The Washington Tattoo Collective at 204 Jefferson St. in Downtown Washington more closely resembles an art studio than a tattoo shop.
There are no prefabricated tattoo samples covering the walls, but framed photographs of the city of Washington from years gone by, a display of local wines in one corner and walls painted in earth tone colors.
The decor of the studio reflects the personality of its owner, Kyle Scarborough, a man who loves vintage, both dress and wine, and an artist who refuses to paint with needles on skin anything except his original work.
Scarborough, 31, of Washington, opened the shop April 30. He said his new business is already a success.
“It’s going amazing,” he said. “I worked around the St. Louis area for years and have traveled the country working conventions so I’ve been able to build a very large clientele.”
A 1999 Washington High School graduate, Scarborough has been an artist as long as he can remember, and has a strong affection for caricature and cartooning. He has done everything from illustrations for children’s and comic books, to designing logos, including the one for the Washington Art Fair and Winefest.
But his preferred canvas is the human body.
One wall behind the counter at The Washington Tattoo Collective contains a collection of some of the more than 35 awards Scarborough has won for his art.
He set a record last November at the St. Louis Old School Expo — an annual tattoo convention that typically attracts between 60 to 100 artists from around the country.
“I was the first person in the show’s history to sweep all three days winning tattoo of the day and then I won best of show,” he said.
Other awards include best of state and best portrait.
Scarborough said his fascination and love of tattoos dates back to his childhood.
“Most of the time the people you would see with tattoos were old military men, or the biker scene, most of what you would call stereotypical,” he said. “Tattoos weren’t as common as they are today, and there was a certain romantic side to that I found extremely interesting.”
Scarborough got his first tattoo when he was 24 — a simple kanji, Japanese lettering, that he said was a fad at the time.
Scarborough said he knew from an early age that he wanted to be a tattoo artist.
“I designed tattoos all the time,” he said, “things like full arm sleeves and other sketches and really started gravitating toward that style of art. I’ve always been an illustrator.”
The first tattoo he did was one on himself.
“It was a little cartoon zombie of my brother,” he said. “We are both big horror movie fans.”
Scarborough said becoming a reputable tattoo artist took some years to accomplish and included traveling to tattoo conventions and working a few years in the St. Louis area.
“It’s been hard, but rewarding,” he said. “I have a 5-year-old daughter who is everything to me. I had to leave home and be away from my daughter for months at a time to get better at what I do and to be in the situation where people will drive, and in many cases across state lines, to get tattooed by me.
“I take that extremely seriously.”
Setting up shop in Downtown Washington, Scarborough said, was a great opportunity to work in his hometown.
“I love Washington and always have and have always wanted to have a place downtown,” he said. “I want to show people you don’t have to go to the big city to get quality art.”
Taboos of Tattoos
Scarborough said there are certain tattoos he refuses to do, such as those that are hateful, racial or drug-related.
And he absolutely will not tattoo minors, even with parental consent.
“I think looking back on my own teenage years and my early 20s — you change your mind so much,” he said. “I try to look out for people’s interests.”
Scarborough said he is even hesitant about tattooing teenagers over 18 and people in their early 20s and there are some visible places on the body he is iffy about tattooing for people in this age group.
“If you are in your 20s and already have a lot of tattoo work, that’s only when I would consider tattooing your hands,” he said “And I won’t tattoo below the shirt sleeves if you are still in your teens. I don’t want to be responsible for you not being able to get a job.”
Scarborough said he reserves the right to refuse anyone and what he won’t do is put his name on something he doesn’t believe in.
Scarborough said he thinks people would be stunned to know that when they walk into a hospital or lawyer’s office how many of those men and women could potentially have their entire back or full sleeves tattooed.
“My clients are a lot of police officers, firemen, people in childcare services, doctors, lawyers and other professionals,” he said. “They are smart enough to know they need to keep them covered, but they are there.”
Portraits, Other Work
Portraits are one of Scarborough’s specialties, he said.
“What motivated me was seeing what people were able to create with needles and pigment in human skin,” he said.
He said he likes the fact that he can create something that looks as beautiful as a real oil painting on skin.
“You can look online and not find the realism that Kyle does,” said Kevin Mickler, Scarborough’s friend and business partner. “He is one of the best portrait artists around. This guy is extremely talented.”
Scarborough said he is first and foremost an artist, which is why there are no prefab tattoo designs to be found in his shop.
“Unless it’s a portrait, we won’t do any flash work,” he said. “We will give you a custom design. You can bring in ideas, but I make each tattoo my own original.”
Scarborough’s work can be viewed at www.scarboroughtattoo.com.
The Washington Tattoo Collective is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from noon to 8 p.m.
To make an appointment, people may call 636-390-2781.