By Laurie Dunklee
Andrea Liggett’s tattoo studio is a bright feast for the eyes, with artwork of all kinds on the walls. Featured large are images of Marilyn Monroe and a corner shelf full of figures and buildings from “Nightmare Before Christmas,” a 1993 stop-motion animated musical by Tim Burton.
“That movie is special to me because Jack [the main character] tries to be something he’s not, and he fails miserably,” says Liggett, co-owner of Illustrated Gypsy on West Colfax at Perry Street.
Liggett, who goes by the nickname “Andee,” is all about authenticity in her art. Her tattoos express her individuality, as well as the individuality of the people who wear them.
“When someone comes for a tattoo, I get them to open up about who they are and what they identify with. We break it down symbolically and I design a tattoo for them,” she says.
Andee’s detailed, polished work reflects her interests in the art nouveau style, botanical illustration and fantasy art. Her fine-artist-caliber technique is even more impressive because she is mostly self-taught.
“In elementary school it became clear that I could draw, and I kept at it,” says Andee. “I took a figure-drawing class at community college, which helped with tattooing since tattoos are all about bodies.”
Though she created art in many media – watercolors, colored pencils, graphite and jewelry – Andee never thought tattooing would be her career.
“I worked in a corporate setting for 10 years and I knew I wouldn’t stay in that purgatory. I was getting tattoos myself and friends asked me to design theirs. When anyone suggested that I do tattoos I said ‘Never,’ but then it hit me: I could make money and make art.”
Owning the tattoo shop with five other artists since 2009 is a decent living, said Andee, who charges $150 per hour for her services.
“I make enough money but I’m not all about money.”
She said greater numbers of fine artists are finding their livelihood in tattoos these days.
“Recent art school grads are jumping into it because it’s lucrative. It’s a craft that traditionally drew journeymen. The new technology makes it more attractive to real artists instead of just troublemakers who can draw.”
Andee designs many of her tattoos on an iPad with a stylus. To apply the tattoo, she uses a coil tattoo machine, a hand-held device that uses electromagnetic coils to move a bar up and down. Connected to the bar is a group of needles that push ink into the skin.
“It’s like a tiny sewing machine,” she said.
She chooses from about 60 colors, which she often blends or layers to get the desired effect. The color is deposited under the epidermis, down about the width of a nickel. It can take a year or more to complete a large tattoo because it is done in stages, allowing time in between for the skin to heal. The line work defining the image comes first, then the colors.
“I use lots of saturated color,” Andee said.
One of Andee’s biggest influences is Alphonse Mucha, an early 1900s Czech art nouveau painter with an ornate and sensuous style.
“His art is tattoo-friendly because everything is outlined,” she says.
She is drawn to ancient architecture, including the pyramids, and she loves flowers.
“Once you know how flowers are structured, like that a lily has six petals, then you can play with the form.”
People want tattoos for a variety of reasons and their requests are sometimes surprising.
“People memorialize their pets that have passed, or they want to cover spider veins,” Andee said. “Sometimes it’s weird, like the girl who got a grilled cheese sandwich tattoo.
“I try to give good advice up front so that they’ll make good decisions and won’t end up getting sick of their tattoo. If they want something wordy, I get them to think about that. Do you really want people reading you in the grocery store line? And if you memorialize a pet, think about how many times you’ll have to explain it.”
She said the pain of getting a tattoo can be a point of pride for people. “Tattoos give people confidence because they can show their friends and say, ‘Look what I endured.’ It’s like a badge of honor.”
The pain of getting a tattoo varies with the placement and the individual. “Getting a tattoo hurts the most in areas with lots of nerve endings or near a joint,” said Andee, displaying a tattoo on her pinkie finger that she says was particularly painful.
“I think it feels like cat scratches. People react differently to the process: some go to sleep, while others are nervous. I try not to go more than four hours on a person because they go into a mild shock. We both know when enough is enough.”
Shane Haberland was in Andee’s tattoo chair getting the next phase of his “Beetlejuice” (a 1998 movie) collage, a large tattoo covering most of his lower leg. Andee has been working on the tattoo for about a year.
“The tattooing can hurt,” Haberland said, “but you also get high from it because all your endorphins kick in.”
In addition to completing his new tattoo, Andee is also concealing one of Haberland’s old ones, an homage to an ex-girlfriend featuring a bomb with the label “In Love.”
“Never again,” said Haberland.