Tricia Atkinson was teaching art at Massaponax High School nearly 10 years ago when she decided to get a tattoo, one that honored her husband.
Little did she know it would be the first step toward opening her own business— Figure 8 Ink Studios—a tattoo shop and art school. On Feb. 1, Figure 8 moved into a building Atkinson bought and renovated at the corner of Courthouse Road and Hood Drive.
Her path to creating a business with what she says is the right attitude—“a clean, welcoming, Zen, comfy den of art, body art and learning, where every tattoo and every artwork big and small is important”—was a response to her first experience with tattoos.
“I came away from it feeling that I hadn’t been taken seriously,” she said.
She was disappointed that the shop didn’t make an effort to educate her on tattoos or her choices.
She tried another shop for her second piece of body art—Ugly Bishop’s Tattoo Shop—and said it was like night and day compared to the earlier experience. She appreciated the artists who were happy to take the time to explain the process, options and anything else she wanted to know.
“That very positive experience with getting a tattoo got me really interested, and I started to do serious research,” she said. “Long story short, somebody gave me an old [tattooing] machine, I got a butcher to order me pig ears and I began doing tattoos on those ears at home, spending the better part of a year practicing and creating a tattoo portfolio.”
Atkinson would go on to apprentice at Ugly Bishop’s Tattoo, working nights and weekends as she continued to teach at Massaponax.
“I truly love teaching art, but there are things about teaching at a public high school that are challenging at times,” she said. “I knew I couldn’t keep on that work schedule at both places forever, so I began to think of ways I could continue with both teaching art and tattooing. I started to consider opening my own business, and began to look for properties.”
Atkinson—a third-generation teacher, whose father Patrick Collins has taught at Massaponax High School and whose grandfather, Clyde Carter, helped found the sociology department at Mary Washington College—said it was important to find a way to make art instruction a part of that new business.
She eventually leased a commercial space in Spotsylvania County to do just that.
“There wasn’t a dedicated space in the first location for the project-based art lessons I teach, both for children and adults,” said Atkinson.
When she bought and renovated the building that opened earlier this year, she was thrilled to have a space that would be reserved just for art lessons. Including the painting parties she does for a range of private and corporate clients, Atkinson figures the art instruction takes about a fourth of her time, with one day of the week totally set aside for art classes.
“I love teaching art and I love tattooing, so I’m glad to be able to continue doing both,” said Atkinson. “I’m probably one of the few people in the state to have both a teaching license and a tattoo license, and it means a great deal to me to be able to continue teaching in an area where my family has been doing that for generations.”
Atkinson said it was tough to have to shut down her studio when the coronavirus hit. She was glad to be able to eventually reopen, with limitations. She said the staff stays busy these days following the extensive sanitation and COVID-19 protocols to keep staff and customers safe.
Walk through the new space and you start to understand her artistic flair. There are myriad items from all over the world—a carving from Bali, swords, arrows, a boomerang from New Zealand and a skateboard deck. She literally wears her art on her sleeve, having done some of the tattoos herself.
Atkinson is an example of the way body art can tell much about a person and what’s important to them.
“I have a fine arts/travel sleeve with Artemis, the goddess of the hunt,” she said. “An ode to my love of Greek and Roman history and art; the rose window from the Notre Dame cathedral; an image from ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,’ which we did as a one-act play in high school.
“It’s fun to build your collection, look at the tattoos and think where you were when you got them and who did them,” she said. “I got one in the oldest tattoo shop in Athens, another from a tribesman in New Zealand and I watched as a Japanese artist created tattoos done in the old hand-poke style.”
She caught the travel bug as a student at James Monroe High School when she took a trip with Latin teacher Betty Merrill. Atkinson ran student trips around the world when she became a teacher. Those trips have informed her style, but the person under the needle is paramount.
Ask about her tattoo style and she’ll explain in great detail, as she does with each client, about how she works to mesh her training and talent with what customers want.
Atkinson says her preferences have evolved since she started, and she now works in what she calls a neo-traditional style that best combines her skills with what she’s learned.
“Learning how traditional and outline-based pieces look and last over the years is part of reason I’m now leaning toward designs that could be described as decorative traditional,” she said. “It lets me use my fine arts background and include cool custom designs, pulling in elements that work for me while also using tried-and-true designs that put outlines first.”
But the art is only part of the process.
“My vision starts with good customer service, educating and respecting all clients,” she said. “I enjoy taking the time to find a mix of their vision and my talents and expertise.”
The time before applying the tattoo is critical, Atkinson said.
“We’re creating something that’s permanent. It’s meaningful that they want to have it on them as either an affirmation, a tribute or a celebration of something,” she said. “I’m honored to have found this career where I can combine my passion for art and working with people to create these pieces I’ll get to see over the years.”
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415