Apprentice Devon Kasler tattooes Rex Nashookpuk of Wainwright. This is Nashookpuk's first tattoo. "It doesn't feel bad at all," he said during the process.
Apprentice Devon Dasler tattooes Rex Nashookpuk of Wainwright. This is Nashookpuk's first tattoo. "It doesn't feel bad at all," he said during the process.
Story last updated at 2/12/2014 - 4:57 pm
When Dave Lang was in art school, he heard a lot about the need to specialize. Pen and ink? Acrylics?
"I didn't feel like I had this one thing," he said.
He'd gotten interested in tattooing in high school and was impressed with the variety of art he saw in tattoo magazines - it ran the gamut from realist to art nouveau, to traditional heart and dagger, to Japanese-style flowers.
Around 2000, he got a chance to be a part of a friend's shop in Washington, and his career as a tattoo artist began.
Lang was born in Juneau and transferred from Juneau-Douglas High School to Mount Edgecumbe, in Sitka, for his freshman year. After that, he and his family moved to Washington.
He always thought he'd come back to Alaska, he said - especially once he started tattooing.
"I said 'Someday I'm going to move back up to Alaska and do cool designs on fishermen,'" he said.
It was when Jack Marchant bought some of Lang's designs that they started talking about establishing a place in Juneau. Marchant lived in the Lower 48, but grew up in Juneau and had tattooed here before.
"I said 'Oh, that sounds really good,'" Lang said. "I was really nervous about it, though."
When Marchant found High Tide's location, Lang said he liked everything about it except the fact it was so close to Pair-A-Dice, the only other tattoo shop then in town.
"That's one thing I definitely would have changed if I could have," he said.
So Lang and his now-wife Rachael Lang made the move to Juneau, and after a few bureaucratic frustrations, Lang, Marchant and body piercer Shane Sewell opened up shop in 2009. When Marchant moved away, Lang bought the shop.
Now, Lang, Milo Irish, and apprentice Devon Kasler are the artists at High Tide.
Kasler started out as a customer; now he's both an apprentice and a full-time tattooist.
Media - specifically reality shows - about tattooing make it look easier than it is, Lang said. Depending on what someone's getting done, it can be an involved process complete with portfolios, designs, consultations and revised drawings.
Lang prefers designs he knows will stay strong over time. Sometimes, that means he has to advise people against what they want. Right now, for example, finger tattoos are popular, he said. Human skin changes, however, toward the side of the fingers and the palm, and the tattoo will fade into patches before long, something evidenced by his own palm.
Lang's favorite designs are those that will stand the test of time physically and trend-wise: traditional tattooing and Northwest coast formline design.
Traditional American tattooing has outlines that help give it staying power.
"Even something beautiful and flowing can still have a lot of strength and hold up," he said.
Soon after he arrived in Juneau, Lang began working with Tsimshian carver Abel Ryan.
The ability to create custom formline tattoos has been the best bonus about moving back to Juneau, he said.
"It's a great honor for me when people do bring in family crest designs and have me tattoo those on them," he said.
Lang has both Tsimshian and Tlingit ancestry; his father served as president of the Alaska Federation of Natives and was one of Sealaska's original board members. But regardless of the tattooist or the customer's ethnicity, Lang said what he thinks is important is that the tattoo is "not taking from, but adding to" formline design.
He recently completed a Tsimshian mask under Ryan's tutelage. "I couldn't be happier about that," he said.
Lang also makes an effort to stay connected to the world of tattooing. He took a trip to Eagle River Tattoo, and will soon attend a convention in Salt Lake City.
"I feel like we're just hitting our stride and I love it," he said. "Those two (Irish and Kasler) bring so much to it. I just want to continue that, and keep pushing forward. The goal from the beginning was to have world-class tattooing in Juneau. Just because something's from here doesn't mean it's shut off from the world."
That's a sentiment customer Lauralye Miko echoes.
"It's just a really professional place," she said of High Tide Tattoo. "I know that I'm going to go there and I'm going to get great work, and it's going to be clean."
Miko had no tattoos when she first arrived in Juneau as a college student.
She went to Irish, who was then at Pair-A-Dice, for her tattoos. After Irish went to Ketchikan (he returned and has been at High Tide for the past year) she began going to Lang. She has a flower mandala on her shoulder, a half sleeve, and two tattoos on her thighs.
She's from Chicago originally. When she sees friends who live in bigger cities, they always compliment her work, she said.
"I just think it's funny because you live in Juneau, this small town, and it's hard to get a good avocado," she said. "Then we end up having some wonderful artists in town that are just really good resources. I love them."