Local tattoo, music artists see opportunity for growth in Craig
Tattoo Syndicate and Treble -N- The Yampa working together on building culture around their adjoining downtown Craig shops
It wasn’t long after art school that, while working as a graphic designer at a large commercial firm, Sean Blake discovered that he wanted to be more than a robot at a computer.
One of his buddies from art school had started tattooing, so Blake went and saw him for his first tattoo. He fell in love with the medium.
“It was living, breathing art,” Blake said.
Now, 25 years later, Blake is the owner of a tattoo shop in downtown Craig that houses two other full-time tattoo artists. Prior to opening Tattoo Syndicate at 571 Yampa Avenue, Blake tattooed for ten years at 10th Street Tattoo in Steamboat with fellow artist and co-owner Milo Alfring.
Blake now works with clients all over the Yampa Valley — from Yampa to Craig — so opening up a shop in Craig just made sense. Once Tattoo Syndicate opened in 2020 and became just as busy as the Steamboat Shop, he let the lease go on the Steamboat shop and started working full time in Craig.
“I’ve been seeing Craig change, it’s becoming more of a hub in the Yampa Valley, and we wanted to be a part of the hub,” Blake said. “When people think of art, we want to come to mind.”
The kinds of art they are producing are, as Blake said, living, breathing art that incorporates other media. Last year, Blake helped the Nerd Shop create a logo, and he has recently teamed up with the music store that opened upstairs to do custom artwork on locally crafted guitars.
Will Hodgkinson and Red Miskell, who own Treble -N- The Yampa, the music store located above Tattoo Syndicate, started out as two musicians who got tired of having to order supplies online to fix their instruments. That’s why they opened the music store.
Treble -N- The Yampa caters to all musicians of any genre in the Yampa Valley, offering more than just music supplies. The store also does instrument repairs on everything from classical instruments for local band students to electric guitars, and also sells guitars that are crafted in-house.
“I was a band geek. When I got into trouble, my band director would make me take apart and repair band instruments,” Miskell said.
Miskell designs and shapes the guitars from raw materials, resulting in a unique hand-carved stock and body. Once the guitars are built, they are decorated and stained using a line of water-based stains called Unicorn Spit. The two shops are working on a collaborative piece, custom built by Miskell and with hand-painted art on the body of the guitar done by Blake.
The two shops have come together in the past to bring music and art to life in the community. In June 2021, just before Treble -N- The Yampa opened its doors for business, the two shops opened their spaces to throw a concert with local hard rock band “Divide the Wrath” playing upstairs and tattoo artist work being displayed downstairs.
“We want to start slow and get to know what people in the community want,” Miskell said.
The way that everything has come together for both shops to grow individually and in their collaborations is very organic and allows them to excel in their craft.
When Blake first started tattooing at Tattoo Syndicate, he was the only artist. Eddie Blue, tattoo artist of 12 years, was the first to join the crew and expand the shop.
“I was tattooing in the back one day and Eddie just walked in and asked if he could tattoo here,” Blake said.
Blake then set out to bring on an apprentice, which is how Caito Ormesher, who has now been tattooing for two years including her apprenticeship, came into the fold.
The two veteran artists, Blake and Blue, both did their apprenticeship at an old-school shop and learned to tattoo the old-school way.
“I didn’t even touch skin until after the first year,” Blake said.
The old-school approach to apprenticeships was designed to put new artists through the mill. It would basically give newbies all the shop grunt work to break them in, Blue explained.
“You gotta have thick skin to be in this industry,” Blake said.
During the early years of tattooing, Blake said he would spend hours and hours soldering together needle tips, cleaning and maintaining equipment, and hand-drawing stencils that would be transferred on to carbon copy paper through an older style of printer.
Ormesher, who was handpicked by Blake as an apprentice because she was creating art that was unique and different from what everyone else was doing, may have an advantage over her mentors in that she’s being taught the new-school methods with updated technology.
While there is still a sharp shop culture around Tattoo Syndicate, upgrades in tattoo technology have changed the way work is done around the shop.
The first upgrade is a shift from a manual coil machine, which had to be recalibrated in order to change between needle sizes for different kinds of lines and details, to an electric rotary machine. The rotary machines are lighter, quieter, and have an opening in the end for prefabricated needles to simply snap in.
Another upgrade is the use of iPads and a digital printer to draw and print tattoo stencils. Digital drawings streamline the creative process, and the Epson EcoTank printer is quicker and captures more detail for a higher-quality stencil.
“It’s changed our lives; it’s changed what we can do,” Blake said.
In part, the new technology has opened up the artists’ ability to expand their production. Both shops are working on becoming more than simply a place to get some ink or buy a guitar.
For Treble -N- The Yampa, that hopefully includes future shop expansion and time and resources to create more custom guitars, with more collaborative concerts potentially on the horizon.
Blake and Tattoo Syndicate are aiming to engage more with local artists by doing gallery nights to display a wider variety of art being made in the Yampa Valley.
It all adds up to a budding hub for art in downtown Craig.
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