For Eric Tunnell, tattoos read like a person’s life journey. They are a meaningful moment or experience important enough for a person to have as a permanent guide.
“I don’t think anything in life is meaningless,” he said. “Tattoos bring that to surface.”
Tunnell, 41, is the owner of Dig it! Tattoo. He opened the shop in Langley more than a year ago and is finding success in the community.
Tunnell worked out of his home on Maxwelton Road for 12 years before he decided to take it to the next level. He’s never been a fan of big tattoo shops, but he finds running his own has been enjoyable.
“So far it’s a good venture,” he said. “I’ve been received well by the community and I am grateful for that.”
His is the only tattoo shop on the South End.
Marc Esterly, executive director of the Langley Chamber of Commerce, said the business fills a niche on the South end. Langley is a multifaceted art community and is accepting of different art forms, he said. To his memory, this business has been the only tattoo shop on South Whidbey.
The majority of Tunnell’s customers are from South Whidbey, but some customers seek him out from the mainland.
Mill Creek residents Kandis and Kassidy Jones sought Tunnell out for their mother and daughter tattoos. Kassidy, 18, chose him after seeing her boyfriend’s tattoo.
“I thought his work was beautiful,” she said.
The Jones’ discusses getting a tattoo together for more than three years. The two chose a dandelion being blown away with the words “My wish for you” in thin cursive writing.
Kandis said she is getting the tattoo for a midlife crisis. For Kassidy, it’s a “turning 18” crisis.
Tunnell was told tattooing is the imperfect art form, but he struggles with wanting each piece to be perfect. He wants customers to leave with an image they enjoy and feel good about.
The process starts with a consultation with the customer to discuss possible tattoo ideas. Tunnell drafts the ideas with pencil drawings, builds the image and does a color mock up. He keeps in touch with the client to make sure the design is on track. When the customer comes in he sterilizes the area and applies the image.
Every customer’s skin is different depending on age, sun exposure and even hydration, Tunnell said. He won’t know exactly what he is working with until the needle hits the skin.
Tunnell likes getting to know clients on the personal side and creating trust to create something permanent and meaningful.
“Taking artwork to the body brings the art to life,” he said. “Once it’s on the skin it takes on a life of its own.”
Aside from his initial crash course of tattoo lessons, which he describes as accidental, he is self taught. His style is based on realism with illustration — but can combine any styles.
Tattooing pushes his boundaries as an artist with each design, he said. Tunnell is an artist of other mediums as well, including watercolors, oils, wood sculptures and metals.
“This is a journey for something I’ve never imagined doing,” he said.
Tunnell hasn’t engulfed himself in the tattoo world, though he has a lot of respect for artists who do it well. He believes too much influence from other artists will cloud his own expression. He wants to keep to his own reality. The work is challenging and his understanding of the medium continues to develop.
“That’s the beauty of the tattooing business, your work has to stand by itself,” he said.