CLARKS SUMMIT – Jon Powell looked out a window and watched the foot traffic passing on Depot Street late on a recent Saturday afternoon. About a dozen people were on the sidewalks and most were young. One of them was a female of college age who had just purchased a pair of body piercings from his store.
“This location is absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “It’s a nice, artsy block.”
Powell owns Renaissance Body Art, a tattoo and piercing shop that recently relocated from Scranton to 126 Depot St.
“Business was good in Scranton but it was nowhere as consistent as it is here,” Powell said. In Scranton, where the shop operated for five years, Powell relied on walk-in customers. With the move to Clarks Summit, the owner said most services are performed at appointed times, with the shop often booked a week in advance.
The business was founded in Mayfield in September 2005, and remained there until Powell moved it to Scranton in 2013.
Powell and the shop manager Jacob Abplanalp are Renaissance Body Art’s resident tattoo artists. Jeff Nye is the piercer. Tattoos bring in about 70 percent of revenues, according to Powell, and body piercings supply the rest.
Both artists accept work on all types of tattoos, but they have their specialties. Abplanalp enjoys working on graffiti-style works, or ones having a dark and demonic theme.
“He does a lot of black-and-grays, which are basically tattoos without color,” Powell said.
The proprietor favors portraiture tattoos and other realistic depictions done with inks and pigments. Inks are the black liquids used for making the outlines of tattoos, while pigments supply the different colors.
Some tattoos are put on in a freehand style, but others – like those created from references such as photographs – begin with stencils.
“We make a line drawing of the design and run it through a machine called a thermofax,” Powell said. “It uses transfer paper and makes a stencil that we apply to your skin first.”
Another Powell specialty is cover-up work. Orders for these tattoos are common.
“Let’s say that you get a tattoo of your wife’s name on your arm, and then you guys get a divorce, and then you start seeing someone else,” Powell said.
Existing tattoos cannot be masked with skin-tone pigments. The old tattoo would bleed through like white paint applied to a black wall. Powell enjoys devising ways of covering an existing tattoo with a new one.
During the summer, when people are frequently attired in shorts and short-sleeved shirts, tank tops or swimsuits, the prevalence of tattoos becomes obvious. Many people have them. Powell has tattooed teachers, nurses, judges, hairstylists and chefs. He said middle-aged women make up the fastest-growing tattoo demographic.
“My mom and my aunt got matching tattoos, at the age of 53,” Powell said. He did the work on both women.
Abplanalp manages Renaissance Body Art, which seems a curious organizational structure for a small enterprise having a staff of three. Powell said Abplanalp is good with logistics and inventory control and the owner-and-manager arrangement allows both men to spend more time in their respective tattooing booths.
“We’re able to work together to evenly distribute the administrative part of the business,” Powell said. “That way, we can both focus on our artwork.”
Having ink and pigment applied to the skin causes some patrons to grimace. Powell said most of the shop’s customers find the experience more discomforting than painful.
“Being tattooed is a lot like going to the dentist,” he said. “People get nervous. I try to entertain people. Jake and I both have very twisted senses of humor.”
There is a $75 minimum for tattoos purchased at Renaissance Body Art. Powell said most of the tattoos sold by the shop cost between $150 and $200.
“Generally, if it’s bigger than the size of a playing card, the price goes to $100,” he said.
Powell is 36 and became interested in tattooing when he was still in high school. He had received a number of tattoos, including on his right arm and his right ankle, before he decided to make a living as a tattoo artist. He still gets excited by the work. The older he gets, the more certain he becomes that he would not like working at an office and sitting in a cubicle.
“The diversity of the people who come in here – there’s so much to choose from and so much to work with,” Powell said. “On each new tattoo that we do, it’s a chance for us to outdo ourselves again. It’s a never-ending challenge.”
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