- Associated Press - Monday, September 18, 2017

EASTHAMPTON, Mass. (AP) - Underneath the reflection of people walking on the sidewalk in front of one of the city’s newest businesses on Union Street, the words “you are beautiful” mark the window of Black Labyrinth Tattoo Syndicate.

“People are beautiful,” the shop’s co-owner Rachael Nalewanski said, adding that there’s a lot of negativity in commercials and marketing in which products are being sold to fix or hide people’s flaws. But people don’t have flaws, she said, it’s just part of being human.

Nalewanski and her fiance Josh Suchoza opened the shop at 46 Union St. in August. Suchoza, Nalewanksi and two tattoo artists all previously worked at Off the Map Tattoo on Cottage Street. Suchoza said the shop wasn’t where he saw himself and ventured off to start his own.

“I never looked at art as a competition,” Suchoza said.

Nalewanski said labyrinth, or maze, is a metaphor for life and also involves magic and mystery.

“It’s a journey,” she said.

The shop was a significant investment, Nalewanski said. While they didn’t reveal the costs to open, Suchoza said it took about five years off his life and he now has a white strand of hair.

For more than a decade, Suchoza said he worked in tattooing from a variety of tattoo studios - from a biker tattoo shop to a corporate studio. He’s also a certified Occupational Safety and Health Administration bloodborne pathogens instructor.

“Most tattooers are cleaner than dentists,” Suchoza said.

Transitioning to the new shop wasn’t difficult for booking clients.

“People want tattoos,” tattoo artist Aaron Hatch, known as “Dedleg,” said.

Pricing depends on the artist and the size of the piece. Large scale tattoos are charged by the hour, ranging from $100 to $180 an hour.

As for the style of tattoos the shop specializes in, Suchoza jokes that it’s “large, medium and small.”

But the three artists - Suchoza, Hatch and Gio Luca - do have different styles when it comes to line work. Suchoza tends to go toward more heavy, dark line work while Luca has more delicate lines and Hatch is somewhere in the middle. But when a request comes in, the artists said they can do about just about anything.

“Hearing people’s stories is my favorite part,” said Nalewanski, who works with the management side of the business.

People from all walks of life come into the studio, she said, from ages 18 to 70 and older. Some get a piece that has a deep meaning to them, others get something completely ridiculous, she said.

One day last week, Hatch worked for hours on a tattoo on Kara Koziol’s right arm.

Hatch drew up an idea Koziol came up with - a girl kneeling under a weeping willow tree, surrounded by flowers with birds flying in the air and a sun rising.

She said her grandparents had a weeping willow tree in their backyard in West Springfield. Koziol would sit under it and read. It was relaxing, she said.

The 36-year-old said the tattoo represents renewal and awakening after overcoming struggles in life. Some struggles involved battling addiction, Koziol said.

She’s focusing now on her studies and is set to graduate the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She aims on going to graduate school for a master’s degree in forensic anthropology.

The tattoo experience is therapeutic, Koziol said.

She sat still and calm, as the tattoo gun buzzed and Hatch concentrated, creating a work of art on her skin.

Online: https://bit.ly/2fvIgLG


Information from: Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Mass.), https://www.gazettenet.com

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