More than skin-deep: The stories behind Elko’s tattoos

2013-06-14T02:30:00Z More than skin-deep: The stories behind Elko’s tattoosBy HEATHER KENNISON — hkennison@elkodaily.com Elko Daily Free Press

ELKO — Don’t judge a book by its cover.

That’s what Spring Creek resident Kayla Hill says to people who don’t like her tattoos. Hill, 21, has been getting tattoos since she was 17 years old. She now has five.

“It’s my body, not theirs,” Hill said.

The cultural perception of tattoos is changing, said Audrey Vasquez, owner and artist at POPS (Permanence on People’s Skin) Tattoo.

“There’s really no stereotype anymore,” Vasquez said.

Hill said her own grandparents used to not like tattoos.

“Now, they both have one,” she said.

Etched into every tattoo is the story of why it was made.

For Dusty Gilbertson of Elko, tattoos have a symbolic meaning. Gilbertson has gotten two in honor of people he’s lost.

His most recent tattoo is an elk horn with a tree that covers almost his entire right side.

“The elk horn is from an elk hunt,” Gilbertson said. “One of my buddies died in a crash in 2007.”

Vasquez, the artist who did the tattoo, said it took about eight to nine hours over three sessions to complete. Gilbertson’s other tattoo done by Vasquez depicts parts of photographs taken from his father’s life before he died in 2008.

In the case of Sarah Dutton of Spring Creek, getting tattoos all over her body has been part of a personal rebirth as she’s lost weight.

“It makes me feel beautiful,” Dutton said.

In the past year and a half, she has added to her designs, covering both arms and legs.

“It’s celebrating me,” Dutton said. “I don’t think every tattoo needs to be meaningful.”

Still, each of her tattoos represents something she’s passionate about.

Dutton has 17 crows over her entire body, inspired by the Counting Crows song “A Murder of One.”

“I add a crow to most of the tattoos I have,” she said.


The Motorcycle Jamboree this weekend is likely to bring a few tattoo artists into town, but people should be knowledgeable about where they go.

Debbie Henseler, business licensing technician for the City of Elko, said that like piercings, tattoos are not regulated by the state. Cities can adopt their own regulations, Henseler said.

“In Elko County there’s not a whole lot of regulation,” Vasquez said. “... It’s kind of the responsibility of the artist to be knowledgeable about blood-borne pathogens.”

In the six years she’s been operating in Elko, Vasquez has never had an inspection. Henseler said the state health inspector visits only establishments that serve food.

Cade Milligan, owner of Sacred Oath Tattoo, said he has been advocating for more regulations.

“In Nevada there’s not truly an age limit, but there’s also really bad health codes,” Milligan said. “I’ve been fighting it for awhile.”

Milligan said he tries to educate people about the importance of cleanliness and certification.

Both Vasquez and Milligan have chosen to get blood-borne pathogen certification. Clients still have to sign a liability waiver.

When it comes to tattooing people younger than 17 years old, Milligan said he won’t always do it.

“If it’s a tasteful tattoo, I’ll do it with the parent or legal guardian’s signature,” Milligan said.

He also chooses not to tattoo anyone who is intoxicated.

For Milligan, being a tattoo artist is all about the artistic value.

Increasing demand

In any given week, Vasquez does about eight to 10 tattoos. She’s already booked through November.

“This last year, the demand has been up a lot,” she said.

Milligan, too, has seen business increase steadily in the last few years.

“People are more interested now than ever,” Milligan said. “...It’s actually been really crazy.”

One explanation for increased demand is that tattoos are becoming more socially accepted, he said. Another is that, as many people with tattoos will tell you, tattoos are “addicting” in that one frequently leads to another.

“I just kept going and going and going,” Hill said.

But new customers are also on the rise. In the past month alone, Milligan said he has done five or six first-time tattoos for clients.

Each tattoo may require anywhere between 30 minutes to five hours to complete. Rates vary on size and detail of the tattoos. Vasquez said she charges a starting rate of $80.

Trends in tattoos vary on the geographical location, Vasquez said. She has seen a lot of American and traditional designs in her work.

Sleeve tattoos on arms and legs have also become a growing trend.

“More people than ever want a sleeve, not just a little tattoo,” Milligan said.

Subject matter depends a lot on the person, Vasquez said. With a base of 15 colors of ink, Vasquez also does custom mixes for colors.

“It’s a lot like painting to me,” she said.

Vasquez graduated from the Southern Oregon University with a bachelor’s degree in art. Milligan has been tattooing for more than 10 years.

Copyright 2016 Elko Daily Free Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(21) Comments

  1. DEBoyd
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    DEBoyd - June 18, 2013 7:50 pm
    Waaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy to broad a brush there KD.
  2. young1
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    young1 - June 18, 2013 12:34 pm
    I see a lot of good points here. i have had tattoos for the the last 15 years. and the one thing i think people forget is how well do you know your artist? all you have to do is make them mad once and your up a creek. i have 2 full sleeves and my chest half done. Thought i knew my artist HAHA nope i made her mad once and she has cut me off wont call back wont text back!! so I can Thank P.O.P.S Tattoo for this. Its a shame half done custom work that will cost me a lot of money now to get it fixed
  3. DEBoyd
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    DEBoyd - June 18, 2013 5:59 am
    Don't get sucked in Rogue. It's far more likely an anti-Christian would make a discrediting comment this stupidly legalistic and ignorant than anyone saved by the fulfillment of scripture.
  4. DEBoyd
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    DEBoyd - June 18, 2013 5:54 am
    Good point. No matter how well done and/artful a Tat is at the time of application there are drawbacks to a living canvas that can never be overcome.
  5. KD
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    KD - June 17, 2013 1:50 pm
    It's a truism that people who are mutually supportive of tattoos are birds of a feather. Kindred spirits one might say. But that is a false sense of acceptance. Inside, low self-esteem rules. A person who is severely tattooed is not respected. Any mutual support between y'all is ONLY between y'all. A severely tattoed person is not in the real world in their thought processes regarding their expectations for life. It takes effort to break away from that mentality. But it's possible
  6. JDMO
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    JDMO - June 17, 2013 11:55 am
    Pa-in-law had tats from 30 years ago. Can't tell what they are now unless you were told. Never appealed to me but know some damn fine folks that have them. Sad that young gals get them and then after a couple of kids and some age, weight & sag those poignant works of art tend to morph into something that best remain covered. Tramp stamps become seats covers if you will. Sleeves tend to melt toward the back of the arms. Wondered why no one thinks of that before the needle?
  7. Rogue
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    Rogue - June 17, 2013 10:05 am
    Hate to ruin your bible thumping party but ummmm.....so we should follow everything in the bible?? So is deuteronomy 22:29-29 okay? "If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her." Or is that one you Christians tend to overlook?
  8. DEBoyd
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    DEBoyd - June 17, 2013 7:55 am
    "“There’s really no stereotype anymore,” Vasquez said."

    True enough but that does't mean there are no judgments that shouldn't be made either. If, as an employer, you don't know there is a difference between the lady sporting a little butterfly on her ankle and some guy with spiderwebs on his elbows you are being dangerously naive. And yes, as an employer I have learned that lesson the hard way. Don't think just because *you* don't think it's any big deal everyone is obligated to agree.
  9. DEBoyd
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    DEBoyd - June 17, 2013 7:03 am
    "One explanation for increased demand is that tattoos are becoming more socially accepted, he said. "

    Interesting point. I would not think fashion crazes are something you want to permanently be stuck with but tattoos would seem to be an exception. As fashion they have been around since antiquity. OTOH its *acceptability* as a fashion has not. Acceptability comes and goes. Tattoo's do not. Not a risk I would recommend a young person take but then taking risk kind of defines being young.
  10. BlueJay84
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    BlueJay84 - June 17, 2013 6:02 am
    Wow KD...you're an idiot! I also have a job...A good one and I would be willing to bet it pays more than yours does. And I have tattoos...a bunch of them. I love it...keep your close minded ignorant thoughts to yourself.
  11. Kbt
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    Kbt - June 16, 2013 10:26 pm
    "I am the Lord; who only is to be acknowledged as such, obeyed and served, and not any strange god, whose mark should be imprinted on them." If you are going to quote something please include all applicable data, not just the one line that you consider will be a basis for your point of view but really only shows your ignorance and belligerence.
  12. DEBoyd
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    DEBoyd - June 16, 2013 4:17 pm
    Luckily Jesus was a little more easy going that Lavitacis.
  13. Elijah1
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    Elijah1 - June 16, 2013 11:27 am

    Tattooing is a sin. Tattoos are demonic, unclean defilements DUDs that indicate alcoholism, sadomasochism, and hard drug abuse.
  14. Rogue
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    Rogue - June 15, 2013 9:36 pm
    I have tattoos on the back of my head and my neck and I make six figures a year. So ya I found a job and ya I'm successful. Put that in your pipe and smoke it you old duffer. But seriously grow up!!
  15. DEBoyd
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    DEBoyd - June 15, 2013 9:23 pm
    I kind of look at extreme boob jobs the same way. Well, maybe not *look* at them the same way. Ok, you get my point, I'll quit digging.
  16. queenstylist
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    queenstylist - June 15, 2013 6:54 am
    The rest of my comment:)
    Buy a picture but for the rest of us "Bring on the ink& dye"!!! Forever art!!!
  17. queenstylist
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    queenstylist - June 15, 2013 6:51 am
    I have several tattoos, some done by Audrey, Cade and another local artist Tom. I am an artist of hair. I preform my art on people in another aspect. I create a look to enchance their outer beauty. I believe using ourselves as canvas' is exactly how God meant it.When you look back to the beginning of time tattoos and hair designing have always been a way of art.For those who disagree with tattoos or creative hair cuts, colrs thats totally fine. Its not for you. Buy aphotogragh, paint a pi
  18. holls23
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    holls23 - June 14, 2013 7:51 pm
    I have a tattoo from every country I went to with the Navy and I now have a job that I would consider "decent." My tattoos have never stood in my career path and its been 10 years since I've marked my skin permanently as I still love the story it tells...
  19. KD
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    KD - June 14, 2013 1:54 pm
    Regardless of all the "don't judge me" defensiveness, the truth is tattoos are trashy. People try to be all politically correct by saying they're not "judging" and "to each his own" but the truth is, if a person likes art, put it on CANVAS! Not your skin. In spite of every person having inherent worth regardless, tattoos still give off an insalubrious vibe as will the "don't judge me" comments that will surely follow my apt opinion. But good luck finding a decent job.
  20. Yahooligan
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    Yahooligan - June 14, 2013 10:12 am
    @Cubs Fan. I got my first tattoo 23 years ago and still love it.
  21. Cubs Fan
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    Cubs Fan - June 14, 2013 6:01 am
    I'm not judging and to each his own, but I wonder how some of these folks are going to like their ink 20 or 30 years in the future.
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