Artists Offer Ink Therapy at New Leaf Tattoo | News


INDEPENDENCE — Kylee Halama and Hanna Martin do not make appointments. You won’t see “flash art” on the walls or portfolio books on display at Independence’s newest boutique, New Leaf Tattoo Studio.

They are by appointment only. They prefer to work with their clients, their tribe, to help create the best image to capture a moment in time.

Martin, 43, said it was because she enjoyed developing a relationship with the people she worked with.

“Yes, they are my clients, but they are much more than that. They go through heavy things in their lives. People come here to mark change, death, grief. Not just festive moments. Heavy stuff,” Martin explained. “It’s not just a space. It’s a space where they can move through their pain and issues in their skin. Emotional pain has no place in the body. We put emotional pain in the skin in a way that for some reason helps the body and the mind to process things.

“The tattoo has a way of opening it up, letting it out,” Halama, 34, added. “It’s called tattooing or ink therapy.”

New Leaf Tattoo is actually their third effort to try to work together. A pandemic or a change in the business model of the owners has continued to get in the way of their own projects.

Halama and Martin had very different beginnings on their journey to collaborating as tattoo artists.

Halama, was a doodler in high school. Martin was into henna art when he was 15 years old.

When the teachers took Halama’s distracting paper as a canvas, she began to draw on herself. On the swim team, when she took off her sweater, she was tattooed in ballpoint ink with swirls and butterflies.

In his senior year, when his classmates were old enough to get tattoos, they would say, “Hey, ask Kylee to design one.”

“The thought of my artwork on someone was cool,” Halama recalls.

But she didn’t pursue the tattoo until one of her buddies went to school specifically for it and she found out he was terrible.

“I could do better. I could do it, she thought.

So she quit college and went to Tattoo by Design in Eugene for the next four years.

In contrast, while Martin was always fascinated by her mother’s tattoo, she dove deep into the art of drawing henna tattoos. She covered herself and her friends in intricate patterns that were temporary with henna ink. But she became a mother at a young age and was only able to ply her trade on weekends and at occasional art and wine festivals. Her journey into professional tattooing took precedence over motherhood for the next 25 years.

Then her husband surprised her by pulling money from his 401K to send her to tattoo school.

“He came home and said, ‘It’s your turn. You’ve put two husbands through college, put your dreams on hold to raise eight kids. Now it’s time for you to do yourself, ”recalls Martin. “Alright, I’m going to redevelop until I’m 40.”

After her first attempt at a tattoo parlor in Corvallis, Halama and her husband moved to Independence. Pregnant with their third child, she couldn’t afford a studio on her own, but was always wary of working with another tattoo artist.

“I’ve always had this feeling about other tattoo artists. I don’t get along with them. Many are they are selfish. Very pompous jerks,” she explained.

“Especially with women,” added Martin. “Instead of elevating, supporting each other, there’s a lot of fierce competition. It’s hard to sort it out.”

Instead, Halama sought to open a boutique with a masseuse. It was then that Martin’s mother contacted her.

“You know, my daughter is a tattoo artist. Looking at your work, you would fit together really well,” the email to Halama read. “I looked at his portfolio online and saw a pumpkin tattoo that was pretty bad. So, we met. It was very clear it was going to work.”

What Halama didn’t know was that Martin had been “stalking” her for a while, obsessed with her specialty in botanical art. Halama was actually on her list of artists to use the Christmas gift certificate her husband had bought her to use on a tattoo. She, too, was initially wary of working with another tattoo artist.

“I had worked in four or five different stores. I’ve had some great people I’ve worked with, others who were hard to get along with. I wanted to be here, but I couldn’t pay my own rent. After we met, I pretty much went back to my car,” Martin said.

“It became one of those relationships where it felt like you had known each other forever,” Halama added. “And we complement each other.”

They opened their first store, Turquoise Studio, in January 2020. Then, after a few months of building up their customer base, the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down.

“Then COVID happened. Bam. We closed up shop and stayed afloat by promoting 10% off gift certificates,” Halama said. “As soon as we were able to reopen, we did after three months. Our amazing and loyal customers have been able to support us, get us through it all.

Tattooing during a pandemic has become a challenge, responding to ever-changing state safety protocols. But they considered themselves lucky to be able to continue their trade.

“Every state, every county was handling COVID differently,” Martin said. “As New Zealand and Australia still don’t tattoo, they still don’t allow tattoo artists to be in their shops. Some parts of UK tattoo artists can’t work now.

She added that the COVID safety measures had many intersections with the on-the-ground health precautions they were already taking as required by their profession.

“Part of getting a license in Oregon teaches you a lot about how diseases are transmitted and how easy it is,” Halama said. “It’s important to listen to him. We are doing everything we can to protect our families and customers. The last thing we want is to be shut down again. I never want to hear that I was the one who gave someone COVID or that I took theirs and gave it to my child.

That’s why they require their customers to be fully vaccinated and wear masks when in the store.

“Universal Precautions: We are going to treat everyone as if they have every disease in the book. We are going to include COVID. Phlebotomists and we are the employees most susceptible to catching disease,” Halama added.

Then, in June, they had to find a new home, barely a year and a half into their tenure, when the salon they were subletting wanted to expand its own business.

A search of the area was as if conducted by Goldilocks – the new spaces were either super tiny or a massive warehouse.

“How are we going to fill 2,000 square feet with just us?” Martin asked.

Then they found a perfect fit at 159 South 2nd Street that hadn’t been on the market for over 24 hours. With a new location, they needed a new name.

Because they both specialized in botanical imagery, Martin had the perfect name – Skin Garden. Halama was not on board.

“It felt like a horror movie to me,” she said.

“Oh, that’s terrifying. I never thought of it like that,” added Martin.

“That’s how we thought of New Leaf,” concluded Halama, the image being more apt for their fresh start.

Although they specialize in botany, there is flexibility in what they will do to work with their clients.

“Pretty much the only thing I won’t do is portraits,” Halama said, adding that it was all too easy to mess up and turn an intimate grandmother image into Quasimodo.

They also try to inspire their customers to commemorate happier times, rather than sad times that will become a permanent reminder of that sadness.

Martin added that sometimes the challenge is overcoming his own biases to give his customers exactly what they want.

“A man came in wanting a girly dragonfly. He didn’t tell me until later, his wife died four months earlier and it was a tattoo she had always wanted. He got it for her,” she recalls.

And they have no problem referring clients to other local artists if a request is out of their wheelhouse.

“I don’t do American Traditional. Its not my style. I can, but it’s not something I’m good at. Kevin is phenomenal there. I sent a lot of people to Kevin,” Martin said of Main Street Tattoo at Independence.

They also sent people to Studio M, which is a combination salon/hair salon and tattoo parlor in Monmouth.

The two always stay on top of the latest industry developments in ink and machinery to create tattoos that last longer and follow other big name artists to push their own abilities and ideas. As tattoos have grown in popularity and acceptance, artists now create “pieces” and regulars have “collections”. And don’t ask how many tattoos they have. Ask how many hours they have.

But for the artist, it always comes down to a question.

“I’m usually asked what’s the weirdest tattoo you’ve ever done? said Halama. “Of course it’s Ted Nugent as a smurf ripping his skin off, wearing a cowboy hat with a mullet on it. I wasn’t really proud of that one. But they were so excited.


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