MUSCATINE, Iowa — A Muscatine man says if his customers can describe an image they have in their mind, he can put it on their skin in the artful form of a tattoo.
According to Jake Zoller, 32, he’s been a professional tattoo artist for nine years. Last month, he opened the doors of Stigma Tattoo in Muscatine. The business was formerly located in Columbus Junction and Washington, Iowa.
Zoller said business started out well in those small communities. In fact, business was booming for the first several months, until the demand fell because the portion of the community that wanted tattoos had gotten what it needed.
“Coming to Muscatine allows me to expand and I have people coming in from other states and towns. Here they can stay in hotels and have more to do in town,” he said.
Zoller goes for one-of-a-kind and distinctive designs.
He said he wants people to pick a piece of art that reflects their personality or something meaningful to them. Therefore, when you walk into Stigma, you won’t see flash on the walls. Flash is most commonly known as the white-paper drawings often covered in plastic that are plastered all over the walls of many tattoo shops across the country.
“I never want someone to come into my shop and choose a piece of art off of the wall. I don’t like giving people what others already have,” he said, adding that if a person wants a prefabricated image he’ll do it, but is also willing to add detail to personalize the style.
Zoller, who goes by the nickname “Zo,” likes to do freehand work but also uses stencils when an image needs to be specific such as with a logo. Both of Zoller’s arms are covered in sleeves, or fully tattooed from shoulder to wrist, and he’s done all of the inking himself. Images stretch around his shoulders and elbows. The details and shading of the tats, including biomechanical images, skulls, a watch set to the time his brother passed away and a Polynesian pyramid appear precise and steady, even though the right hander used his left hand to draw the images on his right arm.
“The machine is my pencil,” he said.
Stigma offers a variety of colors in quality ink that range in price from $13-$20 an ounce. He also has ultra violet, or glow, ink that shows up brightly under a black light but can barely be seen under other lighting — and yes, he used it on himself to highlight skulls on his upper arm.
Zoller opens new needles and tubes that hold ink for each session. He also does body piercing and uses separate needles for multiple piercing, such as nipple rings, so the needle isn’t dull on the second insertion.
He says the tattoo market in Muscatine is not optimal but there is a demand. He believes that he’ll stand out from the rest in the public eye as his clientele expands.
“I have a real steady hand and an eye for sharpness and detail,” Zoller said.
His confidence is apparent as he talks about his past, the work he can create and what he wants for the future of his business.
Price is also a major issue when it comes to his trade. He will not do a tattoo, no matter how small, for less than $60 because he has to open the needle and tube packages. Still, he says, he offers value and will set prices based on the piece, or by the hour for large jobs.
Reporter contact information
Melissa Regennitter: 563-262-0526
What: Stigma Tattoo
Where: Downstairs in the Econo Lodge, 2402 Park Ave., Muscatine
Hours: 2-10 p.m. daily