Philly is becoming more of a destination for all aspects of culture (art, entertainment, food, drink and beyond), and tattoos are leading the charge in their own right. Body ink is becoming more and more socially acceptable, and 29% of Americans have at least one tattoo -- so what's your excuse? Whether you’re a city native or just swinging by for a visit and hoping to get some work done, here’s everything you need to know about the local tattoo scene. Philly has some of the best artists around, so let’s give credit where credit is due!
Philadelphia’s best tattoo artists
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True Hand Punk fans might recognize Mike Ski from the popular band A.K.A.s (he’s a Warped Tour veteran and has even been known to tattoo while on the road). He started tattooing after high school -- before his band took off -- combining his interests in design, hardcore and tattooing into his unique style, which he describes as “American traditional with an emphasis on composition and bold simplicity.” There are a few elements that make a Ski original, he explains: “bold lines, lots of contrast, classic subject matter with a unique twist on a client who is equally interesting.”
Black Vulture Unsurprisingly, tattooing is still very much a male dominated field -- and no one knows that quite as well as Rachael Shelly, who works at Black Vulture in Fishtown. “I would be lying if I said it's not an issue in the industry. I don't know if my being female has really had a hindrance on me or not, but I definitely have my dad’s no-bullshit attitude and work ethic so I think that's gotten me pretty far,” she explains. “I think my tattoos definitely look like they're done by a girl, because they are. And that's a good thing. If women feel more comfortable to get tattooed by me, and everyone else in the shop because I'm there, then that's cool too.” And they do: Shelly’s style seems to marry classic forms with a kind of feminine edge -- “I do a lot of flowers and animals, I guess because that’s what I’m most drawn to.” Her take on traditional tattooing modernizes and personalizes each design to the individual.
Eastern Pass Justin Dunwoody works at Eastern Pass Tattoo, a brand new shop located right above beloved thrift joint Jinxed in East Passyunk Village. According to the site, Dunwoody was born right outside Philly in Cape May, NJ and grew up going in our fair town’s dense punk community. His work is bold and individualistic, and combines an interest in both traditional American forms and classic Japanese art, making for a unique tattooing experience.
Art Machine The best artists are the ones dedicated to working with their clients to make something that speaks to who they are -- and it’s in that collaborative spirit where Ryan Szadyr shines. “I always try to work with my clients to come up with a design that they would like and want to wear, so my style changes with every tattoo I do. I try to create bold and unique designs with the right amount of contrast and maybe some color…maybe no color,” he explains. “I always try to make a tattoo that I know is going to stand the test of time and look good for as long as possible.”
White Oak Tattoo Co. If you’re looking to get a Gia Rose original, prepare to book ahead of time -- she’s in high demand. She currently divides her time between New York (at Grit ‘N Glory) and Philly, but she owns her own space in our fair city -- the private White Oak Tattoo Co. Her style knows no genre, although she specializes in ornamental, neo-traditional, feminine, and animal work, and sometimes a combination all of them. “I have always thought of tattoos as a narrative. Tracing tattooing back along history to its earliest times that involved images of animals or landscapes, you can see the narrative in it. I personally believe that it's in the imagery that we tell your story,” she explains. “In a small way, etching something in our skin is that last moment of carrying something to our grave and throughout our lives regardless of status, race, gender, or experience... it's the only belonging we choose to have that we can take with us all the way to the end.”
East Kensington Seven Swords Tattoo Company was voted best tattoo and piercing in Philadelphia last year via Philly City Voter, and the people don’t lie. This spot is ideal if you’re looking for something traditional, but are unsure of exactly what you want -- their staff is more than prepared to assist.
Queen Village If you ask anyone for a tattoo shop in Philly, chances are Philadelphia Eddies’ will be the first place they rattle off. The Queen Village shop has been a PA staple since 1952, when it was founded by a guy named -- you guessed it -- Eddie. Current owner Troy Timpel says of the institution, “So many generations of people have gotten tattooed there. A few years back I tattooed a matching tattoo on the great grand daughter, grand daughter, daughter, and father of a family.” Here’s to 60 more years!
Old City Olde City Tattoo is centrally located between Market and Chestnut on 2nd street -- but it’s not just the convenient spot that gives it a place on this list. The kind of work the team at Olde City is known for is both diverse and, well, large -- if you’re looking for big work, you might want to talk to in-house artists like Martin Lacasse or Nick Panzer.
Fishtown Tattoo shops can be intimidating places, and not just for people with untouched skin; Art Machine aspires to alleviate that vibe. The staff is friendly, and the artists cover a variety of styles (and more importantly, are willing to work with you). If that’s not enough to impress, note that Art Machine's won best tattoo studio in Philadelphia many years in a row; if you're still not impressed, you should probably see a doctor about that stick up your ass.
University City Hunter Gatherer is a relatively new tattoo spot in West Philly, located in the heart of University City -- perfect for college kids looking to get their first few pieces. Troy Timpel of Philadelphia Eddie’s also runs Hunter Gatherer, and describes the location as “both a walk-in and Custom shop, but with more of a focus on appointments and custom work. We have a great group of artists there, and it is a really nice comfortable place to get tattooed. We also have great piercing there.” What more do you need?
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Maria Sherman is a music and culture writer who was all too happy to abandon New York City for Philadelphia. After many years of bad stick n pokes, she’s happy to have learned the value of powerful and individualistic body art. You can follow her on Twitter here.