Family Tattoo on Belmont in Chicago invited us in for a little Q & A, a lot of visuals and some fun. The first thing I noticed is the vibe I felt when I was only at the shop a short time, a very relaxed atmosphere that was warm and welcoming. I met all the staff there and then had sometime to talk more in depth with Lee the owner, and Rich, one of the artists there..
How long have you been at this location and I am also curious about the name “Family Tattoo”?
Lee- Been at the new location for about a year and a half but I have been on Belmont for six years.
When I started my corporation in 1999 I just liked the name and it seemed simple, and eventually I noticed that my customers mentioned they liked it a lot -so that was that.
So can you both give me a bit of your history in the business of tattooing?
Lee– I started at Rhino’s Quad cities, they had two locations-Elk Grove and Elgin-yes, a real old fashioned apprenticeship. and yes, I did all the work that apprentices are supposed to do, including getting a ton of shit from other artists, and cleaning the shop while I was in high school. I started my business for all the same reasons most do and also being in the suburbs was not the challenge I wanted.. The city does give you a wider audience with many tastes in tattooing.
Rich- I started in 2005. I grew up in NY and went to Rhode Island School of Design. After graduating I was taking a look into my future, thinking if I stayed in NY I would be job hunting, living at home etc. I moved to Chicago not so sure I wanted to be a freelance Illustrator but I knew I needed to do something with art. My thinking was that working at a shop and apprenticing would help me pay the bills while still looking for freelance gigs. I found that I really had to work hard if I wanted to understand tattoos and do some nice ones. I got wrapped up in it and pretty soon I was quitting my other jobs and starting to make a life out of tattooing. I was fortunate enough to work at Revolution for about a year and half, spent a bit of time after that at Insight and now here.
This shop has got a really fab look -I like that I see a bit of new and old school here. How did that come about?
Lee- My old shop on Belmont was strictly a street shop. When I got this space the building was incredibly nice , the shop pristine but with some cool architectural accents -so I took the look of that and combined it with some features of an old school street shop. I like the combination, as we do custom work but still take walk-ins and do flash. We do a bit of everything here. It is a nice mixture of all styles, which is also a good representation of the artists here. Everyone is an individual but we are not really classified as the artist only does black and gray or this is our portrait artist.
The old street shop way of doing things stays with us a lot here. I grew up with that world, that was the artists and certainly the customers so I think there is a reflection of that included in this shop.
Rich- I think that tattooing flash and doing walk-ins was a humbling experience for me when I started tattooing and still is. You can meet 6, 7 people a day, be busy, make money and learn from yourself, your peers and the customers. Tattooing one person a day for eight hours is fine but it’s not the ideal of the shop, we like the fast pace of a street shop that can also cater to people that want custom or large work.
Your shop came to my attention as you did a huge art show, and you had a major turnout here.
How did that come about?
The art show was insane, and the artists were stoked. We really wanted people to see the shop cause we never had an opening party so we set up the show with people we knew and respected.
There were some folks in the suburbs we really wanted to showcase to city people and this was a great way to spread the word.
The whole tattoo rock star thing is an animal into itself and this was kind of opposite. We wanted to showcase great artists who are not publicity hounds.
Will you be doing more shows?
If we do it again, I think we will do about four artists -maybe a bit smaller, featuring two of our artists and two others also. Maybe a show just featuring the art of tattooers that work here.
The main thing about your shop that makes it unique in Chicago?
I think the biggest thing is that we are all down to earth and real friends. Not co workers. All of us were in bands or are in bands too. The other thing is we are serious about our work but we also are serious about keeping it fun, light hearted and laughing is important.. we want to bring the relaxed environment to our shop.
Punk or metal? (Note smooth jazz is not a choice here)
Hardcore Punk! Our shop does revolve around music. We tattoo bands and our friends, whom most happen to be in bands. We are lucky word spreads and touring bands come as well.
There is not only exceptional art on the walls but some great 3d pieces here too.. Caroline Moody one of the artists on staff is a painter but also does some amazing sculptures. We talked a bit to Caroline too as she is the girl on staff and had to get a bit of insight on that!
Caroline-I am so lucky that working here is the best, the guys are respectful and fun. My work is really improving daily. The inspiration from being here flows, which is just an incredible bonus.
The artists at Family Tattoo are on the shop site and if they also have individual sites, they are listed by their names below.
One of the finest things I can say about this shop is if you have never been tattooed and are nervous, have questions and want to see some great individual styles, walk in the door here. They will be patient, kind and explain their art and work to you. These guys, and gal are bad as* but in the best way.
This shop has a solid future not only due to their talent but their philosophies and their heart.
Check out the video below to get a glimpse inside of Family Tattoo.