It wasn’t long after art school that, while working as a graphic designer at a large commercial firm, Sean Blake discovered he wanted to be more than a robot in front of a computer.
One of his art school buddies had started tattooing, so Blake went to see him for his first tattoo. He fell in love with the medium.
“It was living, breathing art,” Blake said.
Now, 25 years later, Blake owns a tattoo shop in downtown Craig that houses two other full-time tattoo artists. Before opening Tattoo Syndicate at 571 Yampa Avenue, Blake tattooed for ten years at the 10th Street Tattoo in Steamboat with fellow artist and co-owner Milo Alfring.
Blake now works with clients throughout the Yampa Valley – from Yampa to Craig – so opening a boutique in Craig made sense. Once Tattoo Syndicate opened in 2020 and became just as busy as the Steamboat Shop, he let the lease go on the Steamboat store and started working full-time at Craig.
“I’ve seen Craig change, he’s becoming more of a hub in the Yampa Valley, and we wanted to be part of the hub,” Blake said. “When people think of art, we want to come to mind.”
The types of art they produce are, as Blake said, living art that incorporates other media. Last year, Blake helped the Nerd Shop create a logo, and he recently partnered with the music store that opened upstairs to create custom artwork on locally made guitars.
Will Hodgkinson and Red Miskell, owners of Treble -N- The Yampa, the music store above Tattoo Syndicate, started out as two musicians tired of having to order supplies online to repair their instruments. That’s why they opened the music store.
Treble -N- The Yampa caters to all musicians of all genres in the Yampa Valley, offering more than just musical supplies. The store also does instrument repairs on everything from classical instruments for local band students to electric guitars, and also sells in-house made guitars.
“I was a band geek. When I got in trouble, my band manager would have me tear down and fix band instruments,” Miskell said.
Miskell designs and shapes the guitars from raw materials, resulting in a unique hand-carved stock and body. After the guitars are built, they are decorated and stained using a line of water-based stains called Unicorn Spit. The two shops are working on a collaborative piece, custom-built by Miskell and featuring hand-painted artwork on the guitar body by Blake.
The two shops have come together in the past to bring music and art to life in the community. In June 2021, just before Treble -N- The Yampa opened, both stores opened their spaces to hold a concert with local hard rock band “Divide the Wrath” playing upstairs and the work tattoo artists displayed below.
“We want to start slow and get to know what people in the community want,” Miskell said.
The way it all came together for the two boutiques to grow individually and in their collaborations is very organic and allows them to excel in their craft.
When Blake started tattooing at Tattoo Syndicate, he was the only artist. Eddie Blue, a 12-year-old tattoo artist, was the first to join the team and expand the shop.
“I was tattooing my back one day and Eddie came in and asked if he could tattoo here,” Blake said.
Blake then decided to take on an apprentice, which is how Caito Ormesher, who has been tattooing for two years now, including her apprenticeship, came into the fold.
The two veteran artists, Blake and Blue, both apprenticed in an old-fashioned shop and learned how to tattoo the old-fashioned way.
“I didn’t even touch the skin until freshman year,” Blake said.
The old-fashioned approach to learning was designed to put new artists through their paces. It would basically give newbies all the shopping work to crack them, Blue explained.
“You have to be thick-skinned to be in this industry,” Blake said.
During the early years of tattooing, Blake said he spent hours and hours soldering needle tips together, cleaning and maintaining equipment, and hand-drawing stencils that would be transferred to paper. carbon paper via an older style of printer.
Ormesher, who was chosen by Blake as an apprentice because she created art that was unique and different from what everyone else was doing, may have an advantage over her mentors in that she learns new school methods with technology. update.
Although there is still a strong shop culture around Tattoo Syndicate, upgrades in tattoo technology have changed the way work is done in the shop.
The first upgrade is from a manual bobbin machine, which had to be recalibrated in order to change needle sizes for different types of lines and details, to an electric rotary machine. Rotary machines are lighter, quieter and have an opening in the end for the pre-made needles to simply snap into place.
Another upgrade is using iPads and a digital printer to draw and print tattoo stencils. Digital drawings streamline the creative process, and the Epson EcoTank printer is faster and captures more detail for a higher quality stencil.
“It changed our lives; it changed what we can do,” Blake said.
In part, new technology has opened up the ability of artists to expand their output. Both stores strive to become more than just a place to stock up on ink or buy a guitar.
For Treble -N- The Yampa, this hopefully includes future expansion of the store and the time and resources to create more custom guitars, with more collaborative gigs potentially on the horizon.
Blake and Tattoo Syndicate aim to engage more with local artists by hosting gallery nights to showcase a wider variety of artwork made in the Yampa Valley.
It all adds up to a budding arts center in downtown Craig.