By Dick Buyer
In a room plastered with assorted designs and tattoo paraphernalia, Lisa Fasulo, perched on a chair, is wielding a tattooing needle machine, practicing the modern version of an art based on ancient and historical roots. Using a tracing paper as a template, she is sketching the outline of a lion on the upper left shoulder of Lori Miller of Voorheesville, as she sits on a reclining chair. Grasping a hand-held device, Fasulo dips the vibrating needle in a small container of black ink and then continues the intricate task of penetrating the skin following the lines of a pattern. Later, in a subsequent session, she will use colored ink to complete the tattoo.
Miller, the mother of three girls, is apparently a good customer. A black panther already adorns her right arm and a Native American dream catcher appears on her left arm.
Fasulo, owner of Tattoos by Lisa in Voorheesville, Cindy Maxwell of Albany Tattoo and Don Demers of Full Effect Tattooing in Troy are only three of the more than three dozen tattoo artists within the Capital District who decorate the limbs of area residents. The Albany and Rensselaer County Health Departments both license tattoo artists and certify their shops for sanitation and sterilization.
Each of their entries into the field of body art is based on talent and love of art. For Fasulo, 43, pert and approachable, the door into this specialty was a Bachelor of Arts degree from SUNY Cortland and a trip to Italy where she studied art history.
Tattoos by Lisa
“While in college I started a hand-painted clothing company called Huba Too in addition to doing craft shows,” she said. Terming it “very profitable,” Fasulo continued on that route for 20 years until she became bored with it.
“I was open to something new,” she said. Subsequently, with a boyfriend, they launched a tattoo needle company—J.R International Manufacturing—selling their product to local tattoo shops.
Fasulo’s interest in tattooing grew as she became familiar with its techniques, equipment and developed the necessary skills. Her knowledge stemmed from developing a good relationship with the shop owners. Eventually, they sold their company in 2003.
In 2002, she decided it was time to open her own tattoo shop, Tattoos by Lisa. It is an annex to her house located on Route 156 on the road to Altamont. As you enter a short hallway adjacent to the working area, you are greeted by a countless variety of images and designs lining the walls. The tattoo shop comprises a reclining chair, the small primary electric imprinting device, a counter with a portfolio of designs, colored ink containers and an autoclave for sterilization.
“There are more than one thousand designs options,” said Fasulo, launching into a wide-ranging description touching on the multiple facets of body art. She said most people provide their own ideas, or choose a design and have it customized.
In response to a question about her customers, Fasulo said that they equally represent both genders and are all different—many middle age—including physicians and lawyers. However, she once serviced a very special client – her mother. “At 81, she is certainly the oldest person I’ve worked on, and now sporting a butterfly,” she recalled, with a chuckle.
The frequency of tattooing is seasonal for each gender, because women opt for it more during the summer (possibly because they can bare more skin), whereas men seem to prefer it during the winter. The reasons for opting for body art vary, said Fasulo. But one thing is certain—it’s definitely a form of self-expression.
“There’s mid-life crises, spousal encouragement, feminism, gender independence and other motivating rationale,” she said.
A person’s background, occupation, love interest, and any intricate, unusual design or image may be depicted on any part of the body. To express a military experience, a former Marine asked Fasulo to illustrate his back with a collage of several images.
“I tattooed a huge American flag as the background, then superimposed the Marine logo (globe and anchor),” she said. In addition, is a tattoo of El Alamein, the white horse Ronald Reagan was given by the President of Mexico and calligraphy initials of “RR.” The designs blanket the entire back, extending from the shoulders to the hips, said Fasulo.
In another spectacular display, Fasulo said a man who tended three cemeteries had a graveyard imprinted on his back. “He was a very interesting man and very proud of his job,” she said.
Surprisingly, a bonding often surfaces between Fasulo and her customer as with a barber and patron. “While I’m tattooing, concentrating and silent, the patron reveals facts about his personal life. In fact, one person remarked, ‘Thanks for the therapy.’”
The cost of a tattoo depends upon the size and the number of sessions required to complete the job.
“Typically, women want smaller images such as a butterfly piece costing between $90 to $125,” she said. In contrast, men request larger tattoos, which range in price from $150 for a small tribal band around a bicep to several hundred dollars. A session could last up to an hour and a half.
“Once you get a tattoo, you want another one,” Fasulo said. “It’s addictive!”
Tattoos by Lisa is by appointment only. For more information call 428.4271.
Cindy Maxwell, 24, is literally a mobile ad promoting tattoos, as well as colorful in many respects. It’s hard not to focus on her chest, emblazoned with a skull and butterfly wings.
“That tattoo was done by Ed Hardy, a pioneer in body art, at his own shop, Tattoo City in San Francisco,” she said, flashing a winning smile.
Less obvious, but still worth a stare are images on both arms. The left arm features a Japanese-inspired design, which includes water and a koi fish. A collage of traditional Americana displaying a tugboat and a straight razor appear on her right arm. Undetected on both legs are other designs – one honoring her parents and one dedicated to Elvis.
Maxwell, a native of Portland, Oregon, is the owner of Albany Tattoo on lower Madison Avenue. In her artistic enclave, surrounded by wall designs and equipment, she spoke of her background, the apprenticeship required for body art and details of this occupation. In a sense, she is a young entrepreneur venturing into the business world after opening a shop a little more than a year ago.
“I’ve always been interested in artwork,” she said. As a teenager she attended private art schools in Portland. Attracted by body art, a week after turning 18 she began a one year apprenticeship at Sea Tramp Tattoos in that area. There was also a smattering of other learning stints from one week to a month in tattoo shops in California, Washington, Colorado, Massachusetts and New York.
“I learned different techniques in each shop such as what needle configurations to use for different outlines, how to minimize skin trauma and scaring so colors remain bright and to make things flow with the muscles,” said Maxwell.
Fourteen months ago, Maxwell made her way to Albany, with the encouragement of a friend. She quickly found an ideal location suitable for one-on-one contact, refurbished it and plunged into the field of body art.
“I specialize in colored stuff and do custom designs,” she said.
Most people, she said, want large original designs. Sometimes Maxwell receives a drawing from a customer who wants it converted into a tattoo. She usually needs to modify it, because “skin is not the same as paper.”
“It’s a challenge to be accurate.” However, there are occasions when she refuses to work on an image from a sketch because it’s too difficult.
To increase her repertoire of ideas for designs, Maxwell pursues research on Japanese tattooing. A bookcase in the shop holds many books dealing with Asian imagery and she has contacts with artists in Japan, Germany, Sweden and Italy via the Internet.
According to Maxwell, the age of her customers, men and women, range from 18 to 35, with many deciding on a tattoo at 18 when it becomes legal. Occasionally, a senior (55 plus) may request either a shamrock or a butterfly. “Once a grandmother wanted one to commemorate her fiftieth birthday,” she said.
For intricate, complex tattoos, such as a whole arm (called a sleeve), a consultation is necessary, followed by a tracing at a later date using the hand-held device with a vibrating needle. The time to complete a tattoo depends on the size and difficulty.
“Large ones might require three hours,” she said, adding that a design for a Vietnam veteran once took seven hours. Like other tattoo artists, Maxwell also has the ability to cover an existing tattoo with a bigger and more detailed one.
Her parents’ reaction to Maxwell’s business? “My dad has no tattoos. But, my mom was my first customer and is very proud of my success,” she claimed.
The artist’s work credo is, “I want to give everyone the best available job.”
Albany Tattoo is located at 174 Madison Avenue, Albany. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm-8pm. Tattoo fees are a minimum of $50 or $125 per hour. For more information call 463.6604.
Full Effect Tattooing
Wielding a small device with a vibrating needle, Don Demers, owner of Full Effect Tattooing in Troy, is adding another image to the left shoulder of Sara Worden, 25, of Wynantskill, as she sits while answering my questions.
“My tattoos – all twelve of them – represent my spirituality,” she said. “They are cathartic.”
As he focused on his task, the soft-spoken owner recounted his background and experience. The shop, only open since April, is Demer’s solo foray into body art after working for Lark Tattoo in Albany for eight years. “I wanted to work for myself,” said Demers, 35.
For this native of Troy, his path to becoming a tattoo artist was untraditional, side-stepping the usual role of an apprentice. To acquire the knowledge and skills, he asked questions, read books and spoke with other artists.
“I am self-taught,” asserted the man. Counting his early years, Demers said he has been involved with tattooing for 16 years. His progression into this field seems natural because as a youngster he was always interested in art. “Most of my relatives had tattoos,” he recalled.
Demers prefers to do realistic imagery attributing that penchant to the “influence of Japanese tattooing.” Similar to some other shops, the age range (18-35, both genders) and motivations for body imagery appear to coincide.
The most difficult tattoo he ever completed was an underwater scene at the request of a scuba diver, which started at the ankles and extended to the armpits, demanding countless hours of effort. For Demers, the most challenging aspect of his work is to design a tattoo based on a customer’s sketch or an idea verbally described.
Flashing back to his early years, he said his first tattoo was “hand poked,” an obsolete primitive method. Demers has won several awards from tattoo organizations: one trophy for the best black piece and one for the best black and gray.
When asked about the financial investment necessary to open a tattoo parlor, Demers cited a figure of $15,000, which pays for inks, an autoclave, ultrasonic cleaner, film for a portfolio, needles and tubes.
Before getting a tattoo, he suggests a potential client research the artist because some, he warned, are not competent. “Tattooing is not for everybody,” he said, “but it’s more accepted today.”
Full Effect Tattooing is located at 420 Broadway, Troy. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm-10 pm. Tattoo fees are a $60 minimum or $125 an hour. For more information call 328.0077.