On the Clock: Getting under their skin
Tattoo artist spends his day giving clients the needle
Anthony Lawton prepared to drop music inside his studio, All Star Body Art in Scotia.
“Start middle-of-the-roadish?” he asked his client, Len Bohley, who was lying with his face up and shirt off on a full-length padded table.
“We can heavy it up later,” Bohley answered.
Lawton decided to heavy it up right away. At 1 p.m., big bass and guitar notes from heavy metal band Mastodon filled the room, and Lawton prepared to drop color into the left side of Bohley’s chest. The 34-year-old Lawton, who lives in Rotterdam and has been leaving his mark on men and women since 1998, had already stenciled the pattern into friend Bohley’s pectoral — a large skull with swirls behind it. He dabbed his tattoo machine with black ink and began etching deep black lines around the “teeth” of the boney face.
“If I fall asleep, just tap me,” joked Schenectady resident Bohley, 49, manager of computer operations for the state Assembly and an Air Force veteran.
Bohley is familiar with tattoo practice and procedure. He has the words “Veterans Nomads” — a local and national motorcycle club to which he belongs — on his right arm. A swirling multicolor dragon is a permanent scene on his left arm. The hammer of Norse god Thor, a battle-axe and a skull with a sword running through it are other parts of Bohley’s epidermal canvas.
“It’s art,” he said. “And I love art. Anthony is a great artist and a great tattoo artist. I let him do what he wants; I tell him what I’m thinking and he draws it up.”
Lawton was ready to color, but the telephone rang at 1:02 p.m. A caller with a television question had confused All Star’s phone number with the similar set of numbers used to contact Time Warner Cable. “Happens 10 times a day,” Lawton said. “Sometimes, I’ll mess with them. I’ll say, ‘So, how do you feel about getting a tattoo?’ ”
The tattoo machine sounded like an electric razor, humming at high speed. Lawton had blue latex gloves on his hands and a bunch of paper towels at the ready. Each time the tiny grouping mass of 14 needles — moving up and down 111 times a second — struck 1/64th of an inch to pierce Bohley’s skin and imprint color, Lawton quickly wiped away excess ink.
Bohley said he was comfortable at the start of the three-hour ink session, and agreed he looked like he was lying down at a doctor’s or dentist’s office. “No Novocain though, no anaesthetic,” he said, looking toward the artist. “Do they call you Dr. Anthony?”
“Yes,” Lawton answered, concentrating on the task.
Travis Aanensen, the other tattoo artist at All Star, brought a telephone into Lawton’s studio. A guy named “Cowboy” wanted a minute. “See if the cowboy can call me back in an hour,” Lawton told Aanensen, who relayed the message and left the room.
Clients’ age range
Lawton talked about his work. He said clients range in age from 18 to 70, but most of the people he inks are between 30 and 50. He said a lot of people in the 18-to-25 age range are often living at home and have more disposable income they use for battle-axes on biceps or butterflies on ribs. When these people get married and begin families, and money gets a little tighter, Lawton said he doesn’t see them again until they hit their mid-30s.
Bohley listened. It was 1:15, and he seemed serene as the skull became part of his person.
“It feels like somebody scratching on your skin,” he said. “It’s actually soothing a little bit.”
Lawton, who graduated from Schoharie High School in 1995, said business is good. He said he schedules three clients a day. The first session begins around 11 a.m. and goes until 3 or 4 p.m. The late afternoon appointment goes from 3 until 5 p.m., and evening ink work takes place from 5 until 8 p.m. “I work six days a week,” Lawton said.
Skulls are popular for new pigmentation. If Lawton is doing 18 pieces a week for men, six or seven are skulls. “People seem to like what I do with them,” he said, as the black ink outline of the latest skull became more and more visible. The Bohley job would cost between $300 and $500; Lawton said accomplished tattoo artists earn between $100 and $150 an hour.
As the needles buzzed, Lawton said reality television shows like “Miami Ink” have created positive images for tattoo artists and their studios. He’s not as crazy about follow-up shows like “New York Ink,” which he said portrays tattoo artists more like rock stars.
“That’s really not how we live,” he said. “Most of us have kids and wives. We love tattooing, but we’re trying to create a future for our families.”
At 1:37 p.m., Aanensen took a look inside Lawton’s studio to see Bohley’s skull. “Oh, right above the nipple, that’s got to hurt,” he joked. “Poor guy.”
It was getting near lunch time. Lawton felt like Mexican and told Aanensen he should call Bomber’s in Schenectady. “They stop delivering at 2,” he said. Bohley was up for burritos and tacos. Lawton said the tattoo guys often eat lunch with Peter Borgia, a fellow Mohawk Avenue merchant who runs the Styles Barber Shop.
“We’re pretty close-knit with the community,” Lawton said. “We get along with everybody.”
Just before 2 p.m., artist and client took a break. Bohley sat up on the table, then stood up. The outline of a black skull was visible on his left pectoral, along with redness from some skin irritation. Bohley liked the work, and was ready for Lawton to begin texture and detail work after lunch.
“It’s going to be nasty,” Lawton said.
“On The Clock” profiles people at work in the Capital Region by spending one hour with them on the job. Nominate a friend or co-worker by contacting Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.