Written and photographed by Lucas Warner
When Cali Beck wanted her old tattoos covered up, she wanted them gone for good. She wanted them covered in black ink.
She saw a bartender working at Black Wolf Supper Club, in Eugene, who had a similar fair complexion to hers, but with one noticeable difference: he had a “smooth black-ink arm.” Beck asked the man where he had his arm tattooed. “Ryan Beauchamp at Northwest Tattoo,” he says.
When Beck went to Beauchamp to explain that she wanted her old tattoos covered, he didn’t jump on the opportunity to tattoo her. Instead, he gave a warning: “They’re several other options we have to cover them up,” he tells her.
Beck wanted an artist who she could collaborate with, and she found that in Beauchamp.
“He helped me conceptualize beyond solid black,” Beck says. Beauchamp was able to mix an intricate geometric design alongside the fields of blck ink on her shoulders.
Beauchamp also helped her through the pain; a blackwork tattoo is substantially more painful because of the different tattoo machine used. “He’s really good at letting you know when things are going to get intense,” Beck says.
Beck is used to sitting in a chair or massage table for four to five hours, but the pain of having her shoulders covered solid with black ink was a new type of pain.
“Each shoulder took about two hours,” Beck says. “I couldn’t handle anything more.”
Most people have described the feeling of this unique tattoo style as being dragged across gravel.
Beauchamp is one of the few artists who practice this style in the Pacific Northwest. He describes black tattooing as “an homage to the act of tattooing”—a tribute to a time when tattoos had no real artistic meaning when they were just lines to mark success in battle. Today, tattoo artists rely heavily on social media to show they are the best artist and that they can come up with unique custom tattoos. Beauchamp wants to prove that he can get smooth tones of black-ink into someone’s body.
Sarah Knapp works just across the room from Beauchamp.
“Our shop has a lot of styles that are trendy,” Knapp says. “Ryan’s geometric and black work is in high demand; he’s always busy.”
Beauchamp first discovered the heavy blackwork tattoo style from a high school friend who had gone to Germany to get tattooed. On his return, Beauchamp saw him with most of his neck, chest and arm covered in black ink.
“I didn’t realize you could do that to yourself,” Beauchamp says with a grin. “Tattoos felt punk rock, man.”
Beauchamp started tattooing in his home state of Washington but when he attempted to get licensed in Oregon, it wasn’t easy. He drove to the Courthouse in Salem, where every step of the way he was met with the constant requests for $50 in order to speed up the process.
The state has a lengthy application process that requires the applicant to be over 18, to have completed high school or a GED program, to have completed bloodborne pathogens training, and to have knowledge of first aid. Plus, Beauchamp must pass a tattoo test. Other stipulations require an artist to either go to tattoo school here in Oregon or to have proof of being licensed in another state.
While Beauchamp was learning his craft well, his test subject was often himself.
It was only one year into his career that he started to hone in on what is now his specialty: all-black designs.
Beauchamp spent that time practicing packing in black ink on his inner thigh. He spent much of his time switching between massage table and chair to get the best angle to tattoo. His tool was a machine with 45 overlapping needles contained in a three-inch head. A typical tattoo needle has between three to nine needles making the process of tattooing itself is quite painful.
Beauchamp used this bigger needle to get as much black-ink into the tattoo with the least number of strokes and to create a smooth area of black on someone’s body.
“Tattooing yourself sucks,” says Beauchamp. “The only thing you can do to make it hurt less is to stop.”
Beauchamp, working on his leg, was beginning to understand the minutiae of getting solid black into the skin. He had to practice the motions of using such a massive needle. Focusing on the pain would make the black come out blotchy.
“It becomes an introspective process after a while,” Beauchamp remembers. “It’s also a style you want to practice on yourself first. I don’t want to practice on someone else and fuck them up.”
But when asked if he would like to blackout other parts of himself Beauchamp responded, “In the end, I’d rather have someone else do it.”
Northwest Tattoo wants to reflect the young clientele that frequents the shop. It has an open vibe, with turquoise walls, paintings done by artists in the shop, and “we’re nice” plastered on the window.
Beauchamp also wants the shop to indicate the type of artists that work there.
“Tattoo shops are the last business that’s kind of scary to go into because people can be intimidated by the artists,” Beauchamp says. “At this shop, we’re trying to have it be an open floor plan, so people feel more comfortable.”
Walking into the shop when Beauchamp is tattooing someone in the shop is laughing, whether it is the canvas on a massage table or one of the six artists who are also at work that day. Some canvases are laughing so hard that the outline of their tattoo comes out “wonky” because they can’t sit still. He’s always working on massive pieces. Recently, there have been more interactive geometric designs on people’s backs.
One of Beauchamp’s clients who was having her back worked on recently couldn’t wear a bra because the tattoo was going right in the middle of her back. Now, most tattoo artists would put stickers on a women’s breast or have them gently place a towel over their sensitive region. In Beauchamp’s mind, comfort is critical.
Before the appointment started, Beauchamp went to a thrift shop to pick up a double XL yellow button-up shirt. His client put the shirt on backward to cover herself while he tattooed her back. At the end of the season, she says she would wash and return his shirt. Beauchamp quickly retorted, “Don’t mention it. I got it at the thrift shop.”
Beauchamp gives a lot of his career credit to tattoo conventions. That’s how he got his job in Eugene. He was working at the Evergreen Tattoo Convention where he met the owner of Northwest Tattoo, Max V.K. Beauchamp has taken a break from going to conventions.
The long trips in a van across the Northwest get exhausting. Sitting in a convention center to maybe or maybe not tattoo is no longer appealing. Beauchamp’s favorite part of conventions is hanging out with his fellow shop artists.
“That’s what conventions are all about,” Beauchamp says. “Finding people who you can collaborate with and that turns into friendships.”