“I was getting in fights downtown, I was acting a fool, I wanted to be fringe”
Tattoos are as mainstream now as they once were ostracized. The public’s acceptance of body art is a recent phenomenon, with the market of those having tattoos having expanded from convicts and sailors to housewives and suburbanites.
Last year, the industry generated an estimated $1.6 billion in revenue, according to the market research firm IBISWorld.
The driver behind the unprecedented growth behind tattoos? Why, those damn millennials, of course. Five out of 10 have at least one tattoo according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.
While this has been a boon to those in the industry, it has also been a bit confusing. The artists who are drawn to tattooing are, like Philip Jacobs, drawn to the outlaw image and lifestyle.
So, when that image becomes the norm, what do you do then?
You wait for the bubble to burst. “For sure, it always does. The bubble is right there. It’s got to burst. It’s got to. I think we’re starting to see it already.”
Jacobs, who opened this year’s Metro’s Best Tattoo Shop in 2011, is surprised to find himself a part of a mainstream industry.
The irony of tattoos being mainstreamed, the conformity of the non-conformist tattoo world, is ingrained in the name of his business. After all, ‘allegiance’ is another word for conformity.
He describes an orthodoxy within the tattoo world akin to working at IBM, admittedly with much scarier looking employees.
“Other tattoo artists are like ‘oh no, we do things differently. We don’t do this, we don’t do that,’ but the reality is that we do (conform). We dress the same, we talk the same, we walk the same. We carry ourselves the same. It’s a way of living.”
When Jacobs started tattooing, the industry was already heading towards levels of acceptance never before seen. “WE all wanted to deny it…Nah! We’re on the fringe of society. But we weren’t. We’re not. The reality is I have kids, I go to school functions, I’m not the fringe of society, you know?”
The rebelliousness is what drew Jacobs to the profession in the first place. “That’s why I got into it. I was hanging out in the tattoo world. When I say that, I mean I was working a full time job, going to school, and I hung out in tattoo shops until 1 or 2 in the morning. Every single day. I watched businesses open. I watched them close down. You can’t do this without being into the lifestyle. You can’t half ass it. [If] you half ass it, you get half ass results. You have to put your heart into it. It sucks you in, it’s everything.”
“I was getting in fights downtown, I was acting a fool, I wanted to be fringe,” explains Jacob, “but I’m not. I wanted to be the fringe of society. I always wanted to be, but you’re not. You’re just a tattoo artist.”
Jacobs is an intense and imposing figure at first glance. This was by design. “When I first started getting tattoos, I was looked at like a weirdo. I was like 16, 17 years old getting tattoos and people were like, ‘what’s this kid doing with tattoos?’” Jacobs said.
“But for me getting tattooed was a defense mechanism. When I started getting tattooed,” explained Jacob, “it told a story. It referenced something in my life, but I was doing it to take the stares away from my arm. I know that now, but I didn’t then. I never realized it. People would stare at me for having tattoos, not the arm.” (Phillip lost half his left arm in a logging accident when he was a young teenager.)
“I don’t have any idea how many tattoos I have,” he shares. “I know where they aren’t,” he says, laughing as he motions to his thighs above his knees. “Right here.”
“I don’t consider myself an artist.” He recalled, “I never went to art school. I would doodle, but it wasn’t like I did it all the time. I was never that kid in class.”
Yet Jacobs is empathetic to a fault. He says that he conceals his softer side, so he doesn’t get run over in the studio. “I have to put on a front for everybody.”
“People that know me,” he continued, “[and] I know them on a personal level. So, I’ll be talking to them a little bit different.”
He points out, “The minute I walk out that door down that hallway, I’m a different person. I have to be.”
“I get to see people at the worst time of their lives. A lot. Maybe they’ve lost a child or a parent, something bad.”
Whoa. He “gets” to see people at their worst moments.
“I get to affect them in a better way. I get to be a positive in a world of negative. That is probably one of the most enjoyable things I do. I do so many tattoos for free. It doesn’t pay the bills, but it pays the emotional bills.”
“Very few people get tattooed just to get tattooed. Most people get permanent ink for a reason. Maybe it’s because of a life event that has happened, a marriage, a divorce. The old adage is ‘all tattoos tell a story.’ I can look at my tattoos and know what I was doing, who I was hanging out with, all that stuff. It just is what it is,” Jacobs shared.
When Jacobs was ready to open his own studio in 2011, he chose an unlikely strip center in Martinez. Soon he discovered he was running out of room for his growing staff of artists and opened a second location in Martinez, at 4387 Ridge Trail Drive. “It’s evolved into its own thing. It’s a custom shop for the lack of a better term.”
“This one (the original shop in Martinez) is more of an old school traditional tattoo shop where you just walk in. That one is more of a slower pace, larger scale art, the photo realistic stuff,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs, despite his best efforts, exposes the compassionate side of the industry.