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Ben Marr outlines the tattoo on Michelle Themas’ arm recently at Poopy’s in Savanna, Ill.

Samantha Pidde/Clinton Herald
Herald Staff Writer

Ben Marr is one of the three tattoo artists at Poopy’s, in Savanna, Ill.

Ben started in the tattoo business seven years ago. He went through an apprenticeship and worked under another artist. He said a person has to have some artistic talent to be given an apprenticeship. Ben has worked at Poopy’s for five years.

At 4 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, Poopy’s cashier Michelle Themas is in the shop to get a tattoo that symbolizes her late father. Mike, her father’s nickname for her, would be placed on the underside of her arm with a fireman’s helmet above the lettering. The handwriting for the name is her father’s from a note he wrote years ago.

Ben gets her stencil and makes a copy of it. He then begins setting up his work area, getting all of his supplies out. Ben covers all of the surfaces with plastic barrier film. He sets out ointment and tongue depressors. He said the ointment cuts the trauma to the skin. He then sets out the black, red, white and blue ink and his tattoo machines.

Ben cuts out the trace paper for the design. Putting on gloves, he applies “Stencil Stuff” to the skin. This helps the stencil stick to the skin. After enough time for the stencil to have transferred from the paper has passed, Ben removes the paper and lets the area dry.

Ben works part time during the day. Scott “Scooter” Clark and Richard Collins work as full-time artists. Ben said this time of year is slower for business, especially during the weekdays. During his downtime, he draws and researches tattoo designs. The weekends are not as slow as the weekdays.

Both walk-ins and appointments are welcome. However, Ben said it is usually better to call. Usually one of the artists is in the tattoo parlor seven days a week, but he said sometimes things come up. Customers cannot get prices for tattoos over the phone.

Once Themas’ arm is dry, Ben begins the tattoo. After putting on gloves, he puts the liner in the tattoo machine. The liner is a smaller needle used for outlines and smaller details. He slowly traces the outline of the image, wiping away any extra ink from her skin. He asks her how she is feeling. Slowly the letters and then the outline of a fireman’s helmet appear on Themas’ arm. Ben goes over the outline a second time in the black ink to darken it a bit. Once the outline is done, Ben begins shading in the hat with black. His shading is done using the shader, a wider-grouping needle. Leaning above his trash can, Ben cleans the black ink out of the machine before dipping the needle into red ink. He slowly fills red into the hat. He then cleans the machine and adds white ink. Using the white ink, he adds highlights to the face and rim of the hat.

When Ben has finished, he cleans the area and asks Themas if she likes it. She displays it proudly and tells him he did a good job. Before she leaves, he gives her instructions on caring for the tattoo.

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