We talk about all things tattoos and motorcycles Heather and Gabbie of Bombshell Body Art, located in Janesville, Wisconsin. The two artists told us about their journey as artists, the essential items they bring with them on every outing and much more.
Can you introduce yourself ?
Heater: I am Heather Hess. I am co-owner of Bombshell Body Art. I have been tattooing for 20 years.
Gabby: My name is Gabrielle, I am co-owner of Bombshell Body Art and I have been tattooing for five years.
How did you enter the world of body art?
Heater: Art school was too expensive so I asked a friend to teach me how to tattoo and I’m so glad I learned.
Gabby: I started tattooing just by making art as a kid and drawing on myself with Sharpie all the time. And then I went to college for a few years, dropped out to do this instead, and fell in love with it.
Do you have a particular design style that you tend to follow?
Heater: The type of style I like to tattoo in is black and gray. I am very good at color. Honestly, I’ll do whatever makes customers happy.
Gabby: My favorite tattoo style will be like neo traditional blackwork with selective colors. I also like to do stylized realism. I love making animals and all sorts of nature stuff.
Are there any artists inside or outside the world of body art that inspire you?
Heater: I think my inspiration was really my old store that I worked in. I was very inspired by my colleague. He has really, really helped me with my art and I really like Therese Sharp a lot. Any tattoo artist who is good at what they do is inspirational because they are good at different styles and stuff like that.
Gabby: I really enjoy looking at Teresa Sharp’s work. She does a lot of neo-traditional styling. I really admire Nikko Hurtado as well. He does a lot of photorealism. I love her color palettes and everything. He does an amazing job. I’ve always really liked anime actually to inspire me and get into the art. So I love all manga and all that kind of stuff.
Tell us about your bike.
Heater: It’s a soft tail slim from 2016. I also have a night train from 2005, which is not there currently, but I can only take one. I also share a motorbike with my father. It’s a 1949 fan head, so that’s pretty cool.
Gabby: My bike is a custom 2004 Sportster XL. Um, I used it, but I did a lot of customizations. I changed the pipes. There is a complete lowering kit on it. I have a different seat and added swing arm bags. I had a whole custom paint job on it.
How long have you been riding?
Heater: I’ve been horseback riding since I was 22. Well, actually, I’ve been riding since I was in my mother’s womb. She had a 1976 Triumph.
Gabby: I rode the same number of years that I tattooed, it’s kind of a lifestyle for me to get into tattooing and writing at the same time, it was kind of an initiation when I was an apprentice.
What equipment do you always have with you when riding?
Heater: Normally I always wear boots and pants. Obviously, you have to wear pants and, I wear gloves and a jacket if it’s cold. I wear a Carhart sweatshirt and usually don’t wear a helmet, but I will wear one when I’m in a helmet state.
Gabby: I wear all my gear all the time. I’ve spent too much money and time on my tattoos to have to worry about taking it all off. So I wear a helmet, gloves, make sure I have pants, boots and a full jacket. I mean, if you ride fast enough, it doesn’t get too hot.
When you ride, do you have a destination in mind or do you just see where the road leads?
Heater: I have an end goal, but generally where the road takes me. So we are leaving for Maine in August.
Gabby: I drive a lot to work. Obviously, I ride as much as possible, but I like to ride as much as possible. So I’ll go grocery shopping on my bike. I’ll come to work on my bike, after work I’ll take the long way home. I do a lot of trips up north too, we love going to state parks and biking there too.
How do the worlds of tattoos and motorcycles intersect?
Heater: I think when it comes to motorcycles and tattoos, they don’t, they usually don’t, they’re not like engaged together, but they certainly have a big part in what I do.
Gabby: I see tattooing and riding merging all the time. I mean, it’s part of biker culture to have tattoos. It’s part of tattoo culture. Um, it’s really cool to see these two worlds expand to a wide variety of different people from all walks of life. I mean, you see doctors, lawyers, bankers on bikes and you see them in the tattoo shop too.
What trends in body art have you seen and what trends do you think are coming in the next few years?
Heater: Well, I hope they’re not infinity symbols anymore. I think everyone in tattooing is definitely in transition. It changes from decade to decade. It definitely has a different feel. The longer I have been tattooing, the more I see things evolving and changing.
Gabby: So the trends that I have seen while tattooing have been quite numerous. I mean, we went through infinity symbols and birds and a bit more “just breathe” type tattoos, to crosses with angel wings and all.
It’s really gone to fully custom. I guess it’s been a really cool ride to see everything change. The one thing I’m not a huge fan of right now is silly tattoos that are specifically designed to look bad. They are very popular with the younger generation at the moment. And I’d be fine not to.
It’s a thing. It’s a thing. People will literally get shitty tattoos just to get shitty tattoos. I just turn them down now. Like going to find a shittier artist to do that. It will be more authentic that way. Right.
What’s your favorite tattoo you created for someone else?
Heater: I don’t think I have a favourite. I think every tattoo I’ve done is special in some way.
Gabby: I don’t really have a favorite tattoo. I find that everyone has a meaning in every tattoo. We do tattoos for people who have lost family members, who have lost children. We do tattoos for people coming out of abusive relationships to mark important moments in their lives. And sometimes we do pineapple tattoos just because people just want to have stupid bullshit and that’s okay too. Can I swear? [Editor’s note: Swear away, Gabbie]
What is your favorite tattoo you have on your body?
Heater: My son’s name.
Gabby: I have quite a few favorite tattoos. I have a portrait leg sleeve that my co-owner Heather is working on. It’s all my family members. So I have my grandmother, my mother, my great-grandmother. I have some portraits of influential women and pop culture.
I also really like my neck tattoo because it really changed the way I see myself. And I think that’s an interesting part of tattooing is how you can customize your body for yourself.
What’s the best part of owning a tattoo business?
Heater: The best reason to have my own business is to have the freedom and basically be able to do my designs and not have someone else overshadow me I guess is the best way to put it. And also, there is a pride in knowing that you have your own business.
Gabby: The best part about owning a shop and working in the industry is that I work with people every day.
And I work with wonderful artists every day. We all support each other. We all make fun of each other. We all help each other with designs. And the fact that I can help people through their conception process and get permanent work on their bodies for the rest of their lives is pretty amazing.
Heather and Gabbie know that when they go for a ride, they need to be prepared for whatever comes their way. Head to Z1R to find all the gear you’ll need for your next big ride.