Your nurse practitioner’s ankle, your personal trainer’s knuckles, the entirety of your contractor’s back; Humboldt is tattooed. To meet the county’s dermal demands, Humboldt has homegrown and imported a copious assortment of artists who can give you a safe, beautiful and skillfully done permanent picture on your body. Area artists have opened shop doors, creating small businesses for themselves and offering work to other artists, leaving a sea of decorated Humboldtians in their entrepreneurial wake. 

If your upper arm is aching for your mother’s name written on a banner that’s softly draped around a heart, you have a buffet of folks who can make this happen for you. Photo-realistic heart? Cartoon heart? The exact heart that your 4 year old drew on your Mother’s Day card? Here are three shops you might consider for this important piece of personal art that will probably last longer than the piece over your mantle (maybe by another Humboldt artist). Vive l’art local!

click to enlarge Michael Joy, Jeremy La Flamme and Amy and Ted Marks of Nor Cal Tattoo. - ZACH LATHOURIS
  • Zach Lathouris
  • Michael Joy, Jeremy La Flamme and Amy and Ted Marks of Nor Cal Tattoo.

The Classicists:

Ted, Amy, Alex and Dani Marks, Jeremy LaFlamme, Michael Joy, John Lopez and company at Nor Cal Tattoo

Nor Cal Tattoo is a family joint. Amy and Ted Marks respectively pierce and tattoo alongside their son and daughter, and more than half a dozen other artists who are all like family in this traditional shop with a ’90s retro vibe in Northtown Arcata.

Obviously, artists don’t all work in only one style but to give you the broad strokes: Ted enjoys portraits; Michael specializes in black and gray; James is the go-to for wildlife and space art; Jeremy does traditional pieces; Alex gets down with fine line work.

If you’re looking for permanent makeup, like ombre eyebrows or microblading, Marisha Ramerez has you covered — it's a service the shop recently started offering.

“We are pretty excited to add this service,” says shop owner, Amy Marks. “It seems to be getting popular in bigger cities.”

Though they’ve been tattooing in the area since 2007, the members of the Nor Cal Tattoo family are newer on the block in Northtown, around the corner from Stars Hamburgers. Something that isn’t new, though, is their hosting of the Inked Hearts Tattoo Expo in Blue Lake for the past 11 years.

“Most say it’s their favorite tattoo convention to work,” says Amy Marks.

Nor Cal gladly accepts walk-ins and would be the perfect place for a matching tattoo with your best friend or a redwood up the forearm — a Humboldt County fave. I don’t have any tattoos by the folks at Nor Cal … yet.

click to enlarge Dan Rena-Dozier of Primal Decor at work on a client. - ZACH LATHOURIS
  • Zach Lathouris
  • Dan Rena-Dozier of Primal Decor at work on a client.

The Realists:

Luis Lopez and Dan Rena-Dozier at Primal Décor

Located in the most adorably modified Myrtletown cottage, Primal Decor looks like a tattoo parlor in the evil elven section of a video game. The shop is centered around a gorgeous jewelry collection for stretched ears and piercings, services they also offer. The staff has a passion for extreme cleanliness at Primal and they take their compliance seriously. It’s evident in the framed certificates around the shop.

Luis Lopez, voted North Coast Journal’s Best Tattoo Artist of the year in 2017 and 2018, specializes in the black and gray style. His background in photography inspires his tastes.

“It used to be harder to make photo-realistic tattoos because there was one color, black, and you had to try to shade the rest with dots. Now there are color palettes of gray, and it makes detail possible. And more fun to do.”

“Dan [Rena-Dozier] also does photo-realistic but in color,” says Lopez. The two are the tattoo portion of the Eureka shop, the longest continually running body art shop in the county, “Making moms cry since 1995,” as they say. But these days it might be because she is so impressed with the gray-scale of her son’s chest rocker of her face. Full disclosure: I have a tattoo by Luis and though it’s just lettering, it’s one of my favorites.

click to enlarge Nick Hunt and Brian Kaneko go over designs at True Nature. - ZACH LATHOURIS
  • Zach Lathouris
  • Nick Hunt and Brian Kaneko go over designs at True Nature.

The Artistes:

Brian Kaneko, Nick Hunt and company at True Nature

Art majors don’t all end up in the field but a fair number are being paid for their artistic labor every day in Humboldt County, like the former Humboldt State University art students of True Nature Tattoo in Arcata.

Brian Kaneko is highly skilled in colorful Japanese-style tattoos, for which he has been internationally recognized. Brian’s been tattooing in the area since 1997, making carp twist, feathers fan and peonies bloom. And yes, there might be a wait — a small price to pay for a tattoo that will still stun on your 90th birthday.
Kaneko’s talented, bespectacled shop mate Nick Hunt, has an equally cool but different art vibe all together. He took up an apprenticeship under Brian years back after graduating from HSU with a well-deserved studio art degree. If you want a winged cobra, he’s your man. If you want a frog riding a skateboard, he’s your man. If you want to meet your grandpa when your grandpa was young and cool, he’s your man.

“The shop’s homey, welcoming, relaxed but still professional,” says Hunt about the Northtown Arcata house-turned-studio. “Also there’s really nice natural light and a ton of windows. I love tattooing here.”

Their frequent guest artist — another HSU art grad — is Hannah Wednesday, originally of San Francisco’s famous Tuesday Tattoo. Her style could be described as Norwegian/Western/carved wood, and her Instagram is busting at the seams with very satisfied customers.

More disclosure: I’m happy to say I have more than a few tattoos from each of these talented artists.

Trying to summarize even a selection from the tattoo scene in Humboldt feels a bit like talking about fight club but knowledge is power when it comes to picking the shop and artist for something you (or your loved one, in the case of a back spread) will look at for the rest of your days. We’ve got plenty of choices and whichever artist you go with, you’re bound to wind up with a real beauty. 
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Sarah Godlin

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