Rebellion. Remembrance. Romance.
You could say those are the three Rs among folks who decide to apply tattoos to their bodies. But Tara Adsit knows everyone who walks into her shop, Madison Avenue Tattoo in Sturgeon Bay, will have an individual reason for seeking her tattooing services.
“People have all kinds of reasons for getting ink,” Adsit said. “The stories that come in, they’re so varied and so vast. I suppose the most common would be some type of connection. For some people, it’s a scrapbook of their life. For other people it’s doing something as a whole piece that doesn’t necessarily talk about the different aspects of their life in terms of scrapbook, but would have meaning. People who like to put Japanese-style art on them aren’t necessarily Japanese people. But something about that style moved them so that they do want to carry it with them for their whole life.”
Her shop is a calm, relaxed environment. Instead of tattoo flash art on the walls, Adsit displays her own finely detailed art.
“Art is something I’ve always done,” she said. “I went to the University of Central Florida and majored in fine arts, with a minor in computer graphics, which ended up the career path I chose, graphic design.”
Graphic design, she said, is all about making things flow on paper to make a statement.
“It’s really super helpful with tattooing, where you have to make things flow on the body,” she said.
She went from graphic designer to tattoo artist at the behest of her brother.
“That was actually a kind of funny thing,” she said. “My youngest brother called me out of the blue one day, saying he wanted to get a tattoo. He wanted it to be of a drawing of a dog that I drew. But he didn’t think he’d be able to find anyone who could do it justice, so he suggested that I learn to tattoo.”
Her response was “Me?”
But she talked it over with her husband, Tony Kroes, and decided to look into it.
“I got the name of a man in Wausau who was willing to apprentice me. I apprenticed with him for eight months and he told me there was nothing more he could teach me on his own. Then I went to work in a shop in Green Bay.”
She believes she took to it quickly because of her fine art and graphic design background.
“Normally it takes a lot longer. You really need to hone in on the skills,” she said. “But I was so much older when I started. I had a great base already, and I had also taught. I was an adjunct instructor at NWTC, so I was familiar with how to learn from that perspective. All those things culminated and made it easier for me to go through it.”
Asked when she knew tattooing was really for her, she said, “I guess it was the first time I put ink to skin. It was just such a cool thing, knowing that you’re actually a part of somebody’s life, whether they remember you specifically, you’ve touched them in a very personal way forever.”
She’s been at it for seven years now, the last two of those with her own shop in Sturgeon Bay. She also has a shop in Green Bay, Tattoos by Tara. It was there that she made the Door County connection.
“I tattooed a gentleman who lives up here several years ago,” she said. “He kept saying, ‘You should come up to Sturgeon Bay and open up a shop.’ My daughter was still at home. Too many variables. Until finally, two years ago, my daughter moved out. My son was graduating from college and getting ready to move to Colorado. Finally the time was right.
“I love it here. It’s small town. Everybody knows everybody else. That’s kind of cool. I like the clientele.”
Most often, she said, people walk into her shop with an idea of what they want for a tattoo.
“Most of the time they’ll have an idea in their mind. We definitely talk through it. Sometimes I need to draw it up and bring life to what they came up with. Sometimes people come in with a photograph, or something already drawn. Then we have to decide where it’s going to go. There are some parts of the body that work for some things and not others.”
Her art on wall shows an attention to realistic detail and a definite talent for portraiture. Asked to describe her style, she said, “I lean toward and feel I am best at realistic tattooing, whether that be people or animals or a particular scene. It’s where my artistic desire is. Not a lot of people get portraits. You would think by all the TV shows, people are running around with people all over their bodies, but that’s not necessarily the case. The demand for it, especially here, is not that huge.
“I love flowers. It’s mostly because flowers are so flexible with the body. They don’t remain perfect in real life. As the body grows and changes, flowers do exactly that. They’re perfect in their long-lasting beauty as a tattoo.”
Asked if there is one particular tattoo she is particularly proud of, she said, “No, but there is one that I’m super excited about that I’ve been working on for a really, really long time, it’s on my daughter. It was her first tattoo. We started it on her 18th birthday. She is now 21 and we’re not finished yet. It’s a peacock, a piece in progress that changes and grows with me and my talent and with her and her life. It just becomes to me more beautiful as time goes on.”
She hesitated in naming a favorite because they are all favorites that go out into the world to have lives of their own.
“It’s art for everybody,” she said. “People who would not normally even go into an art gallery are researching art. To be part of them forever, it’s humbling. It’s just an incredible feeling. I love what I do so much. It’s hard to put words to it. It really is. It’s fun. It’s personal. It’s meaningful. It’s cool.”
Jedediah Lee, 33
“I want to say a little bit had to do with rebellion. Growing up a certain way, parents didn’t want you to have tattoos or piercings. Once I turned 18, I went to get a tattoo. That small act of rebellion.
“When I first got my tattoo, I was instantly like, I can’t wait to get another one. I thought that the act of showing my individualism made me different than another person.
“I love drawing. This is an original drawing and Tara came in and fixed it up to make the waves look really cool. I like the fact that as long as it’s on a 2-D piece of paper, she can put it on my body. She’s very open to that. I can give her an idea and she’ll run with it. I’ll come back and just love it.
“I was very fortunate to find Tara. I was hesitant at first, but I started seeing her work around town. I went to other artists but wasn’t satisfied, or the relationship between the tattoo artist and customer wasn’t there anymore. You pick a heart surgeon, you stick with him. You pick an auto mechanic, you stick with him. You find a good tattoo artist, you stick with them.”
Mark Brickner, 47
“Some people are like, ‘You got a tattoo of your sister?’ You don’t understand. She was always there for me when I was growing up. That’s why it says ‘Unending Inspirational Love.’
“Two years after my sister retired, she was diagnosed with ALS. She communicated by blinking through a computer the last years of her life. She passed away Aug. 15, 2012. We were real tight. She was my older sister. I come from a family of 10 kids, six girls, four boys. She was always strong and positive. Go with the flow.
“I came in here and hadn’t had a tattoo in 23 years. The last one I had was in 1989. I came in here on a Friday. Five and a half hours of sitting, never had a twinge of pain. There was nothing to it. A little bit of discomfort is nothing compared to what my sister went through. I told Tara I didn’t want to see it until it was done, and when I did see it, I cried.
“If I’m having a bad day or things at work are tough, she seems like she’s looking up at me with a thumbs up and I think ‘Things are going to be OK.’
“I didn’t see any lines. All these other tattoos there was an outline. She did the whole thing with shading. There are no lines. You can see the earring my sister is wearing in the picture. You can even see the nosepiece of her glasses and right down to the lip gloss she was wearing. Everybody was, ‘oh my god.’
“If you are really serious about getting a tattoo, Tara’s incredible. You walk in here, it’s not like a normal tattoo shop. You normally see all this flash art on the wall. You come in here, you’re the only one that’s ever going to have that tattoo because she designs it for you. She’ll do exactly what you want.”
April Jodarski, 24
“My friend had gotten one from Tara and said she was really good. I wanted to get one, so I came in and talked to her beforehand. We decided to go with a Tiger Lily. She told me it was a bad spot but we did it anyway. I’m a big baby; it hurt but she was really patient with me. It really turned out good. It was a 4 ½ hour session.
“There will be more, but I have nothing in mind right now. I just got over the first one, so I’m going to think on the next one.
“The Tiger Lily really doesn’t have a whole lot of significance. I did it just for its own beauty. I was going to do black skulls and roses, and I was looking through Tara’s portfolio and saw somebody that had Tiger Lilies up her back. I thought it looked really unique. You don’t see that. Most people go for roses or cherry blossoms. I thought it was a little more uncommon. It’s beautiful.”
Dick Rolle, 55
“I had this one on the cheek here. I think I did that in ’83. Forever, that was it.
“I was 7 or something like that, I remember my grandfather had a Norwegian flag with an anchor, with the flag sort of fouled on it. He told me it was the stupidest thing he ever did.
“I knew he did it in Norfolk. We were laid up in Norfolk, so I had been working on that one for a while, a tribute to his Norwegian anchor and flag.
“After that, after Tara started doing Monica’s arm, I said, well, what am I going to do? I’ve got to meet that challenge. I’ve sailed all my life or worked on boats all my life. I always thought at some point I would get a chance to work on a sailing ship. At my age now, I know that’s not going to happen. That’s how I came up with the concept.
“I intend to follow through and make the scene go underwater. Maybe a siren or mermaid, maybe some bones and ship parts, an anchor or steering wheel. Somebody at work has the mermaid with the ship’s wheel, that would be sort of stealing, so I guess we’ll have to go with the anchor, but there are any number of things you could put down there that Davy Jones would have in his locker. Other than that, I don’t know what I want to do.”
Monica Rolle, 56
fiber artist/stay-at-home gardener
“When I was 18 I got my first one, because, of course, your mother tells you, don’t get one. My next was at 19, then 24. In my 30s I got one covered up. Then you have bills to pay. I’ve been wanting a bunch more. A couple years ago for my birthday, I decided to do it.
“I love Halloween and I love The Nightmare Before Christmas. You don’t just want to go get one. You have to think about where you want it and what you want.
“Tara came into town and my son got one from her pretty much right away. I came in and met her and saw her work and thought it was really nice. I didn’t want to go all the way to Green Bay. The detail was just so awesome.
“Corpse Mom was the first one I got from Tara as a present for my 55th birthday. Once I got Corpse Mom, I thought, I better get more and fill it in. You can’t just have one floating there. I think they look better when they go somewhere. I just did it for me, because I liked them. It was just like, I love snowmen and I love pumpkins. I had to have one little Jack, the witches and just filled it in. She just does awesome work.”
Showing her other arm, she says, “I wanted this to be different, sea life.”
Her next project is covering up a star on her ankle with pumpkins and vines.
“Tara does really nice work.”
Jennie Laaksonen, 41
“I’d always loved tattoos and was fascinated by them. But I was a college student with no money. I spent $35 on a tattoo in Waukesha when I was 18, and then spent 20 years looking for something that was going to be meaningful, and when I turned 40, now is the time. I’m going to do this for myself.
“Because I’m a teacher, the owl had special significance to me, the symbol of knowledge, and we live in the woods where we hear them all the time.”
So, Laaksonen wanted a wise Great Horned Owl to cover the leg tattoo she got when she was 18.
“I found a wonderful tattoo artist who could bring that vision together,” she said. “I brought in a bunch of different things and consulted with her and picked the things I wanted most. She made an amalgam of all of them. It was really quite amazing. I wanted tufted ears up and she was able to do that. She does great work.”
The owl required one 4 ½-hour sitting.
“It’s not bad for the first few. It’s that last half-hour that just about gets you,” Laaksonen said. “I had my iPad here, playing solitaire and things like that. In a very strange sense, it was kind of relaxing, until the last half hour. You go somewhere else and try not to think about it.”
Is this it for tattoos?
“Probably not. I have my ideas of what I want to do, but who knows, maybe it will be another 20 years before I do it. For now I’m content. But I don’t think it will end here.”
Dan Kwarcinski, 27
“I got my first tattoo when I was 21, a Tree of Life. I was going through a lot of bad stuff with my family. The Tree of Life was kind of a rebirth thing. Things are better now.
“My grandpa was in the Navy. I grew up hearing stories of him being in the Navy. I’ve always been a fan of old Navy tattoos, so that was the second tattoo I wanted to get. I gave Tara a general idea and she drew it out. I think she nailed it. I didn’t want to have just a pin-up girl. I wanted something a little different, not cookie cutter, something a little more unique.
“There’s going to be a whole sleeve of old Navy-style tattoos. I want to get an owl because I’m a big fan of owls. I want to get some sort of fish, because I love going fishing, and an older sailing ship. That’s about as far as I’ve thought ahead.
“More people should be more accepting of tattoos. It’s not like it’s hurting anything.”
Scott Mattson, 39
“Every tattoo of mine has a meaning. It represents a time in my life. The dog was a cover-up. It’s my dog of 13 years, Bubba. I had brought in the same picture to a different artist. She didn’t do a very good job. It wasn’t sized properly and it didn’t look good. Tara did my Jägermeister tattoo, so I asked her to do the cover-up.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of Jägermeister. In German, it means ‘master hunter.’ I love hunting. Eventually, the open spots on the cross are going to have the initials of my buddies that have passed. I’m trying to figure out how to work that all into it yet. The cross is for my friends who have passed. I actually had a friend of mine do a rough sketch of it. Tara crisped up the lines and got it looking perfect.
“Tara was brand new in town when she did my Jägermeister tattoo. I came in, looked at the books, there was one with an angel with wings. It was black and white, and I like black and white tattoos. The shading on the feathers was amazing. Real art. I asked her if she could get me in.”
Photography by Len Villano.