Day in the life: More than just ink

Marietta tattoo artist breaks stereotypes at Harmar shop

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Chase Chovan follows the purple outline of a wrench as he punctures the skin of Rob Rhodes with a tattoo machine Friday in Monkey’s Uncle Tattoo.

Gloves off, hands washed, new gloves on.

“You really have to lotion up, especially in the winter, otherwise your hands get chapped with all the times you’re washing your hands,” he says.

Chase Chovan opened his shop in Marietta three years ago this coming February.

It’s called Monkey’s Uncle Tattoo, and it sits angled at the corner of the entrance into Harmar Village, right off of the Putnam Bridge.

But the stereotypical back room with a grungy couch and stains on the floors is nowhere to be found in this tattoo shop.

“I want this place to be bright and fun and inviting,” he explains. “Where you can feel safe and where you know everything is clean and you’re getting quality work.”

He comes in at 11 a.m. each day to get things cleaned, swept, mopped and shined. With one other employee giving tattoos and another providing piercings by appointment it’s a low-key but vibrant atmosphere.

“I do all of the little things, start drawings, play a round of solitaire to get my brain ready,” he says. “You have to prepare yourself to sit in the chair for several hours at a time and do something that takes a lot of focus.”

But before he sets up for the first tattoo of the day he washes his hands again, then puts new gloves on.

“I get prepped for my first tattoo, I wipe off the tops of everything and pull out the cling wrap,” he says, gesturing to the red Craftsman tool chest he has in the white room lined with funky art, photos and carvings of monkeys.

He presses the cling wrap over the chest, wraps disinfecting bottles in bags, and lays out mechanisms and new rubber bands for the tattoo machines.

“But I’ll wait to pull out the new needles,” he says. “We always do that right in front of the person getting the tattoo so they can see it’s a new, never before used needle that’s been sterilized and sealed and they can see the expiration date here on the package.”

The door jingles.

Gloves off.

He welcomes his appointment for the day, Rob Rhodes, 39, of Lowell, who’s scheduled for a cover-up tattoo on his arm.

Rhodes has a script written in fine lines down his forearm, but says he’s tired of telling people what it says and instead wants some tools of his trade over the old tattoo.

Chovan and Rhodes talk about wrenches, welding and pipefitting, going over different photos of tools on Chovan’s computer and printing out varied sizes of images.

“I know I brought you a hard one but I trust you,” says Rhodes. “It’s just time for something new.”

Once the pair settle on sizes that alternate which tool faces up the arm and which heads down, it’s off to the drawing board.

With a light box, a mechanical pencil and some tracing paper Chovan scoots his chair up to a drafting table in his expanded space, surrounded by green walls.

He talks about how the tattoo industry has changed in his lifetime, and now that body art is more accepted in mainstream society many middle-aged women are entering his shop to get pieces they didn’t feel empowered to get in their youth.

“It’s pretty accepted now everywhere,” he says, following the edge of a wrench and then indicating shading with a dotted line. “Shops are less creepy now, more safe and approachable. I even had a preacher recently that I tattooed.”

He gets up a few times to answer the phone, make appointments and greets interested passersby but once the trace is done he’s back in the main lobby with Rhodes, checking the size of the trace against Rhodes’ arm.

Then the tracing goes into a thermal transfer machine with specialized carbon paper to provide a transferable ink outline to be placed on Rhodes’ arm as the two get down to business.

Washed hands, new gloves on.

Chovan has Rhodes stand while he cleans Rhodes’ left arm with a disinfecting solution, then uses a disposable razor to clear the area of hair.

Gloves off, hands washed, new gloves on.

“Trusting yourself is a big part of this business,” says Chovan as he has Rhodes sit and he begins trying to transfer the purple ink outline to the skin.

It takes about seven tries between the two tools to get alignment right and most of the previous script covered between the lines.

“I’ll go in and fill that last bit with a pen,” explains Chovan.

Gloves off, hands washed, new gloves on.

“I had to change my gloves because I touched my pants,” he says. “I just opened this box of Nitrine gloves yesterday, there’s 100 in the box and it’s almost out… you go through a ton but if you touch something not covered in wrapping, you have to start with a fresh pair.”

He says he’s gotten good at using his feet to move furniture.

“You have to,” he says. “Keeping everything sterile is key.”

In front of Rhodes, he opens and checks both sets of needles he plans to use on the job.

He holds the edges up to a small magnifier, a tool he’s had since he started giving tattoos 24 years ago.

“I’m checking the ends, making sure that they’re not bent or hooked. Otherwise that could snag the skin,” he says. “For smaller tattoos it almost takes more time to prepare than actually do the tattoo.”

When he finally is set with ink, water, organic locally-made ointment loaded with vitamins A and D, only then does he have Rhodes place his arm on the covered arm rest.

Then Chovan moves the light in over his canvas.

But first, gloves off, hands washed and new gloves on.

With the hum of the tattoo machine, which he won’t call a gun, he begins slowly.

“It works as a series of punctures,” he explains. “But you start slow so your hand can get used to the machine again and they can get used to the feeling. Then you pay attention to them to make sure they don’t pass out and they’re doing OK.”

The two banter about plans for additional art on Rhodes arm, at one point are interrupted by a woman named Lori stopping in to show Chovan the healed tattoo of a backpacker hiking the Appalachian Trail on her back.

“In our business we meet such a cross section of people from other countries and cities and states, the stories are awesome, you could write a book,” says Chovan. “It’s kind of like the bartender or the hairdresser, if you really want to get to know someone you just start asking questions.”

He says some tattoos are done in memory of loved ones, or as an ode to careers. Others are done between friends or family.

“But some can be silly, too. In the end I want you to love it because the work I do, you’ll have on your skin for the rest of you life,” says Chovan.

At a glance

Chase Chovan:

¯ Age: 49.

¯ Home: Harmar.

¯ Education: Degree in visual communications from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

¯ First tattoo given: Sept. 13, 1993.

Source: Chase Chovan.