Since the mid-’70s, Tattoo Factory’s crew of tattoo and piercing artists have been a fixture in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Examples of artists’ work and suggested tattoos line the roomy studio’s exposed brick walls as neon signs and glossy wood floors add color and retro flair. Clients lounge in black salon-style chairs as the skilled artists carefully create vibrant, long-lasting pieces of body art, such as the name of a loved one or a list of must-buy grocery items. Customers can also download the business’s recently launched iTunes app to get more information about tattoo and piercing artists, as well as glimpses at their portfolios.
Although tattoo artist Gonzalo Cervantes only founded Dream City Tattoos in 2011, his experience with ink goes back much further. As a young artist with burgeoning needle skills, he mentored under Richard “Tapeworm” Herrera, who instilled in his apprentice the techniques necessary to transform human canvases into works of art. In the 10 years since, Gonzalo has amassed a wealth of experience and now specializes in versatility, covering skin in black-and-white and full-color portraits, tribal designs, decorative lettering, and biomechanical creations. Patrons need only show him—or his equally adept brother Gabriel—their desired ink with a picture or describe it with semaphores.
Fingerprints might be nature’s proof that we’re all unique, but custom tattoos are a more artistic and personal way to remind us of that. Mario Ink generates original designs for its clients, turning skin into a canvas on which to scrawl imaginative images, exquisitely detailed lettering, or more freckles. Mario also decorates clients with less-permanent pigments, offering professional body painting for everything from advertising events to Halloween costumes.
Tattoos start at $60 (prices vary by size and complexity). A number of smaller designs (one to three square inches) fall in the $80 range. And, of course, you can apply your $80 credit toward a more involved endeavor, like a full arm sleeve of your ex-lovers’ skeletons suffering in Hell. Or a big daisy. Piercings start at $55, and the rest of your Groupon $80 value can be used toward jewelry or jelly to fill the piercing.
In 1980, tattoos were still the sole province of the slightly edgy, and standards for tattoo parlors varied widely. Even so, when "Fat Joe" Scapini opened Jade Dragon Tattoo, he sought to set a new benchmark for cleanliness as well as quality, inventing a "toss-a-tube" system that begins each tattoo with fresh ink and a brand-new barrel and tube. Though Joe passed away in 2007, his wife and children continue to work with the shop's 12 artists and six body piercers to maintain the high standard of sterility, still using the same system the founder invented. Tattoo seekers work with the artists to develop custom designs, or they can choose to reference one of more than one million pieces of flash, or premade designs. The shop also performs traditional and dermal piercings on ears, noses, lips, or other creative places, such as the ear but a little off-center. While their bodies are being turned into works of art, clients can gaze at the riot of designs and other artifacts—animal masks, neon signs, golden dragons, and a jackalope among them—that cover the shop's electric-blue walls.