If you’re old like me, you remember a day when getting a tattoo was considered edgy, even deviant. Nowadays, tattoos are much more mainstream, and yet another means of self expression. For many, the decision is not whether to get a tattoo, but rather what and where.
In RI the choices are overwhelming. From Pawtucket to Newport, the state is replete with tattoo shops. With something so personal, word of mouth is the way to go. So, on a friend’s advice, I stopped into Torchbearer tattoo on PVD’s West Side to see if this was the type of place for tattoo virgins.
Personally, the first thing I’d look for in a tattoo shop is how professional it looks. Like, if I walked in here shit-faced at 2am on a dare to get a tattoo that says “NO REGERTS,” would the owner say, “It’s your body” as he fires up the needle? If so, keep walking. Torchbearer is no such place. Upon opening the front door, you immediately know you’re in a reputable, professional spot. Every inch of space has been meticulously thought out. Displays of tattoos, artwork and memorabilia cover the walls. It’s cool without being hipster or trying too hard. And, most importantly, it’s spotless (and closed at 2 am).
I spoke with co-owners Chris and Ron, who opened Torchbearer’s current location last April. They moved from a small space at the Hope Artiste Village to a 2-story, 2,500 square foot shop on Westminster. One is definitely the yin to the other’s yang. Chris is the gentle talkative type with whom you could sit with a cup of coffee and chat the afternoon away about world travel or the plight of the artist. Ron, on the other hand, doesn’t speak often, but when he does, it’s straightforward and wrought with meaning.
The whole team at Torchbearer couldn’t be friendlier or more welcoming. Attitude is non-existent and facial hair rules the days (except of course for Chelsea, the lone female artist there that day).
Torchbearer is home to six artists, all of whom have their unique style and perspective. They can all do pretty much everything, but certain talents emerge when you look at their work; Ben has a flair for realism; Chelsea’s passion is illustration; Corey is the American traditionalist. This means that no matter what your taste or preference, there’s someone at Torchbearer who can give you the tattoo you’re pining for. And there’s no concern about quality, as these folks are wildly passionate about their trade. They’re perfectionists, constantly striving to be better, more talented, more creative. There’s no such thing as their “favorite tattoo” or their “best work,” as they’re constantly upping their game.
I asked Chris about Torchbearer’s clientele. He told me they’re mostly repeat customers who come from far and wide to work with their favorite artist. As for the tattoo virgins, Torchbearer gets their fair share of those, too. Chris is the perfect person to talk to if you’re thinking of your first tattoo.
First he’ll help you decide whether a tattoo is right for you. If you’re having second thoughts, he’s not the type to convince you to just “go for it.” This is permanent, and getting a tattoo removed is no joke. Once you’re firm in your decision to get a tattoo, the next decisions are where and what. Most people have an idea of what they want, and, thanks to Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and the like, can easily show their artist what they have in mind. This is where professionalism and expertise are critical, as a good artist will talk you out of a neck tattoo if you work in a conservative industry, or steer you away from small lettering as it could blend and become indecipherable over time (so much for my “NO REGERTS” idea…).
Next you’ll pick an artist. The professionals at Torchbearer are a community, not competitors. They know that selecting a tattoo artist is an extremely personal decision. Whose work speaks to you? That’s the question to ask yourself as you peruse the photo books. From there, you can work with that artist to create the perfect tattoo.
If you’re worried about the pain, you’re smart. After all, having your skin injected with ink via a needle is bound to be slightly painful. The best advice Chris gave is to prepare for the pain. Remind yourself that there will be pain, but it’s temporary, and ends when the tattoo is complete. He admitted that women are much better at handling the pain than men. Chris says, and I quote, “the bigger the guy, the bigger the baby,” probably because men don’t feel free to express themselves freely when they’re hurting. Women, on the other hand, have no problem saying “that hurts,” or “I need a break.” Other things you can to do prep are: get a good night’s sleep, eat something healthy and for Christ’s sake, do not go if you’re drunk or hung-over.
It turns out that Torchbearer tattoo is the perfect spot for both the tattoo virgin and the veteran. If you’re thinking about getting a tattoo, stop by Torchbearer and talk with Chris, or any of the artists, to see if it’s the right fit. And if you’re a veteran, stop by to see the incredible workmanship and professionalism, and perhaps add one of their pieces of artwork to your body canvas.
Torchbearer is on Westminster, directly across from Classical High School, and they’re open Tue through Sat, Noon – 8pm. Walk-ins are welcome. You can also check out their work online at trchbr.com