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Tax season refunds typically busy time for tattoo artists

Tony Siemer and Jake Nolan with customers getting new ink at Totem Gallery in Xenia.
Renee Wilde
Tony Siemer and Jake Nolan with customers getting new ink at Totem Gallery in Xenia.

Tax season isn't only a busy time for the IRS — it also typically gives a boost to tattoo artists.

April typically marks the busiest season for tattooers, as tax refund checks hit the mailboxes.

Inside the eclectic interior of Totem Galler, Jake Nolan dips the needles on the end of his tattoo machine into a small plastic cup filled with black ink. Leaning over Zach Erikson’s outstretched arm, he slowly runs the machine over Zach’s inner forearm inking the design that’s been traced on the skin - a 1950’s American-style cowgirl with a cigarette and gun.

Nolan has been a tattoo artist for three years.

“I like drawing a lot and I’m not very good at doing real people jobs, so this seemed like a good fit,” he said while working on the design.

But as of early April, Nolan hadn't seen as many customers this year, yet.

“Last year I would have told you that tax return season was the busiest, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this year. I actually think it's a little bit slower than it was over the winter, and winter is usually considered slow season,” Nolan said.

Nolan specializes in anime, video game and cartoon style tattoos. He said that current tattoo styles are as diverse as the people who get them.

“Lots of people (are) getting roses with people's names in the stems. That’s a huge one right now. (They are) really, really, hard to do because single lines are really, really, hard to do. But that’s the trend I’m seeing lately," Nolan said.

Jake Nolan wears blue latex gloves and holds a needle while he inks a design on Zach Erickson's arm
Renee Wilde
Jake Nola inks a design on Zach Erickson.

Tony ”Papa” Siemer, the owner of Totem Gallery, said as an artist, he fell into tattooing as a career.

“And by the time I turned 30 I was struggling to be an artist and I figured, well I better be making money by the time I’m 31 in the art field and this is what happened. Someone gave me a job as a tattoo apprentice and within six months I had my own shop,“ he said, while working on a client.

Siemer takes a disposable razor and carefully shaves the calf of a client who is stretched out on his belly laying on the table, before carefully applying the outline of the tattoo design. It’s an image of Brandon Lee from the movie "The Crow" in black and white that will cover the back of the man’s calf.

“We’re starting the map session. We’re going to do this section, it’s the Celtic cross he’ll be standing on, or squatting on, eventually,” Siemer said, while working. “Probably three sessions, maybe a fourth to finish it off.”

The global tattoo market is expected to double over the next decade. Growing from $2 billion this year to almost $4 billion by 2030 according to Fortune Business Insights.

Speaking weeks before tax deadline, Siemer noted it was still early in the tax season.

"A lot of people wait until the 15th,” Siemer added. “We’ll see a couple weeks after that happens.”

Renee Wilde is an award-winning independent public radio producer, podcast host, and hobby farmer living in the hinterlands of southwestern Ohio.