Of Cloak and Dagger

Customer Service is Tattoo Shop’s Secret Weapon

By Tim Anderl

For the majority of people interested in having their bodies tattooed, choosing the artist who will accomplish the work is a decision that carries major weight.  Whether an artist listens during the design phase, is technically proficient, is safe and clean or even is male or female are all considerations that play into the dynamic of inking one’s skin.  The artists at Cloak & Dagger Tattoo designed a business plan with these catalysts as the lynch pin.

Located on Brown Street near the University of Dayton, artists Steve Ratcliffe, Britton Asbury, Jeremy McGrady, Nathan Palmer and apprentice Jessica Oram have been applying ink to and punching holes in satisfied customers at the studio since mid-2011.  With the shop’s first anniversary around the corner, the team are eager to celebrate with an open house celebration — McGrady is angling for a pig roast — and are making plans to seek out a second location in 2012.

Dayton City Paper caught up with Cloak & Dagger’s artists recently to discuss their business, C&D’s mission, their influences and their favorite, and least favorite, pieces.

When asked about how the recent venture of Cloak & Dagger opening shop on Brown Street came about, Steve Ratcliffe said, “Well, we were working at a shop where we felt certain things were being overlooked and we wanted to make a change. However, you can’t really make changes to other people’s business, so we got a business plan together. As far as how we ended up on Brown Street … well … Britton and I were driving down the road and saw a building for rent and we went for it.”

And customers can expect a unique experience when stopping by to visit the new shop.  Ratcliffe maintains that, “at Cloak & Dagger we strive to have great customer service by doing a variety of different things. Some of those are as simple as getting to know every client’s name up front and treating them like a person, not just another tattoo. We also really listen to what our clients want and make suggestions, being careful not to completely change their idea into what we want to tattoo. Those are just the start of things we do, but to get the full experience you’ll have to come in and see for yourself.”

Since tattoos are such an expression of individuality, Cloak & Dagger tries to make a comfortable and custom experience for each person that walks through the door.

When asked about their mentors on the path to becoming tattoo artists, Britton Asbury responded, “I would say the guys I worked with at Blue Byrd. Mainly Naryan Claudy and Chris Fullam. Also, despite having taught him, I feel like Nathan Palmer pushes me to do more solid tattoos … you can’t have your student kicking your ass.”

Ratcliffe said, “My mentors when I first started were mainly Cameron Fuhrer, Jesse Perrault and Dave Hopkins, but as I’ve moved around and met other tattoo artists, I’ve also learned a lot from them too. Most recently though I’ve been learning a lot from Britton.”

Artist Nathan Palmer said “I did my apprenticeship under Britton when he was working at ACME tattoo in Cincinnati. He gave me a chance to get into this industry, so I really have to give all the credit to him.”

And similarly, Jeremy McGrady observes, “Britton took me under as his apprentice and is teaching me the art of tattooing.”

When I asked the apprentice, Jessica Oram, how she became interested in the art, she said “I had sort of thought about it as a teenager.  Then I went to art school and there were a bunch of people there who were into it, and I really got into it too.  I loved hanging out at the shops, meeting other people who were artists, and realized it would be a great way for me to do art and make money.  I knew Britton’s wife from riding bikes around town, met him and asked if I could get in here.”

“We’d always wanted a female tattoo artist in the shop.  If a female customer is having their chest or bikini area tattooed, they may just be more comfortable with a female artist.  And some guys think it is cool to be tattooed by a good-looking female artist, so there’s that too,” added Asbury.  He further enlightened me about his artistic influences, his strengths as an artist, and how the various dynamics of Cloak & Dagger artists complement each other: “I take influence from a lot of different sources. Even tattoo artists (and artists in general) that I don’t necessarily think are great artist can have great ideas. I check out all these guys’ work who I look up to pretty frequently. My contribution to the shop would probably be my versatility. I do a lot of different styles of tattooing. I just try to find what I think best suits the piece, unless the client has something specific in mind. I like doing semi realistic tattoos and larger colored pieces.

Ratcliffe adds “My influences are mainly other tattooers like: Tony Ciavarro, Jime Litwalk, Jesse Smith, Joe Capobianco, Nick Baxter and Scotty Munster. Non-tattoo though I really dig Mark Ryden and Alex Grey. I feel my strengths are in color theory, I really love to work with as many colors as I can and use them to complement and contrast each other,” and artist Nathan Palmer names his influences as “Adam Hathorne, Jeff Ensminger, Tim Biedron, Jeff Gogue and a ton of other artists. American traditional, hard lines and bold color. No one else here at the shop is as focused on traditional style tattoos.”

Adding to the stylistic variety of Cloak & Dagger, McGrady mentioned some of his early inspirations: “Growing up I was always very into comic books and graphic novels, which sent my artwork into a very graphic design style. But as I’ve been learning tattooing, many of the industry’s top artists have inspired me to push my artwork to make it something more. David Tevenal has recently driven me to progress as an artist and explore new mediums of art. Being very new in this business and still learning many things I would say my best strength would be my dedication to becoming a good artist and always wanting to get better with every piece I do. I think that we’re all very dedicated to the shop and always want the best for it as a whole.  With the amazing artists I get to work with we’re always pushing each other to our limits and getting better with what we do on the way.”

Finally, when asked about their favorite and least favorite pieces, Asbury says “As far as least favorite … boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife, baby mama/daddy names. I always tell them it’s a bad idea and 90 percent of the time you see them again to cover it up.”

Ratcliffe recalls “Favorite … I did a matching tattoo on my mom and little sister and that was an honor for me to do. Least … I’d say it would be the end of the day on a hot summer day, somebody who has been active all day and comes in wanting their feet tattooed. I have no problem with foot tattoos, just have some kindness and make sure that they don’t smell horrible.”

And Palmer adds “My favorites are when I have complete creative freedom. My least favorites are people who don’t want to plan out their tattoo and just want tattooed right then and there.”

(For more information on Cloak and Dagger Tattoo Studio, visit them at Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/?ref=tn_tnmn#!/CloakandDaggerTattooStudio.)

Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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