Getting a tattoo means a lot. It’s (usually) a serious monetary investment. It can be a big time commitment. It’s also permanent. Or, at the very least, permanent until you pay even more money to get one removed. What we’re saying is that getting a tattoo is not a decision to be trifled with. Moreover, gifting your lover a tattoo is an even bigger investment. Talent, tastes, quality-control, and price are all matters to be considered. The last thing you want is to create insecurity over a bad tat in the one person you hope to help feel confident.
We decided to build a collection of some of our favorite tattoo artists working around the country today. If you live in one of these cities, great! If not, maybe they’ll feel worth traveling to (or inspire you to seek out other tattoo stars). After all, if you’re giving the gift of ink this holiday season, you want the very best.
MELISSA BAKER — Boston, MA
Melissa Baker has a keen eye for serious depth of design. She studied sculpture at the University of Georgia and that education manifests brilliantly in her work. Baker’s lines are clean and the tattoos almost pop off the skin like a beveled piece of art. Whether she’s working in color or black, the strength of the tattoo is in the clarity and precision.
SCOTT CAMPBELL — Brooklyn, NY
Scott Campbell left a life in biochemistry behind to learn the fine art of tattooing at San Francisco’s iconic Picture Machine. Campbell then opened up shop in Brooklyn where he’s become one of the most sought-after tattoo artists and artists in general on the New York scene. His blend of geometry, biology, and abstract tribalism is always on point and interesting.
You may have to wait a while to score a tattoo from Campbell, but the wait will be well worth it.
ROXX — Santa Monica Mountains, CA
ROXX has been inking people since she was 15. Her friends would spy the drawings in her school notebooks. Her friends would then bring ink and sewing needles and ask her to put her art on them. Since those first days, ROXX has been delving deeply into the black lines of electricity, geometry, and the primal flow of the human body. You’ll find ROXX in a bungalow high up in the Santa Monica mountains where she’s part of the 2 Spirits Tattoo Studio.
Book ahead and they’ll give you directions.
MIKE ADAMS — Frederick, MD
Mike Adams is another artist where the lines between canvas and skin are blurred. Adams’ work harkens back to an era when Andrew Wyeth was painting quiet country life realism and the only people getting tattoos were sailors in some far-off port of call. Adams’ tattoos are in black (mostly) and convey a deceptively simple world, usually animalistic. His dotted shadow work feels like a lost art from another century. It brings a depth and presence to his work.
Adams only works three days a week, so don’t sleep on making an appointment.
ESTHER GARCIA — Chicago, IL
Esther Garcia is playing in an artistic sandbox from the not-so-distant past. Her adept understanding of fine art (she works as an artist as well) gives her tattoos a foundation in an almost baroque aesthetic. The nature and florae she designs and inks on those lucky enough to score a spot in her studio are dark, beautiful, and, yet, always vibrant. There’s a real sense of careful planning and execution that ends up as a beautiful piece of ink on the body. They’re one-of-a-kind tattoos.
BEN MERRELL — Fort Collins, CO
Ben Merrell’s work out in Colorado has a boldness to it. It’s tattoo art by way of Alphonse Mucha and Hokusai in the Rocky Mountain State. Merell’s work pops off the skin in a cornucopia of colors. They’re throwback designs with a nice dollop of whimsy. He may also be the only artist on this list where you might be able to score a walk in (at least for a consult).
DMITRY VISION — Pittsburgh, PA
Dmitry Vision has been making a name for himself all over the tattoo scene throughout the last four years. His blending of realistic portraiture, black ink, and bright colors is next level gorgeous. The use of prime color palates like watercolor smudges adds a softness and depth to his work that captures your attention immediately. They’re ethereal tattoos that stand alone as pieces of great body art.
CHIPPER HARBIN — Nashville, TN
Chipper Harbin has been inking for nine years. Harbin’s approach to creating a piece is to do a deep dive with you and find something true in the medium that’ll last on your body for the rest of your life. He isn’t hampered by any one form or style. There’s geometry, watercolor, pop culture, florae, fauna, all mixed into a splendid whole. It might be time to snag an appointment and start planning a rad trip to Nashville next year.
STACY SMITH — Charlotte, NC
Artists Stacy Smith creates lavishly colorful tattoos that feel otherworldly and yet, somehow, natural at the same time. It’s a feat. There’s a lot of whimsical ideas in her use of bold colors and splotches. The tattoos are unique, bright, and worth the wait.
NIKKO HURTADO — Hollywood, CA
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Had the honor of tattooing a portrait of Sir London Grosso Esq. the 3rd he is one eccentric cat. Done on the very nice @laurengrosso @blackanchorcollective @blackanchorbynikko @stencilanchored @bishoprotary @fusion_ink like and comment if you love your cats also. My first cat was named socks. Tag a cat lover!
Nikko Hurtado has been blowing up the scene in L.A. recently — most notably when he landed a gig tattooing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s full shoulder and arm. Hurtado started off in community art school but dropped out for a construction job before he took a random chance at tattooing. A year later he was winning prizes for his portraiture. Today, Hurtado’s shockingly realistic portrait tattoos are some of the best in the biz. Expect a long wait list.
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"The Force is strong with you! A powerful Sith you will become. Henceforth, you shall be known as Darth… Vader." Love this movie!!!! @starwars #palpatine #darthvader #lukeskywalker #darthsidious Who is getting ready for the Star Wars movie coming? Thoughts? What will happen? I personally cannot wait. @blackanchorworldwide @stencilanchored @fusion_ink @bishoprotary
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These last two weeks have been nothing short of amazing. Some super highs and some lows. But all in all a balance of life. Opportunity comes and opportunity goes. New people come into your life and others go. I am so grateful for the life I get to lead. The path I get to make on my own terms and my own way. Tattooing @therock has been one of favorite things I've been able to do to date. It was less of a meeting of a celebrity but a meeting of minds. It was cool to be able to chill, vibe, and tattoo. Making art has always been my passion. This experience has changed me in very positive way. Today is 2 of my children's first day back to school and tomorrow my youngest very first day school. I feel more motivated and inspired to make some major life changes. I am ready to put my head back down and continue to work, and, work smarter. Thank you All of instagram for your support my followers who keep growing and continue to like and comment I see them all. All love all respect. Now enjoy this amazing photo I had the opportunity to take with the one and only Dwayne Johnson. So sick!!! " Be humble. Be hungry. And always be the hardest worker in the room." #therock #dwaynejohnson #itstimetogetmoreserious @blackanchorworldwide