Portland’s Lucky: Tattooing with a conscience

Lucky flips through some pictures of bad tattoos he's had to save. (BDN photo by Seth Koenig)

Lucky flips through some pictures of bad tattoos he’s had to save with coverup jobs. (BDN photo by Seth Koenig)

One of the most recent additions to Portland’s art scene is Lucky — he’s the tattoo artist behind the half-year-old Lucky’s Tattoo Co. at 102 Exchange St. He was also the most recent guest on the Ink & Pine podcast that I co-host along with Trent Gay and Cat Smith of Maine Digital Press.

Lucky comes to Portland after owning shops in almost all other corners of the country, and as the state’s only participant in the “Ink 4 Autism” fundraising and awareness campaign, he’s a welcomed addition.

Click here to listen to the full podcast interview, which is well worth it. But for my reading audience, I wanted to post a sneak peak Q&A here with just a couple of the many interesting things Lucky shared with us.

For a little bit of background, Lucky previously owned tattoo parlors in Lake Ozark, Missouri, Sedona, Arizona and then back in his hometown of St. Louis before moving to Portland in January.

Question: Why the Portland area?

Answer: We had decided on three different states. We had looked at Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. My wife and I have four children, and two of our children are autistic, so we’re very careful about where we move. We have to be very careful about the school district we move to, the demographics, what kind of services are available for the children there. We centered on the Greely school district in North Yarmouth, which has a rating of 10 all the way across the board in the public school system. …

When you are the parent of a special needs child, you go in to the meeting [with representatives of the new school district] to let them know — it’s called an IEP meeting. … [B]asically, a team of experts has told you [what] your child qualifies for and the types of things he needs, and then when that’s on paper, that’s the law. That’s what he has to get. When you go to an IEP meeting, it’s usually the administrators trying to tell you, ‘These 80 things out of 100 are the things you’re not going to get.’ … They were not like that [at Greely]. They were like, ‘We understand.’ My kid’s getting great care there. They love him, he loves the school, so we couldn’t be happier.

Question: You’ve been all over the place. Have you noticed any difference in what people want for tattoos in different regions? Do people in Portland like different kinds of tattoos compared to people in St. Louis or Arizona?

Answer: Absolutely. I have noticed since I’ve been here that this town is hugely traditional. They’re very into the ‘Americana’ style tattoos. Every shop has at least one or two specialists that does Americana. You know what I’m talking about? The ‘Sailor Jerry’ style tattoo? … Very heavy lines, very black-to-red gradient like that. Which is great, I’ve just never seen it concentrated so much in one area as I have here. But I guess here on the East Coast, that’s American tattooing — that’s where it all got started. That kind of tattoo work is what brought tattooing to the United States in the first place. Back in the 20s, that’s all they were doing on the docks and the wharves, so of course it’s probably going to have more history here than it has in the Midwest. In the Midwest, you tend to do a lot more tribal designs. … I’m happy to give anybody whatever they want, as long as it’s not racist, as long as it’s not hate-based or gang-related.

Question: So you don’t do swastikas or anything?

Answer: No, no, no. I had a guy. He came in here, and he was a very nice gentleman, and he said he wanted the word ‘skinhead’ tattooed on the back of his head. I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Well, I want to get the word ‘skinhead’ — do you know what a ‘skinhead’ is?’ I was like, ‘I am aware of what a skinhead is.’ He took his hat — it was in the winter, so he had a stocking cap on — off and … he had swastikas on his head and on his eyebrows and stuff. And I was like, ‘I don’t do that kind of work here.’

Question: Did he take that reasonably well, or did you end up in an altercation?

Answer: No, no. He was like, ‘I appreciate your honesty, do you know who would?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I’m new to the area. I don’t know.’ But it went fairly well.

Question: Beyond the sort of blatantly offensive things, has anybody caught you off-guard with a tattoo request? Good or bad?

Answer: I had one guy who was going bald and he wasn’t doing it well. So he decided to get like — if you were looking [down] from a satellite — a guy pushing a lawnmower. That was cool. I had a young guy who got a realistic cockroach crawling out of his pants. It’s not my personal taste. … But you never know. Every time I think I’m done being surprised, I’m not.

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Like I said before, listen here for the full podcast, which includes some gems of stories. Find out how one man’s second wife removed a tattoo of his first wife’s name while he slept. In another story, find out how a customer reacted to Lucky’s tattoo of a portrait of his deceased child.

You can also hear why Lucky calls Portland a “social Vegas.” Really worthwhile stories around every corner in this one.

Feel free to browse our full catalog of back episodes on iTunes, as well. Download four or five listen while sunbathing at the beach or working out at the gym. Get to know the people of Portland — chef David Levi of the completely locally sourced restaurant Vinland, champion slam poet Beau Williams and Asylum night club standup comedy emcee Brett Groh are among our past guests.

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Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.