“I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember,” said Simeon Nelson, co-owner of Alchemist Tattoo in Bismarck. “It was only a pastime at first, at best something to impress friends with. I didn’t take it seriously until I developed an interest in tattoos.”

“I think the music scene influenced me toward tattoos in a big way. All the musicians I liked, especially the punk rockers, were always decked out in tattoos. That got me thinking about designs you could put on the human body, so I started trying to draw things for my friends to get tattooed on themselves. I don’t remember my first piece that someone went with exactly, but it did feel like quite an honor.

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“I wanted to tattoo professionally, but didn’t really have a plan to get there. I grew up in a small town with only one tattooer, and he already had his own apprentice. Eager to learn anyway, I spent practically all my time doing whatever odd jobs I could for him. When I was finally getting ready to go to college, the apprentice suddenly left! The owner looked at me, and he figured here’s a kid who already knows how to draw, and spends all day here anyway, so he asked me to stick around. If it didn’t work out, I could go to always go back to school. It’s been twelve years since then — I think one of these days I’ll decide if it worked out for me.

“You could probably count on two hands how many tattoo styles there are, but every artist tends to gravitate more toward one than the others. Most of the work I do is neo traditional, an illustrative approach that’s characterized by bold lines, well-defined features, a reserved color palette, and the synthesis of realistic and cartoon imagery. It’s a broad category, and it’s almost easier to say what it isn’t instead of what it is, but it’s incredibly versatile.

“The tattoo business has changed a lot since the late 2000s. Before then, most tattoo parlors were what we call ‘street shops,’ with cookie cutter designs in their windows and big books of art that you could flip through and choose from. Now the trend is custom tattoos, one-of-a-kind designs that are as unique as the people who receive them. We’re never going back to the old days — it’s so much better to have something made specifically for you. We don’t even have a book of ‘flash designs’ in our studio.

“When you’re planning on getting a new tattoo, you first have to start with even the vaguest of what you’re after. Even with so little to go on, you’ll still ultimately have enough to flesh out a final design with your tattoo artist. You should then look at the work of as many tattooers as you possibly can, until you’ve found an artist whose style most closely resonates with what you’ve got in your head. Once you’ve picked an artist you like, you can make contact with them, communicate what you’re after, and work together to create a design that you love. The last step, of course, is actually to receive your tattoo, which may take multiple sessions depending on its size and complexity.

“Tattoo artists share some unofficial rules about what they will and will not do. No one I know of will do hate imagery — I mean, we will give you Garfield saying ‘I hate Mondays,’ if that’s what you really want, but I think most people would understand what hate imagery really is. Hand and face tattoos have become increasingly popular lately, and getting tattoos in those places is fine if you’ve already got others and are aware of the social implications that they bring. If you come to Alchemist for your first tattoo and want it on your neck, I simply won’t do it. I’m aware that you could just go to another studio and get it done there, but integrity is tough that way. You have to draw a line somewhere — figuratively speaking, that is.

“Whether you’re getting your first tattoo or your hundredth, I’d love for you to check out Alchemist. We’re a very clean shop with a warm and comfortable vibe. Our artists are friendly and extremely capable, and between us we can give you whatever style of custom tattoo you want, from hyperrealism to traditional Japanese. Every piece we do is an opportunity to create something truly special.”

To learn more about Alchemist Tattoo and what they can do for you, visit alchemisttattoo.com.


By David Scheller