A-1 is located in the heart of Gladstone, Missouri where the name says it all. As you walk through the doors you will find a friendly, helpful, and professional staff of seven anxiously awaiting the opportunity to ink or pierce some part of your body.
Brennan O’Rourke, owner/operator, has been a tattoo artist for 16 years. His expertise in artistic design and tattooing comes from a background in art and an invaluable apprenticeship with a biker from the old school, Wild Bill of Columbus, Georgia. Brennan said Wild Bill was unbelievable, an awesome mentor, and he learned so much from him. Brennan has received many awards and has been recognized at numerous conventions for his tattoo artistry. He was named “Best Tribal Design” artist at this year’s Am-Jam. He also was selected as one of two featured artists for a two month OzFest Tour this past summer.
Chris Hughes is A-1’s body piercing specialist and has been in the business for 11 years. He started out as a punk rock kid doing piercing on himself and his friends. Now Chris has a degree in Nursing and was named “Best Body Piercing” specialist in the Midwest by Pitch Magazine. He has traveled to Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia to visit, train and work in other studios. Chris has been riding motorcycles since he was 3 years old and also restores and races vintage British motorcycles. He presently owns four bikes and rides daily, weather permitting.
According to Brennan and Chris, when it comes to tattoos you get what you pay for. If you choose cheap, you will soon be running to a real artist to have it covered up. Their advice is to shop around, not for price, but for quality. This is not something you want to rush in to lightly. Many people decide on impulse or on a whim to get a tattoo, and then usually don’t want to wait. When you decide to get a tattoo, take the time to find the right artist. Look for an excellent artist, view their portfolio and look closely at their work. Look at their lines to see if they are smooth and not jagged. Colors should be bold and completely inked. See if they are friendly and willing to talk with you by asking questions. Ask your friends. If they had a good experience, they will share it with you. If they had a bad experience, they will warn you.
Tattoos and body piercing are safe, as long as you go to a reputable artist that goes by recommended safety pre-cautions. Both Brennan and Chris have 80% of their bodies tattooed. I asked Brennan and Chris a few questions about the tattoo and body piercing industry, their philosophy and the current trends.
CC: Is there a license or certification required to do tattoos? If so, what is the fee?
Brennan: No, there is no certification required, but the State of Missouri, Department of Economical Development does require you to be licensed. For a fee of $100, a person can operate a business anywhere, from a basement home operation to a dumpster behind a fast food restaurant. The business pays an annual $500 fee plus $100 per employee. The State comes out once a year for an inspection of your premises.
CC: How do you sterilize your equipment?
Brennan: The process for sterilization of equipment is done with steam in an autoclave. Using this process eliminates cross contamination. We perform a spore (live bacteria) test weekly, which is then sent to a lab to be analyzed. All of our tools are disposable.
CC: Who is getting tattoos these days?
Chris: Everyone! No certain groups, we have blue collar, white collar, priests, you name it.
CC: What designs are females getting and where on their body are they being tattooed?
Brennan: In the past couple of years, females have gone from small tattoos to larger ones and from single to multiple tattoos. The designs have been hearts, angels and butterflies. If you noticed the girl who just walked outside, I finished her entire back this time.
CC: Yes, I did notice. Wow! Impressive work!
Chris: The lower back and ankles are the most popular areas and we have noticed there are more older women getting tattoos also.
CC: What do you consider older?
Chris: Oh, 50 or so.
That hit up close and personal to me, of course, I have a son their age and he probably thinks his mom is old too!
CC: What designs are the guys getting?
Brennan: Arm bands, tribal, Japanese influence.
CC: What is tribal?
Brennan: Solid black designs, loops, points and lines. Take a look at our books they are filled with tribal designs.
CC: Is there an age requirement?
Brennan: Yes, 18 years old and they must have a state issued ID.
CC: When I hear that someone got a tattoo, invariably someone will ask if they were drunk when they got it. Is that common?
Chris: No, we absolutely will not work on someone who has alcohol content; it’s also against state law. If I found someone with alcohol on their breath, they would be asked to leave.
CC: What is the oldest client you have tattooed or pierced?
Chris: An 86-year-old man who promised his wife he would never get a tattoo. After she passed away he came in and had a poker hand tattooed on the knuckles of one hand and his wife’s name on the other.
CC: How long does a tattoo take?
Brennan: The average is approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Of course that depends on the size and design.
CC: Do you do custom designs?
Brennan: Yes, I usually draw the design on paper first go over it with the customer then make any changes. My portfolios are filled with samples of my work.
CC: Do most people know what design they want when they come in?
Brennan: Sometimes. Whatever a client wants or picks out has its own meaning to the individual and shows how it relates to them. I don’t judge others.
CC: What is the most sensitive part of the body to tattoo?
Brennan: The ribcage is usually the last place someone will get done.
CC: Even if you have excess body fat?
Brennan: Body fat and bone does not make a difference, it’s the nerves and nerves feel pain!
CC: Do you do facial tattoos?
Brennan: No, we choose not to. If done right, it looks good.
CC: What areas are the easiest to pierce?
Chris: Ears, tongue, eyebrow.
CC: What is the most piercing you have seen on one person?
Chris: I saw 100 on a guy.
CC: What is the healing time for a naval piercing?
Chris: Six to ten months to heal, must stay out of the water six to eight weeks and follow proper care instructions.
CC: What is the biggest change you have seen in the industry in the past several years?
Brennan: Technique, more and more people getting into the business are artists.
Chris: Many have art training or are degreed; they are creative, know proper color blending and are experts at custom design.
CC: Where do you get your tattoos?
Chris: Guest artists that come to town or other studios out of state.
Brennan: Or we do each other occasionally.
CC: How difficult is it to remove tattoos?
Brennan: We don’t do removals, only cover-ups. I can’t imagine any of my clients wanting to remove a tattoo I have put on them. We do great tattoos.
A-1 is in business to put on great tattoos that are pieces of art that you wear for life. Brennan does excellent work and is very proud of it.
CC: What happens when a tattoo is put on too deep?
Brennan: It really messes the person up; whoever does this has no clue about the skin.
Dustin and Jessi Wolf shared an example of this experience with me. I met them while on a ride with the Southern Cruisers – KC Chapter. From a recommendation of a friend (not always a good resource), Dustin went to a “basement operator.” The guy needed money to open a business so he was trying to help him out. Dustin looked at custom designs that had the guy’s name on them, but later found out they were not his work. The guy had five years experience; little did Dustin know how bad it would get. Because Dustin works for Ford, is proud to be a union man and an American, he wanted FORD on his upper left arm. The so-called artist went to deep in the skin, and according to Dustin, 'it blew out, so the color blurs out under the skin.' It looked like a big smudge on his arm to me, and FORD was barely visible. Dustin’s next tattoo will be a cover-up over the mistake of an unskilled, inexperienced, basement operator. Jessi also had a tattoo put on too deep and the area raised up and the ink seeped up through the skin. The same guy that did Dustin’s also did Jessi’s. Beware folks!
Dustin and Jessi were given birthday gifts by Dustin's sister, Brande Luna who has several tattoos, and just received her sixth the day before this interview, all from A-1. Because they do not wear wedding bands, they had matching wedding bands tattooed on their left arms two years ago. Jessi has two tattoos so far and is already getting psyched up for her next one, “a wolf of course,” says Jessi. Dustin has three tattoos. They highly recommend the talent and skill of A-1 Tattoo.
As the interview came to a close at the A-1 studio, several customers had come in wanting information on new tattoos, designs, cover-ups and prices. The minimum price is $50. Dustin and Jessi’s wedding bands were $150 each. I browsed through Brennan’s portfolio of tattoos and Chris’s portfolio of body piercing (wide eyed by the end)! The places people decide to get pierced were quite amazing to this “older woman!” I was impressed with the detail, color and designs of the custom work. Both Brennan and Chris are very skilled and talented artists that take their business seriously, and they want their customers to feel welcome and come back. Brennan’s parting words were, “If a tattoo looks good now, it should look good in 20 years. It’s going to age, but they can age gracefully if put on correctly.”
I enjoyed this interview so much that I seriously thought about hanging around and getting a tattoo, but duty calls, on to the next interview!
If you are contemplating getting a tattoo, stop in and visit with A-1. Be sure to tell Brennan and Chris that you read their review in Cycle Connections.
Story and Photos by Goldie Arnold