Expression through ink

Tattoos are becoming commonplace in today’s society

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Robert Smith gives Rick Fleming a tattoo at Slangin’ Ink as Bryan Leonard watches. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Robert Smith gives Rick Fleming a tattoo at Slangin’ Ink as Bryan Leonard watches.

Tattoos once carried a negative or rebellious connotation, but are now extremely popular.

Robert Smith, owner of Slangin’ Ink on Main Street in Cortez, said tattoos requested can be covered up if needed. He also said he’s never put a tattoo on someone’s face and doubts that he would.

Bryan Leonard, a tattoo artist, said the most popular place for tattoos are the arms.

“As an artist we look at the process to flow with the body,” Leonard said.

He also would be hesitant to give a tattoo on a neck or a face of a client.

“I would ask them if they have a stable job,” he said. “When you get a tattoo on the face, a lot of employers will not hire you.”


Smith said he talks to clients to make sure they really want a tattoo because of the repercussions of the decision.

Smith said he’s seen cases where people received highly visible tattoos, and then were forced to make changes to them because of their jobs or to find employment.

One such person was Cortez K9 Police Officer Frank Kobel. He has a pair of tattoos on one of his legs. One of his dog, Dusty, and one of his daughter Melissa, who was killed in a car accident 10 years ago.

Smith said the two tattoos, when combined together, resulted in a fairly large piece of art that was extremely visible if Kobel wore shorts.

Kobel was instructed by his department he could still wear shorts while on duty but had to make sure the tattoos were covered when working, so he covers them with a “Tatjacket.”

Lt. Andy Brock of the Cortez Police Department outlined the department’s policy on appearance by submitting a section of the handbook.

The handbook states that project uniformity and neutrality toward the public and other members of the department requires employees to maintain their personal hygiene and appearance to project a professional image appropriate for this department and for their assignment. “Yes, I do have a tattoo of my daughter and my K9 on my leg,” Kobel wrote in an email. “I actually have several tattoos on the same leg. I knew about our policy before I got the tattoos. I’m able to wear shorts in the summer but, I do wear a “Tatjacket” to cover them while on duty.”

A Tatacket is a light sleeve that goes over the part of the skin that has been tattooed.

All of his tattoos are on his lower leg.

“They all have a special meaning to me, and I placed them in that location so I could see them,” he said in the email. “Every tattoo I have represents something big in my life. I have never got a ‘tat’ just because I thought it was cool. I’m not through getting tattoos yet. I have at least four more until my leg will be done.”

Other tattoos Kobel has include a paw print and a piece of art to honor a fellow officer who is now retired.

Smith remembers a neck tattoo that stood in the way of a detention officer being promoted to patrol officer.

Smith said the tattoo was actually not removable but it was able to be lightened to the extent that it was not as visible, and the man is now a deputy with the sheriff’s office.

Smith said while police agencies have policies against tattoos, other places, like the county, have no restrictions.

“I work for the county, and they are fine with tattoos and whatnot,” he said. “There are a few businesses who are against them.”


Leonard said most people get more than one tattoo and the stigma that was once associated with tattoos has greatly diminished.

“Tattoos today are not looked down on,” Smith said. “It is kind of common nowadays.”

He also said the price of a tattoo ranges from $50 to $100, but can be more expensive depending on the job, the size and the work.

And both Smith and Leonard stressed that tattoos can become a permanent part of their body, so people need to be sure before getting inked.

A woman recently stopped by the shop to ask how much it would cost to “cover up” a name of a person that was tattooed on her leg.

The most common tattoos Smith and Leonard create are names, though full arm sleeves have been done.

“We have to make sure it is what they want,” Leonard said, mentioning more women than men are getting tattoos now.

Smith said it is not wise for a younger person, whose body is still changing, to get a tattoo. He added that any significant amount of weight loss or gain will affect the artwork.

Smith said a tattoo is just an expression and a way for a person to express themselves.

“Tattoos are not looked down upon like they used to be,” he said.

Both Smith and Leonard have numerous tattoos.


Smith said he has created tattoos in as short a time as five minutes, while others had to be done over a number of days.

“It depends on the size,” he said. “The longest session I have had at one time was 11 hours.”

Smith thinks the popularity of tattoos has a lot to do with what people see on television and added the Internet has helped customers come up with ideas for tattoos.

“It boomed,” he said. “Everyone wants one. The Internet has helped get ideas.”

The only way to actually remove a tattoo is with lasers and Smith said the process takes time, and can be quite painful. Removal will also leave scars.

The care of recent tattoos is also extremely important both Leonard and Smith said, mentioning a newly created tattoo should only be covered no more than two to three hours because it needs to breath to help the healing process.

“It is an open wound,” Leonard explained.

Leonard said he has always considered himself to be an artist, but didn’t think he would be displaying his creations on people’s skin, and estimated he does about three tattoos a day.

“It just comes with being an artist,” he said.

“It all comes with confidence,” he said. “People learn a lot from apprentices.”

Smith said there is no actual course that people take to become a tattoo artist and instead it is done by people who find an artist they like and work with them to learn the tricks and tools of the trade.

He added that when he first started creating tattoos there was no one to learn from, so friends and acquaintances let him practice his craft on their skin.

Smith also said that he spent some time fixing the work he did when he was a novice in this field.

“Everything takes time,” he said, mentioning no one becomes a tattoo artist overnight. “You either got it or you don’t.”

Ryan Utley receives a tattoo from Bryan Leonard at Slangin’ Ink in Cortez. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Ryan Utley receives a tattoo from Bryan Leonard at Slangin’ Ink in Cortez.

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$Bryan Leonard adds color to the tattoo of Ryan Utley.$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$ Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$Bryan Leonard adds color to the tattoo of Ryan Utley.$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$