- Associated Press - Saturday, April 8, 2017

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - Liberty Tattoo owner Scotty Gyatso has a simple philosophy about how to run a tattoo studio: No attitude and no drama.

“A lot of the shops here in town, you walk in and you receive a rock star attitude,” he said at his Fairbanks studio. “I can’t stand people who are rock stars. Just be a humble artist. The best artists out there are the humblest people.”

Gyatso said when he opened the studio a year ago, he deliberately cultivated an old-school feel, choosing not to go with the “chandeliers and caviar” experience trending in many tattoo studios.

“You walk in here and you immediately feel like family. We’re not going to be like, ‘Oh, we’re too good for you.’ And it looks like a tattoo shop. A lot of (clients) come here and say, ‘Hey, when my dad got his tattoo, the place looked just like this,’” he said.

Liberty Tattoo is clean and bright, and the walls are adorned with “flash,” the industry name for tattoo designs drawn or printed on paper and displayed for customers either to choose or to gain inspiration from.

The studio’s five tattoo artists can create any type of tattoo a customer wants, such as photo realistic, traditional, custom, Japanese and Polynesian, to name a few. Gyatso specializes in freehand Polynesian tattoos, which he learned from good friend Riccyboy Novera Jr.

Gyatso prides himself on hiring the best, most experienced tattoo artists he can find, and noted that he and his two top artists have more than 75 years of experience among them.

Gyatso started tattooing professionally in Eugene, Oregon, after completing a traditional apprenticeship and spending a few years paying his dues. He eventually opened a studio of his own in Eugene, but after a falling out with his business partners, he decided to fulfill a longtime dream and moved to Alaska.

“When I was 14, I came up to Ketchikan with my dad and went fishing with some friends,” he said. “We were on a boat and I looked around and said, ‘When I’m an adult, I’m gonna move here.’”

Gyatso owned studios in Ketchikan and Sitka before moving to Fairbanks. He worked at two local tattoo studios before deciding to open his own.

“I’ve always plugged my name everywhere I went, and I’ve always received good reviews,” he said. “If you’re not a piece of crap, you do really well. I tell people all the time: just do good and don’t screw people over. I tell everybody, ‘If you think you can do it, you’ll make it here. This is the best place to open a business.’”

Even though Gyatso opened just more than a year ago, he’s looking to expand.

“Happy employees make happy artists, and we hope to go to seven days a week in the next month or so,” he said. “A lot of the shops in town, you hear they’re booked out for a long time, and the reason is (the artists) only do one tattoo a day. We’re professional tattoo artists, and we try to do a couple a day. More than a few a day. We try to please our clients.”

Gyatso said there is no such thing as a typical tattoo client, but he acknowledged about half of his clients were in the military.

“Obviously, we’re in a military town. It’s part of military culture and goes hand in hand,” he said.

Liberty Tattoo’s other clients come from all walks of life and in all ages. Clients must be at least 18, not pregnant or nursing, and not under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The oldest client Gyatso ever had was a 94-year-old woman.

“She got four in a month,” Gyatso said, shaking his head in admiration. “She was great, she was hilarious. She said, ‘I’ve never had one, I might as well get some. I’m not gonna live forever!’”

Gyatso said 90 percent of the ink he uses is from a company called Eternal Ink and is made from organic pigments, distilled water, witch hazel and alcohol. The ink is preservative and carcinogen-free and is not tested on animals.

Tattoo prices depend on size and difficulty, and can range from tiny infinity knots or birds to large, full-back tattoos. Liberty Tattoo’s artists generally charge by the piece instead of by the hour, which is part of Gyatso’s customer-first philosophy.

“We’ve taken every negative of every shop and turned it into a positive. Where some shops juice the clock and charge you by the hour and go really, really slow, we’re like, ‘Hey, this is what it’s going to cost.’ It’s easier that way. We know what a tattoo is worth.”


Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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