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Permanent makeup takes tattoos upscale

Kate Spinner Herald Tribune
Mark Weston works on a client last week at Artistry Concepts Permanent Cosmetics and Body Art in Englewood. Weston got into permanent cosmetics when his mother asked him to try it on her.  STAFF PHOTO / JENNA ISAACSON

Mark Weston works on a client last week at Artistry Concepts Permanent Cosmetics and Body Art in Englewood. Weston got into permanent cosmetics when his mother asked him to try it on her. STAFF PHOTO / JENNA ISAACSON

In the studio where Brie Ellingwood reclines to receive her eighth tattoo, what is not on the walls is more striking than what is.

Aside from the cluster of knives surrounding a sign that jokingly reads, "Free In House Tattoo Removal," the private room looks more like a physician's office than a tattoo parlor.

And if Ellingwood, who flinches at putting in eyedrops, were not afraid to feel the needle near her eyes, she would not hesitate to get eyeliner tattooed on in the adjacent room, she said.

"We're trying to break away from the traditional tattoo studio, where you walk in and see skulls and crossbones on the walls," said Gale Hartvigsen, owner of the shop, Artistry Concepts Permanent Cosmetics and Body Art.

The shop's tattoo artist, Mark Weston, specializes in permanent makeup as well as custom tattooing. So, Hartvigsen wanted it to appeal to a broad clientele.

Since the studio opened in December, Weston has performed about 100 jobs. Demand for tattoos and permanent cosmetics has been about even, Hartvigsen said.

Hartvigsen's shop is unique in the region, but according to experts in the field, the merger of permanent cosmetics and tattooing in a neutral setting is slowly increasing.

When visitors walk through the front door, the first thing they see is a bright tropical mural and a waiting room with a television and overstuffed leather couches.

There are no trinkets for sale, no jewelry on display and no books full of flash -- the tattoo trade's equivalent of clip-art.

Nationwide, more traditional tattoo artists are practicing in bright, medical-like studios because they want clients to feel safe. Permanent-cosmetics artists, meanwhile, are trying to get out of the salon environment, to avoid nuisances such as nail dust from manicures.

"It's a growing trend from both aspects," said Kate Ciampi, executive director of the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals.

She said the merger works because permanent cosmetics, such as eyeliner and lipstick, are technically tattoos, and the general public has come to accept tattooing.

But there are still few places that go out of their way to offer permanent cosmetics and tattooing the way Artistry Concepts does, said Sailor Bill Johnson, executive office director for the Alliance of Professional Tattooists board.

"Usually it's more hassle than it's worth to deal with permanent cosmetics," Johnson said. He said most tattoo artists would rather focus on their art.

If they offer cosmetics, it is often done only on request and not advertised, he added.

That is how Deborah Surace operated Cookies Tat Shack, until she began receiving a lot of requests for permanent lipstick, eyebrows and eyeliner.

She made permanent cosmetics a part of her Bradenton shop last year by contracting with Peggy Marelli, who is trained specifically in permanent makeup.

"The tattoo artists do just as good a job as her. We just wanted an esthetician to be more professional," Surace said.

The cosmetic room is private and spa-like, with a comfortable table, soothing music and candles.

Although Surace considers it a good addition, permanent makeup represents only 10 percent to 20 percent of her business.

Pretty red couches and tidy decor give her shop a high-end atmosphere, but it is primarily a tattoo shop and there is a stigma tied to that, Surace said.

"Women who are looking for permanent makeup are scared to go into a tattoo shop, whereas if they looked at our tattoo studio, they would be so impressed," Surace said.

When planning the business model for Artistry Concepts, Hartvigsen, who has no tattoos and refers to most tattoo parlors as scary, was particularly sensitive to that stigma.

The front lobby walls of her establishment have no wizards slaying fire-breathing dragons and no topless divas in distress. Instead, there are photos of Weston's tattoos and before and after shots of his permanent cosmetic work.

Ellingwood, who has experienced the traditional parlor, said the atmosphere at Artistry Concepts works for her.

"It's very sterile," she said. "It just makes you feel comfortable."