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ON THE JOB

April Jordan was a 'doodle monster' in school. She turned her passion for drawing into a career as a tattoo artist

April Jordan, owner and artist, Rock'n Ink

April Jordan, a master tattoo artist, owns Rock'n Ink on East Street in Pittsfield. She's been drawing since childhood. "I was a doodle monster," she said. 

PITTSFIELD — April Jordan has always liked to draw. She started on paper. Her canvas now is skin.

Jordan is a tattoo artist  She started as an apprentice, then worked her way up in the trade, and now owns her own studio, Rock'n Ink in Pittsfield.

She is a master artist, a distinction bestowed on tattooists with at least 10 years of experience, which allows them to take on apprentices. Jordan believes she's the only female certified master artist tattooist working in Pittsfield.

"I am training new artists," she said. "That is my primary focus doing the apprenticeships."

We talked with the Pittsfield native recently about how she learned her craft,  why she loves it, and some of the weird places she's drawn tattoos.

Q: How long have you been a tattoo artist?

A: Nineteen years.

Q: How did you become one? 

A: I started my apprenticeship with [the late] Jim Squires when he first had a head shop in Adams. Jim Squires is a well known and famous tattoo artist from this area.

Q: Why did you want to do this?

A: I've always had a love and passion for art. My family also supported me. They knew how much of an artist I was. My father tried telling me at 16-years-old to do an apprenticeship with the artists that he was working with. At that young age I [said] no, I'm not going to do that, I don't know what I want to do, and blah, blah. Well, it was only a few years later that I came across the opportunity with Jim Squires, and Jimmy believed in me. I started it and fell in love with it because it was a way for me to express art and share my love and passion with others.

Q: What kind of art did you do before you began drawing tattoos?

A: I was a doodle monster. I would do all forms, like drawing, sketching, painting. I'd sit in class and doodle little images on a note pad. It didn't matter, I always loved to draw. It's always been a passion for my whole life. ... My son just went into the Air Force last month. So every letter I send him there's a  little doodle or drawing for him.

Q: Are there other tattoo artists in your family?

A: My mother's from Thailand. I found out recently that I have family members who are tattoo artists in Thailand. One of them happens to be a Buddhist monk that does tattooing. So it's in the bloodlines apparently.

Q: Who knew Buddhist monks actually did tattoos ...

A: Yeah, they do. What they do is do these blessings to them. So you would go to the temple and ask them to do a certain type of blessing for you. They choose the design and they do the poke and stick in the temple. It's like a really traditional but very spiritual Buddhist thing that they do.

Q: How do you learn the trade as an apprentice?

A: It's pretty much like any trade that you do. You sit. You watch. You learn. You get your hands involved. You sterilize the needles and the equipment. You clean the work stations. You set up the  work stations. You draw the stencils. It's a lot of drawing, a lot of applications, but you get the hands-on experience with the clients so that when you're comfortable enough to actually tattoo someone, you're mentally and physically prepared because it's a commitment. It's a very huge thing. A lot of people don't even know how to get started in this industry.

Q: How long did it take before you could put a tattoo on somebody?

A: Within the first year of my apprenticeship.

Q: How do you actually do it?

A: A lot of it is mental. Everyone's skin is different. No one has a completely flat, smooth canvas. Every tattoo changes because of the challenge and the body types and the different skin textures that you have to deal with. The bottom line is the professionalism. Follow all the rules and regulations so there's no cross contamination, chance of infection or all this other stuff. The procedure is knowing how to gauge your needle inside someone's body so you don't damage their skin, so that you're doing you're job correctly. Not scarring people up is important. 

Q: Men used to get most of the tattoos, but now women get them, too. 

A: Now there's a lot more females getting tattoos than guys.

Q: Why has that changed?

A: I don't know. I think it's just that we're becoming more bold and stronger and the equality of women is really pushing out there. It's just like women in the political career and going into office. Before it was just a man's world and now with the way things have changed now there's women in power. It's nice to see that the equality is really coming up there. We're seeing a lot more women do a man's job. 

April Jordan, owner and artist, Rock'n Ink

April Jordan, the owner of Rock n' Ink in Pittsfield, is also a makeup artist. She once did makeup for Sully Erna, the singer for the rock band Godsmack. 

Q: Do you give more tattoos to men than women?

A: I would say my clientele is a very good mix of both. Some guys are more comfortable with a female touch versus a male artist that's got a little bit more of a stronger hand. Women are more comfortable if they get a tattoo on a discrete location exposing their body to a female versus having a man in that area and touch them. It's all about the clientele's comfort and discretion.

Q: Do more men than women get multiple tattoos?

A: I would have to say it's got to be a 50-50 split. Nowadays I feel there's a lot of women who have just as many tattoos as men. Times have changed. You've got to roll with the punches, I suppose.

Q: What's the hardest type of tattoo to put on someone?

A: Every tattoo is different. To judge them on a hard scale, I would say the geometrical ones are, and then the locations on the body where people choose to put them. That can be challenging.

Q: Geometrical?

A: The ones that are like a kaleidoscope. When you look in a kaleidoscope and see all those line changes and patterns.

Q: Without being X-rated, where's the most interesting place anybody has ever asked you to put a tattoo?

A: The bottom of the hands and feet where the actual tattoo doesn't hold. Inside the bottom lip. That's a strange one.  Why don't we go with inside the bottom lip? I don't want to talk about people's ... . That's a safe one.

Q: Have you actually put a tattoo on someone's bottom lip?

A: Yeah, yeah. It's such a strange thing. It's so someone can pull out their bottom lip and it says something stupid.  We get asked the weirdest things. It doesn't last long. Inside your mouth with the saliva it pushes the ink out and it heals really quick.

Q: What other weird things do people ask for?

A: Oh man, bees on the knees. Little insects. The fun cliche ones. Someone would get an anchor and then put on it, "I refuse to sink." There's a lot of those cliche ones that are rhetorical and don't make any sense for the design or the saying. But it happens to the best of them. That's why we're here for cover-ups.

Q: How do you cover up a tattoo?

A: Some of them can be challenging and some of them are doable, especially the ones that fade over time. It does have its challenges. The ink not settling right. The design you're covering up is too dark so it still shows through, and then how deep the ink is where the original tattoo is done. Sometimes they're pushed in hard and it scars the skin.  

Q: You can't just remove the tattoo?

A: We don't do laser remvoal. You can't remove a tattoo except with laser removal. But even with that procedure it scars the skin.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

A: My advice would be never give up on your dreams. Always push for achieving your goals. For someone to be in the tattoo industry it starts off with finding a place where you can do an apprenticeship. That's pretty much the only place you can go to get licensed. 

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.

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