Pam Wilson-Orth contends she doesn’t look like a typical tattoo artist.
“I don’t have tattoos all over me like a lot of tattooists do,” Wilson-Orth said. “I do have a few little tattoos that mean something to me, but you’ll never see them unless I show them to you.
Wilson-Orth is the owner and operator of Pam’s Body Art & Piercing, a business she has run out of her Craig home since 1993. Wilson-Orth is a “50-ish,” clean-cut woman, who looks younger than her age would suggest.
And, if she looks different from the average tattooist, then the same could be said of some of her clients.
“I love working with animals,” Wilson-Orth said.
Fifteen years ago, Wilson-Orth began tattooing animals. She works primarily with dogs and horses that lack pigmentation on their eyelids and noses. Pink skin can leave animals vulnerable to the sun.
Veterinarian Kelly Hepworth of Bear Creek Animal Hospital said the tattooing of animals is standard practice in veterinary medicine.
“We’re trying to prevent too much sun damage so (the animals) don’t eventually develop neoplasia or cancer,” Hepworth said.
Some animals are tattooed for identification purposes, Hepworth said.
Wilson-Orth, who has done work for three area veterinarians, said the animals are sedated when she works on them, and it’s “more relaxing” than working with people.
But that doesn’t mean Wilson-Orth doesn’t like working with people.
“Every single person who walks in here I totally connect with because they’re trusting me to work on them,” Wilson-Orth said. “I am working for you when you come in here.”
Wilson-Orth grew up in Cortez, and she developed an interest in art at a young age.
“I’ve been an artist since I was 15,” Wilson-Orth said. “I’ve taught in college and galleries. And I’ve painted on canvas, ceilings and walls.
“I always considered myself a small-time Michelangelo. … Michelangelo was known for all his non-canvas art.”
Wilson-Orth said her artist friends expressed confusion when she took up tattooing.
“They don’t realize … that (skin) is just canvas to me,” Wilson-Orth said. “It’s still painting.”
Besides, tattooing has benefits beyond conventional artistry, Wilson-Orth said.
“The starving artists work on canvas,” she said. “I’ve never starved.”
Wilson-Orth estimates that she performs “many thousands” of procedures every year — whether it’s body art, cosmetic tattooing, piercing or veterinary assistance.
Cosmetic tattoos are a big part of the business, Wilson-Orth said. Procedures include permanent eyeliner, lip liner and eyebrows. She can also mix ink to match a person’s skin color and use it to cover scars, varicose veins and small, unwanted tattoos.
“The cosmetic world is really important to me because it boosts self-esteem. I want women to feel good about themselves,” she said.
But it’s the artistry of tattooing that is most important to Wilson-Orth.
“Every single one I consider my favorite,” Wilson-Orth said of the tattoos she draws. “Every single one.”
Wilson-Orth said customers’ preferences have changed over the years.
“Years ago (tattoos) were little tiny things,” Wilson-Orth said. “Now it’s gotta be big. Big back pieces, arms, legs. It’s not just one little bumblebee or bird or flower — it’s 20.”
Wilson-Orth agrees with the conventional wisdom that tattoos are addictive. She has her own hypothesis as to why.
“The reason you’re addicted is it’s an art collection,” she said. “One isn’t going to satisfy you. You want more. It’s an investment in art. You’re collecting art.”
Angie Petree, a Craig resident who is adorned with 27 tattoos inked by Wilson-Orth, agrees that body art is addictive, but her reasons are different.
“For me it’s more an expression of myself,” said Petree, 32. “I’m an expressive person. When people look at me they can see the things that I like, the things that I care about.”
On the other hand, Wilson-Orth has somehow avoided the addiction to add more ink to her own body. She has a quick answer as to why.
“My addiction is giving (tattoos) … not getting them,” Wilson-Orth said.
And if a modest number of tattoos makes her unusual in her field, Wilson-Orth said she’s OK with it.
“I’m probably different than many tattooists. I’ve been to (body art) conventions, and it’s almost like I’m at the carnival or circus,” Wilson-Orth said.
“They’re in a different world than I am in. This is my art world.”