Amber Thorpe, owner of Adept Tattoos, is working on some ink on Tavis Moffatt’s left leg. But their conversation today is on salad dressing. It seems like an odd topic, but it’s part of a more personal relationship the two developed when Moffatt first became a client of Thorpe’s seven years ago at her Quinpool studio.
Today, the work continues at her new location on Bedford Highway. Thorpe is working on a mermaid on Moffatt’s leg, which he calls his “tribute to the sea.” She colours in the green as if Moffatt’s leg was a colouring book. Moffatt says it’s painful, but he doesn’t flinch.
“I am a canvass for Amber’s art and I love her art,” says Moffatt, a Bedford resident and member of the Canadian Forces whose arms are also covered with Thorpe’s work. “I go where she goes.”
Thorpe opened the Bedford shop in August after the Quinpool location became too busy. “We were tattooing on top of each other,” she says. “And there wasn`t a tattoo shop out here, so I thought it would be an opportunity to move clients here.” Thorpe says it’s been, “so far, so good” as the Bedford shop.
“I really looked around and I felt like it was close enough to Halifax, but far away enough from the other store that I thought it would do well,” she says. “It`s just a nice area.”
Her Bedford shop, which took 3.5 weeks to build, affords her a view of the water, one of the reasons she moved to Halifax a decade ago after working in Calgary. This shop has fewer walk-ins and an older clientele than Quinpool, which serves a lot of the university crowd. While there is loud metal music on the background, Thorpe says the space is a lot quieter. “I am able to concentrate on what I`m doing, artistically,” she says.
Thorpe says many of her clients already lived in the area or nearby in Hammonds Plains, Sackville or Fall River. “They are so happy,” she says. “They say, ‘Man, I only had to drive 10 minutes to get here.’”
Thorpe’s says about 70 per cent of her client base are return clients. She also does a lot of large-scale work, like the work Moffatt is getting done. Large-scale work like this requires time, usually at least a few hours per session. Many of the clients return every couple of weeks to get work done on one piece. Thorpe has done most of Moffatt’s tattoos, including the sacred geometry and Polynesian work on his arms and chest, and the nautical-themed work with the mermaid he’s having done in this five-hour session. Spending those hours together means the artist and client get to know about more than the meaning of the tattoos.
“When I do large-scale work, you get to know them,” Thorpe says. “Everything from their children to what they want to do in the future.”
Thorpe says her clients range in age from 30 to 55 and come from a variety of professions and lifestyles, including surgeons to street kids. Tattoos, she says, are no longer just for bikers and sailors. “The lines are being blurred a little bit, which I think is great,” she says.
Since she opened her Bedford shop, she tattooed a small butterfly on the wrist of a 72-year-old grandmother, who was texting her grandchildren while Thorpe did the ink. ”She was a spitfire,” she says. “I had so much fun with her.”
Thorpe herself is covered in tattoos, work she considers a diary of her life. “My body literally tells the book of what’s happening in my brain, I guess,” she says. “As it settles in, it becomes a part of you. It’s a strange thing.”