EASTHAMPTON — Under the reflection of people walking on the sidewalk outside one of the city’s newest businesses on Union Street, the words “you look beautiful” mark the window of the Black Labyrinth Tattoo Syndicate.
“People are beautiful,” said boutique co-owner Rachael Nalewanski, adding there’s a lot of negativity in the ads and marketing in which products are sold to correct or hide people’s flaws. But people don’t have flaws, she says, it’s just part of being human.
Nalewanski and her fiancé Josh Suchoza opened the boutique at 46 Union St. in August. Suchoza, Nalewanksi and two tattoo artists all previously worked at Off the Map Tattoo on Cottage Street. Suchoza said the store was not where he saw it and ventured out to create his own.
“I never viewed art as a competition,” Suchoza said.
Nalewanski said the maze, or labyrinth, is a metaphor for life and also involves magic and mystery.
“It’s a trip,” she says.
The store was a significant investment, Nalewanski said. Although they didn’t reveal the opening costs, Suchoza said it took him about five years and he now has a white streak of hair.
For more than a decade, Suchoza said he worked in the tattoo business at various tattoo studios, from a biker tattoo shop to a corporate studio. He is also a Certified Bloodborne Pathogen Instructor with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“Most tattoo artists are cleaner than dentists,” Suchoza said.
The transition to the new store has not been difficult for booking customers.
“People want tattoos,” said tattoo artist Aaron Hatch, known as “Dedleg.”
The price depends on the artist and the size of the piece. Large scale tattoos are charged by the hour, ranging from $100 to $180 per hour.
As for the style of tattoos the shop specializes in, Suchoza jokes that it comes in “large, medium, and small.”
But the three artists – Suchoza, Hatch and Gio Luca – have different styles when it comes to linework. Suchoza tends to go for heavier, darker line work while Luca has more delicate lines and Hatch falls somewhere in the middle. But when a request comes in, artists say they can do just about anything.
“Hearing people’s stories is my favorite part,” said Nalewanski, who works with company management.
People from all walks of life come into the studio, she said, from 18 to 70+. Some get a piece that has deep meaning to them, others get something completely ridiculous, she said.
One day last week, Hatch worked for hours on a tattoo on Kara Koziol’s right arm.
Hatch elaborated on an idea of Koziol – a girl kneeling under a weeping willow, surrounded by flowers with birds flying through the air and a rising sun.
She said her grandparents had a weeping willow in their garden in West Springfield. Koziol sat below and read. It was relaxing, she said.
The 36-year-old said the tattoo represents renewal and awakening after overcoming life’s difficulties. Some struggles involved battling addiction, Koziol said.
She is now concentrating on her studies and is about to earn a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She aims to go to graduate school for a master’s degree in forensic anthropology.
The tattoo experience is therapeutic, Koziol said.
She sat still and calm, as the tattoo gun hummed and Hatch concentrated, creating a work of art on her skin.
Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at [email protected]