece: I just did a Maine sleeve on my friend Jen, who is not from here, but she lives here and tours with pro wrestling. She wanted a whole arm of Maine-themed things so she’s got a chickadee and Mount Katahdin … fiddleheads, cecropia moths, and little parts that people don’t associate with Maine. No lobsters, no lighthouses.
Trend that needs to die: I consider writing on the ribs kind of the modern version of the tramp stamp. I would like to see that gone. It’s really difficult to do and really painful … I don’t understand it really.
Another artist you’re down with: Well, Chris [Dingwell], who used to work here. We also just got another guy, Jeff Clark, from Brooklyn. He’s actually from here and just moved back. It’s a good complement; we’ve got a full house now.
Reuben J. Little
Hallowed Ground Bodyart Studio
610 Congress St.
Hometown: Thomaston, ME. Been in Portland “about 20 years.”
Style: Mostly American Traditional. I’m really influenced by American folk art, Mexican folk art. I think I might bring a little bit of that whimsy into what I do, but the way I build tattoos is in the framework of American Traditional: bold outline, lot of black shading, bright colors.
Most memorable piece: It’s not my crowning glory, but there was one that springs to mind just because of the image: it was like a muscle-y clown punching the Grim Reaper in the face. That or Popeye. I’ve done a couple of Popeyes and I always love doing that.
Trend that needs to die: There are two, and a lot of times they come together. The things that bother me — mostly for the reason that they don’t really hold up — [are] small long quotes done in white ink. The small letters in general kind of have a tendency to creep under the skin and white ink just looks bad.
Another artist you’re down with: We’re so spoiled. We have so many great tattoo artists representative of so many different styles, and luckily we have a town that loves to get tattooed. I would say probably Jaime Hodgdon at Death or Glory [in Westbrook]. I love his work; it’s super solid. His shop is always awesome and he’s just an animal.