Alice Guerin, Tattoo Artist

A Fountain Square illustrator whose canvas is the human body.

September 2017Add a comment

Want the cross-section of a tree stump tattooed on your kneecap? Or a hamburger with sexy legs dancing across your forearm? Alice Guerin has you covered. The 26-year-old Fort Wayne native has tattooed Alice in Wonderland, Frida Kahlo, two-headed skeletons, lilies, peonies, poppies, owls, shells, spiderwebs, hot-air balloons, and every kind of bug.

“She’s the best,” says Shelby Jessup, 30, a devoted repeat customer who has come in for an elegant tiger tattoo, its front torso below her right clavicle, its hind end below her left. “Her style is really unique. It’s very Alice. I also completely trust her. I can be like ‘I want a tattoo. These are the elements I want,’ and she’ll put together something amazing.”

In the butch tattoo world, Guerin is an anomaly. From her Knot Eye Studio in Fountain Square, she specializes in tattoos that are illustrative, with delicate lines and detail work, like the etchings of Albrecht Dürer. Her custom-designed images move with a person’s musculature.

“I really like it when a tattoo goes with your body,” says Guerin, a soft-spoken slip of a woman with a few tattoos, two nose rings, and a stud in her philtrum. “It fits you like a piece of jewelry and doesn’t look like a sticker. I like it to look like it’s supposed to be there.”

Guerin studied photography and drawing at Indiana University before transferring to the Herron School of Art and Design, where she met professor Amory Abbott, who has a cool honeycomb-and-bee sleeve.

“I walked up to him and said, ‘Oh, that’s so beautiful. Who did that?’” Guerin recalls. “He said, ‘I did.’ The next day, I went in and slammed my portfolio on his desk and said, ‘Hire me.’ And he did.”

Starting out, she tattooed friends for free. Five years later, her rate is $170 an hour and she has a seven-month waiting list. No walk-ins. The process begins with a consultation where clients articulate their ideas. Guerin takes notes and designs original artwork. “Most of my clients are not artists, so I have to come up with what their vision is, even if they don’t know what it is yet.”

She transfers her illustrations onto stencil paper that she applies to the skin, placing them just so. She outlines in black, then fills in color. A tiny, all-black rose would take less than 45 minutes. A full color sleeve can take up to 20 hours, though never all at once.

“About 10 minutes into tattooing, your adrenaline and endorphins start kicking in and allow you to sit there comfortably for a few hours,” she says. “But after a while, all that starts to deplete. Your sugars go down. I can usually sense that. So I say, ‘How are you doing? Have you hit the wall?’”

Her rules are few. Nothing racist or discriminatory. Nothing tribal, either. As for body parts, she’s not squeamish. “I’ll tattoo most anywhere,” she says. “People ask me all the time, ‘Oh, have you tattooed anybody’s private parts?’ I haven’t, but I’m not opposed to it if you’re clean—and I’ll probably charge an extra fee.”

Guerin enjoys fresh challenges, like the guy who commissioned the Flying Lotus album Cosmogramma, a white circle with hundreds of emanating lines. It wasn’t easy. “You’re trying to draw a straight line with a buzzing weighted machine on a breathing, squishy, wiggling surface,” she says. “Most people can’t draw a straight line with a pencil.”

Job hazards: A sore back and eye strain.

Job perks: She sets her own hours, meets fascinating people, and can travel and find work as a guest artist. Last year, Guerin tattooed 10 people in Oregon, a side gig that helped finance a 10,000-mile road trip. Being her own boss, she decorates her space as she pleases. Her idiosyncratic nest is filled with everything from taxidermy to masks to a ceramic cow. She plays Joni Mitchell. She naps in her loft. She shares her granola bars.

Nearly half of Millennials sport at least one tattoo, according to The Harris Poll. Guerin is happily riding that wave of self-expression. “It’s really cathartic for a lot of people,” she says. “It’s like getting a massage or taking yourself out to eat. It’s a treat. It’s special. Some people even like the pain.”

 

This is the latest piece in a new series called Work, exploring interesting jobs in Indiana. Its author, Lili Wright, teaches English at DePauw University and has been published in The New York Times and Newsweek. Her recent novel, Dancing with the Tiger, was an Edgar Awards finalist. 

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