Many of us at FreakSugar and, most likely, many of you reading this have tattoos that are connected in some way to a pop culture character or icon that is meaningful to our past and present. Few of us, though, probably have had the opportunity to meet that character or icon immediately after receiving a tattoo of that person. On tonight’s episode of A&E’s Epic Ink, however, that’s exactly what happens, as an unsuspecting client comes into the Area 51 tattoo shop for a tattoo of the Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira. However, she doesn’t suspect that she’ll be meeting her icon immediately afterward.
I had the chance to speak with Epic Ink artists Josh Bodwell, who tattooed the surprised client, and Heather Maranda, from whom Elvira received her first tattoo that same day, to look back on their experiences that day with the lovable Mistress of the Dark.
FreakSugar: How was it tattooing an image of Elvira onto your client while the client didn’t know Elvira was there?
Josh Bodwell: We surprised my client by not only doing the tattoo, but also by bringing in her icon into the studio after it was all said and done. So, while the client didn’t know [Elvira] was there, I did, so there was that added pressure that not only did I have to please my client for the rest of her life, but the tattoo would be critiqued by the subject herself. It was definitely a unique situation. The only time it ever happens that a subject is there is when it’s a child or a spouse. And there was the heightened pressure of the subject being someone I admired myself. But the client on the other hand was completely oblivious.
FreakSugar: The client looked like she exploded with joy.
Bodwell: Oh yeah, and I can completely relate. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, so it’d be the same if Carrie Fisher or Mark Hamill came into the room. Except for those of us covered in tattoos, most people will only get tattooed a few times in their lives. It’s a very lasting and permanent thing and to get to share it with your icon that you love is just incredible. So I can totally relate to what the client was feeling. When people on Epic Ink come into Area 51 and get a tattoo of a character that they love or they grew up with, this is something important to people. And more than loving the character, with the client, Elvira is an icon around whom she shaped her life. It’s very evident in how my client dresses and she runs a horror magazine herself. So on a number of levels, it’s probably one of the most important tattoos that she has. So that alone has a lot of gravity for me as an artist. With the subject being there, that kept me on my toes as well. [Laughs] I imagine this is something my client will never forget.
FreakSugar: How do you approach tattooing a real person or a pop culture character, how much do try to make the likeness exactly like the person or the character and how much of your own artistic flair and vision do you insert into the piece?
Bodwell: I hadn’t been asked that in a while. You know, the likeness is key. If it doesn’t look like the person, especially a character everyone knows already, it’s going to be evident. If I tattooed somebody’s kid and I don’t get it quite right, nobody really knows because it’s somebody’s kid. But as an artist, I’m not just a photocopier, I try to put in my own artistic flair. And as a portrait artist, we all try to inject something of our own into it so you know who the artist is. So that’s something of a challenge for us as an artist to make our mark. I can look at tons of portraits and I can tell a particular artist by something he did in the tattoo. With Chris Jones on the show, maybe I’m biased because I’m around him all the time, but he does these little things that are very unique to his portraits, as lifelike as they are. And if I do the same portrait, it will look different in much the same way. As artists, we want to make our mark but capture the likeness at the same time.
FreakSugar: When Elvira saw the tattoo you did of her, what did she think?
Bodwell: I think I got the approval right away. I feel like she’s such a wonderful person that even if she didn’t like it, she wouldn’t give me shit about it so she wouldn’t hurt my feelings. [Laughs] But I could see that she got really, really excited. And what I was able to do for the piece—and there are a lot of Elvira portraits out there and I’m sure she’s seen them at conventions and such—I could tell that she was really pleased and excited about it. And I’m really proud of the piece, too. I always give every piece my all. I put 110% into it, but with this one, again, knowing she was going to be there, I knew I was going to have to knock it out of the park. It’s one my favorite realistic portraits I’ve done in a long time. I think I definitely did her proud.
FreakSugar: Heather, does it make a difference working on a celebrity and beloved personality, or is it the same as working on any other client, just ensuring you do the best work that you can for her?
Heather Maranda: I always try to do my best, no matter who the client is, after all once I send work out into the world, that is my calling card. I will say I was a bit nervous because it was Elvira, and it was her first tattoo. Plus the situation was just crazy in general.
FreakSugar: How was Elvira as a canvas? Was she nervous?
Maranda: Elvira was a riot. She said the tattoo didn’t bother her at all, she was just fine in the pain aspect. She was having a great time talking with all her fans that were at the party.
FreakSugar: I know Elvira had the traditional skull and bat wings we know her for, but did she have anything specific she knew she wanted highlighted in that image?
Maranda: She wanted her tattoo pretty much exactly like the tattoo she had in the movie. I tried to update it a little bit, but keep to the original image as much as possible, because that is what she wanted. It isn’t the EXACT same, I put fancier shading and whatnot in there, but it is the quintessential Elvira tattoo.
You can check out the whole experience tonight on A&E’s Epic Ink at 10:30 ET.