For people looking for an original way to tell their life’s story, tattooing may be the least original form on Earth. After all, the first tattooed human skin dates back more than 5,000 years.
In Bend, putting pen to skin has become more popular than ever before. For many in this region, sitting for a tattoo is a monthly ritual — a belief that the body is a canvas for infinite ink.
For Keone Schneibel, lying on a tattoo artist’s table is exactly where he wants to be.
“She’ll put me in this pose that makes us all uncomfortable,” Schneibel said.
Every month for the last two and half years, Schneibel has laid on such a table for three hours at a time, receiving the constant pinch of a pulsating needle drenched in ink, watching his otherwise clear skin evolve into another work of permanent art.
“Every time I come in, it’s a surprise. And then we have a cool conversation on top of it, right?” Schneibel said.
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Schneibel calls it a therapy session — his treat to himself. It’s also quite the treat for tattoo artist Holly McClintock. These sessions cost as much as $200 an hour. She, like so many local artists, is always booked out for six months or more. Rarely does a client come for a small tattoo then never return for another.
“Not very often. Not very often at all,” McClintock said.
Tattoo industry booming in Bend
When McClintock and her husband opened Zen Art Ink 10 years ago, the competition included just two other studios. Today, there are more than 20.
“We live in a great state for it,” McClintock said.
And at a great time. Brittney Manson is considered a relative newcomer to the business, now entering her fourth year of body artistry. Even she will tell you today’s customer is also next month’s customer. And the month after. And so on.
“Doing their first tattoo, they instantly know that they’re gonna get another one. Or as I’m tattooing them they’re already looking up different ideas: ‘I want to get this next,'” Manson said.
The social acceptance of body art has shifted as much as the quality of the art people are wearing today. That acceptance has made getting your first tattoo a much easier decision and getting your second, third and fourth much harder to resist.
Is it an addiction?
When you talk about guys like Schneibel who have been on the tattoo table now every single month for more than two years, it begs the question: Is it possible that for some, tattooing can become an addiction? The art, the pain, the look. The answer to that question is quite simple, depending on who you ask.
“The numbers tell the story obviously. Everybody’s doing it,” said Dr. Vinita Mehta, a clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C.
She is a regular contributor to “Psychology Today,” specializing in the mental and physical evolution of the tattoing industry and its clientele.
“A person may have a hard time cutting back on tattooing because of the sheer sensation of it,” Mehta said.
Her research and her patients do tell a story of addiction for some. But unlike drugs or alcohol, a tattooing addiction is an addiction to a want rather than a need. Think of an addiction to shopping or working out.
“I think that tattoos can be the same kind of expression. This is something about me that I really want to present to the world. This is how I want you, this is how I want you to see me,” Mehta said.
Bend hosts a top tattoo academy
In Bend, when you talk about the tattoo industry, you’re not just talking about a growing number of studios.
Monolith Tattoo Academy is growing the number of artists to fill those studios. For the last three years, owner Edward Kehoe, a 30-year veteran of the industry, has been turning artists into body artists in Bend and preparing them for their state licensing exam and a career that seems to have no limits. Artists come from as far away as the east coast to train here.
“This is the future of our business, so we want the best education that we can provide,” Kehoe said.
Is it an addiction to tattooing that supports this school?
“It can be but I don’t like the term addiction,” Kehoe said. “I think I would appreciate more of a collection.”
For recent four-year college graduate Lou McAtee, turning a fashion marketing degree into a body art business starts here.
“My family don’t like tattoos. They are very traditional, very religious,” McAtee said.
This native of Indiana graduated college during the pandemic and couldn’t find work. She knows that won’t be a problem leaving the academy.
“I am not aware of any of our students not getting employed (immediately after school),” Kehoe said.
Two doors down from Monolith Academy is Monolith Tattoo Studio — one of two studios connected to Kehoe. Inside is another part of the industry’s evolution: an upscale environment designed to appeal to a new class of clientele.
Rea Jackman, age 81, says she always wanted a tattoo. Five years ago, she joined her granddaughter at a local studio. What she got was not what she wanted.
“It needs to look like an edelweiss not a daisy,” Jackman said.
Her new artist, Dave Lue, is fixing that just in time for Jackman to officiate that same granddaughter’s wedding.
“We’re gonna be on the beach and I’m gonna wear sandals and maybe a shorter dress and I don’t know. It needs to be set right,” Jackman said.
Back at Zen Art Ink, Schneibel is ending his 36th straight month of adding to his body art. Despite his gallery of ink and his 100-plus hours on this same table, the thought that he might be addicted to tattooing seems a bit much to him.
“It sounds like a question spoken from somebody who read a few books and not necessarily walked the walk, right?” Schneibel said.
So, when will his collection stop?
“I would stop at my face,” Schneibel said.
“Too late,” McClintock replied.
Schneibel already has head and neck tattoos, including one just above his jawline.
When done, he’ll walk out to show off his latest addition to family and co-workers.
“I don’t worry about that outcome anymore. Every time I come in here it’s like no different than going to the barber. I’m going to come out feeling good and looking good,” Schneibel said.
For those of thinking about your next tattoo, remember that everytime that needle hits skin, the result should be thought of as permanent. There is such a thing as laser tattoo removal. There are even have options for that procedure here in bend. But it can take years and will easily cost 10 times what the tattoo cost. So, choose those tattoos carefully.