Fresh ink

Art, lifestyles converge at local tattoo parlors


The dull buzzing noise comes from a back room of the small duplex at 536 Stout St. Inside, the creative juices of Pam Wilson-Orth are flowing, along with jet black ink.

Wilson-Orth, an artist for more than 20 years, is versatile. She can use anything for a slate -- cars, walls, ceilings.


"The body is a canvass to me, a living canvass," Wilson-Orth says, the buzzing killed for a moment's break. "Art is my passion."

Today's customer, Vince Langstaff, 32, of Meeker, sits in a chair in front of Wilson-Orth. He raises his bowed head, a short reprieve from the "ticklish sting," and tells you about the first time he got a tattoo.

It was the names of his four children emblazoned on to his right wrist. He was 26 years old and he got the markings to "show pride in 'em."

That was three tattoos ago, or four if you count today's work in progress. The addiction has kicked in, he said, and there are several more tattoos planned for the future.

And with that, the break is over and Wilson-Orth is back at work.

Her electric needle snaps back to life and its drone hums once again. She's been on the job for the last 30 minutes, she's got about 30 more to go, and time is precious.

After all, the grim reaper is waiting, and he doesn't look happy.

Wilson-Orth is the owner and operator of Pam's Body Art, one of two tattoo parlors in Craig. Jimmy Clark, the man behind Liquid Flesh Tattoo at 396 School St., runs the other.

Combined, they have close to a quarter century of experience and have inked people from all walks of life -- everyone from a youth director to an ex-con fresh out of the hoosegow.

"I've done everything, every subject imaginable," Wilson-Orth said.

"I've covered all the bases, definitely," Clark said.

Wilson-Orth has been at work for the past 14 years. Clark, 32, has been a tattoo artist for 10 years.

Clark is a walking tribute to his profession. Thirty-five percent of his body is covered in tattoos.

He is the new kid on the block in Craig, his parlor having been open inside long-time buddy Jesse McAvoy's Bad Axe Custom Cycles and Powder-coating since October 2005.

Tattoo art is an extension of other creative outlets for Clark.

He began painting at 4 years old and has been a classical and jazz guitarist for 23 years."For me, it's been more of a lifestyle. ... I just love art, man, in any medium," he said.

Clark got his start in the business in Marietta, Ga. It was there where he met McAvoy, a police officer who patrolled the neighborhood where Clark worked.

The two quickly became friends and thereafter Clark began tattoo work on McAvoy, a former Craig Police Department and Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer.

Now, "he's the only one that tattoos on me," McAvoy said.

The parlor at Liquid Fresh, the small room "where it all goes down," is tucked off to the side. A sign greets, or warns depending on your perspective, patrons and wayward children, who disturb the resident artist at work.

"Unruly children will be deep fried," the sign, meant as a comical warning, reads. "Then eaten. ... Please control your kids."

That's about as cross as Clark is bound to get.

Though Wilson-Orth and Clark's personalities are different -- she having a touch of the spiritual side and Clark a bit of a biker hipster -- they are equally kind in dealing with customers.

It's that attitude that has helped shatter the perception of tattoos as roughneck business only and brought body art into the world of mainstream.

Apparently, business in Craig isn't bad.

In her first year, Wilson-Orth completed more than 2,000 tattoos, earning her a feature in a trade magazine. Clark will complete anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 per year.

For many, tattoos are an "expression of the soul," Clark said. Wilson-Orth said she is touched when a customer asks her for a tattoo in memory of a loved one.

"They're my most heartfelt tattoos to do," she said. "I take it to heart."

Back in the chair at 536 Stout St., Wilson-Orth is finishing off Langstaff's Grim Reaper. He hasn't seen much, if any, of the tattoo, but he doesn't doubt his chosen handler.

"She's the only one I trust," he said of Wilson Orth.

Clark has customers who hold similar blind loyalty.

While working at Ink Whiz Tattoos in Stockbridge, Ga., a church deacon trusted him enough to create a portrait of Jesus on him. The deacon's son soon became a follower and commissioned Clark for a cross with thorns stuck in a bleeding heart.

In Craig, he has supporters such as McAvoy and many others that trust him with flesh and blood.

"It's been pretty impressive how many people in this small town are in to tattoos," he said.

Neither artist has any plans to unplug the tattoo gun.

"Art is my passion and I would miss people so much," Wilson-Orth said.

"I'll tattoo for the rest of my life," Clark said.

But, tomorrow is tomorrow. Today is now and they're working and they're creating and people are digging what they do. An artist can't ask for much more.

Back to Langstaff.

His Reaper is finished. Wilson-Orth moves him over to the mirror where artist and customer survey the work.

He's a menacing guy, this Reaper.

Death's personification is all black, carries two scythes, has hollow eyes and a piercing thousand-yard stare.

Wilson-Orth cleans the tattooed area and reminds Langstaff to do the same. Langstaff's skin is red from the needle, a small cost of doing business.

The redness will fade in 30 minutes. The Reaper, on the other hand, is the tradeoff for Langstaff's pain, a reward that will last an eternity.

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