RAVENSWOOD — An illustrator-turned-tattoo artist has opened a new shop in Ravenswood, bringing their animation skills and love for comic books into one of the only queer- and Black-owned tattoo studios in the city.
New Night Tattoo Studio, 1770 W. Berteau Ave., opened in January. Owner Alex Haynes offers custom tattoos, as well as pre-drawn flash tattoos featuring characters from DC Comics’ “Teen Titans,” magical space wands and flowers and plants.
Haynes is a trained illustrator and animator who changed careers during the pandemic. They apprenticed at tattoo shops and studied online tutorials to learn the trade, they said.
With New Night, Haynes wanted a relaxed space where clients can enjoy a Studio Ghibli film while getting ink, they said.
“It’s just kind of a more cozy, more laid-back studio,” Haynes said. “We play animation on the projector, and we have some lower lighting to just focus more on having a more chill and calm kind of reassuring atmosphere than standard for tattoo shops. A few people that came in said it’s the most calm, relaxed, ‘hanging out with friends’ kind of vibe that they’ve had while getting a tattoo.
“And I’m a queer Black femme, and this is one of the few queer Black owned spots in Chicago.”
Haynes began drawing when they were young. Anime-influenced “Teen Titans” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender” helped develop their artistic style, they said.
“I grew up on a lot of anime — a lot of Studio Ghibli movies. And ‘Spirited Away’ was like my favorite movie as a kid. I love that sort of ethereal energy. That’s really soothing, in a way,” Haynes said. ”When I got to go to the Ghibli Museum, it was one of my life-changing moments, just seeing this effortless but also very focused, emotional and empathetic storytelling.”
“Scott Pilgrim,” a manga-inspired graphic novel series, is also one of Haynes’ favorites and inspired them to pursue a career in animation and illustration, they said.
“I’m still really drawn to exciting, vibrant animation,” Haynes said. “I remember reading ‘Scott Pilgrim’ after watching the movie when I was like 12 and being like, ‘Oh my God, you can make a comic out of this. You can get published.’ That it’s OK to have a style that people think is atypical and still have an audience.”
Haynes didn’t initially set out to open a tattoo shop.
Haynes spent five years learning animation in Tokyo and Vancouver then worked as a freelance artist in Portland, Oregon, they said.
While working on freelance projects in Portland, Haynes had a day job with an art museum, worked on a self-care coloring book for a Black-woman-owned tech company and was working on a web comic and other projects, they said.
By 2019, Haynes had a booth in Rose City Comic Con’s artist alley and was still looking to get into the animation field as a studio artist. But the following year, everything shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Haynes decided to reevaluate their career path, they said.
“I started preparing to move back to Chicago and working pandemic day jobs, and once I got back I thought, ‘You know what? I should get into tattooing,’” Haynes said.
Haynes submitted their portfolio to a few tattoo shops in the city and was offered a few apprenticeships. But Haynes quickly found the environments to be toxic, they said.
Haynes expected to learn how the shop works and how to maintain and use a tattoo machine, but they found shop owners instead relegated them to cleaning and helping other artists without much education about the craft, they said.
“I just had to end up going to online resources. When I got my machine, to start practicing I basically had to use fake skin and fruit on my own at home to clean up my work and make it stronger,” Haynes said.
Shop owners dismissed Haynes’ signature style as “too girly” and not in line with the macho “Sin City” style some preferred, Haynes said.
Customers often felt like canvases instead of people who were trusting artists with their ideas Haynes said.
The predominantly white, cis and male industry also made it hard for someone with darker skin to have a good experience when getting their first tattoo, Haynes said.
“A lot of times people walk in feeling vulnerable about this big, permanent decision of getting a tattoo,” Hayes said.
Someone feeling intimidated because they’re out of their comfort zone may not think to ask questions about the process or advocate for the types of art they want, which can also lead to a “traumatic experience” if a tattoo artist says someone’s skin tone is wrong for the art, Haynes said.
“And a client might get told very biased things that aren’t necessarily true. Like, if you have certain skin tones you can’t do certain colors. Basically shaming them for not being white, walking into like a white space and getting told that like their skin is too difficult to work on,” Haynes said. “And there’s an assumption that you can just kind of be really rough and really strict with a lot of clientele that come in. I think it’s important to work against that mold and actually accommodate people’s requests.”
Haynes’ at-home practice helped them adapt their skills in animation and illustration to the new medium. Haynes worked several side jobs and launched a GoFundMe to raise money to open their own shop.
Haynes already liked the Ravenswood area as they were scouting locations. They picked a space in the Deagan Building in part because there were already other artists there, including a few other tattoo shops, they said.
“It seemed like they already had kind of an art community there and friendly neighbors. It also felt like I could go and make the space my own,” Haynes said. “And the Ravenswood area is somewhere I’ve always wanted to explore more at the arts district level, and that’s how it quickly came together.”
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