Put three accomplished tattoo artists under one roof and watch the friendly competition commence.
Between them, Jacob Hanks, Jon Heiser and Denver Monaghan have over 40 competitive awards in their various specialties. They line the walls at their bright and roomy new location, at 1101 W. Sixth St.
With the move on Jan. 1 from their former digs at 508 Washington St. came a new name: Cascade Tattoo Co.
The company is unusual in that all three are co-owners, essentially an artist’s collective, said Hanks. More typical is to have a shop owner with others working under him.
Heiser, who was born and raised in The Dalles, said working with fellow artists “makes us learn more too.” But the competition is definitely there still. “It’s a fun competition,” he said.
Hanks is the most well-known. He is a trophy hog who has swept first, second, and third place at some competitions. “I have more than anybody in the world for the kind of tattoo I specialize in,” he said.
That specialty is in blackwork, tribal, Polynesian and ornamental tattoos. He does all kinds of tattoos, but people fly in from all over the country for his blackwork, often getting a motel room for a night or two and plunking their money down elsewhere in town while they’re here.
He free-hands everything. He draws it out in his mind, and everything has meaning.
“That’s why people fly here from everywhere. Not a lot of people know what they’re doing” when it comes to tribal tattoos, Hanks said.
Tribal and Polynesian tattoos are so personal that Hanks won’t copy a tattoo seen elsewhere. Those tattoos are someone else’s story, he said. His work can be found on Instagram @jacobhankstattoo and on Facebook at Jacob Hanks Tattoo.
Monaghan’s specialties are Asian tattoos, but his favorite is floral and symmetrical work like mandalas. His work can be found on Instagram @denvermonaghan and he can be reached via email at Denver.firstname.lastname@example.org.
While Hanks grew up around tattooing, getting his first at age 11, Heiser had no interest in it and basically fell into it. He drew designs for a tattoo artist, and then tried his hand at them. “I got really addicted to tattooing. More exciting than getting one.”
Heiser specializes in bold color or softer realistic black and gray and has examples of his freehand creations adorning his work station. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Back in the day, tattoo shops had examples of designs on the wall, and a customer picked one. Nowadays, the norm is custom work.
While there are three work stations in a large open area, there are privacy areas in back if someone is getting tattooed in a delicate area. Hanks said, “I’m like a doctor. You stretch the area and do the tattoo” on a private area of the body. “There’s no sexuality to it.”
While the three artists pack a punch on their own as far as depth of talent, Hanks said his father, Larry Hanks, a famous tattoo artist originally from Reno who started tattooing in San Diego under Doc Webb, will make guest appearances at Cascade Tattoo, along with other well-known artists.
Jacob Hanks said his dad wanted him to become a lawyer, and didn’t exactly encourage him in following his footsteps. “It was really hard for me to learn to tattoo because my father didn’t want me to, so he was really mean to me.”
But that just made Jacob all the more determined to learn the craft. His dad was always telling him, “sink or swim.”
And the stakes were high, given the medium: “Trial and error is not so good when you’re working with skin,” Jacob said.
His dad was taught by a man who was tattooing in the 1920s, so Jacob’s lineage goes back about 100 years.
But the clientele for tattooing has certainly changed in that time. Women nowadays make up most of it – Heiser said it’s close to 90 percent even – and they also can withstand the work better.
“I’ll tattoo a big tough muscular guy and you get near his wrist and he’s going like this,” Heiser said, feigning a grimace. “Women, you can tattoo them for four hours and they’re bored.”
Heiser said there are numbing creams available, but they are expensive and don’t work that well. “Nervousness is not a bad thing.” The synapses take over and help out with pain control.
He likened the pain to a bad sunburn. It hurts worse around areas like the wrists, where the bone is close to the skin.
“It makes me feel bad when they have a hard time. None of us like hurting people,” Heiser said.
Monaghan found a further distinction among his clients. He worked in a college town and got both urban and rural customers from the college. “Country kids are tougher – all the time.”
Tattoos were once seen as so trashy that tattoo artists didn’t operate under their own name, and they had their businesses outside the towns they lived in, Monaghan said.
“Now the perception is grandma comes in with the family for a tattoo,” Monaghan said. “It’s an honor to say I tattooed three generations in one day.”
While once only prisoners were reliably found with tattoos, now police officers come in to have work done, Hanks said. “Everybody that you trust in your daily life, they’re in here getting tattoos.”
Hanks has done a lot of touring and media with Ruth Pineda from the reality TV show “LA Ink” and it has gained him a following. “I sign autographs and I pose for pictures all the time.”
He ended up here because his mom lives in the area, “And I saw how beautiful it was here. I thought this would be a great place to raise my family.”
He opened the Hanks’ Family Tattoo Co. eight years ago.
Since then, he’s contributed to the community through fundraisers. He also started a coat program at Dry Hollow Elementary that continues today, though it is now run by the school.
He can also direct support to fundraisers through social media. “I have a mass following. I can post something and get 600 likes, 1,000 likes.”
For fundraisers, he’ll do 30 small tattoos in a single day and donate the money to a cause.
Cascade Tattoo won’t tattoo a person who is drunk, or has even had a few drinks. If someone comes in the shop and says they’ve had a couple drinks to loosen up, they have to say, “Oh, I can’t tattoo you now buddy.”
Most tattoo shops also won’t tattoo hands or feet because they won’t stay on. “Those are called job-stoppers because who’s going to hire you if you have a hand tattoo?” Hanks said.
You also have to be 18. Even parental consent doesn’t allow a waiver. The only exception is if a doctor okays it for medical purposes.
Having a ban for those under 18 is good, Hanks said, because there is no age limit in Hawaii and there could be problems if a non-custodial parent gets a child tattooed.
“When you’re that young, you really don’t know what you want and you regret it later. So it’s better when you’re older,” Hanks said.