Tattooing is probably more popular now than it's ever been before—with shows like LA Ink, Miami Ink and Inkmaster now a staple of "reality" television, a once stigmatized art form has come into the mainstream.
"If you go out and talk to 100 people, I bet you that 90 to 99 of them either have a tattoo or want one," said Sean Blades, the shop manager at on Belair Road.
Capone's moved in to their location at 6717 Belair Road about 6 years ago and since then they've been doing great business, Blades said.
In a typical week, Blades said Capone's two artists and one apprentice do about 100 pieces of artwork for people from all walks of life—everything, he said from a tiny dolphin tattoo on a woman's ankle to full sleeves of work.
"My favorite was we had one old guy—an 85-year-old man, he came in and got the USDA Prime Beef stamp tattooed right on his butt," Blades said with a laugh.
Capone's is a family business—Blades' mother is the shop owner and his father started the shop.
"My dad actually started four shops—Ouch's Tattoo Studio in Dundalk, that's now Ink Attic, both Sins of the Skins locations—all four of them are still successful shops today," Blades said.
In addition to the obvious tattooing and piercing a business like Capone's would do, they also customize artwork for businesses and murals. The shop also serves as a taking off point for local artists to sell their work on consignment.
Gesturing to a quartet of paintings on the wall behind them, Blades tells the story of a young local artist who goes by Alden.
"He did those with spray paint, like the guys you see in Ocean City spraying on canvas," Blades said. The paintings show planets set against a backdrop of space.
Although Blades doesn't do any tattooing himself, he is tattooed. He proudly displays the artwork on his left forearm—it's a group of sort-of-sinister-looking drama masks.
"My dad tattooed that on my arm—it was designed by a guy who was an apprentice here; we were just sitting around one day and I had it done and it wasn't long after that my dad died," Blades said. "It went from meaning nothing to meaning a lot to me."
The shop, which also sells tattooing supplies, takes the law very seriously, according to Blades.
"You get it all the time—people will come in drunk and want a tattoo but alcohol thins the blood so you can't do that, pregnant women, too. You just can't tattoo them," Blades said. "And of course you get minors coming in trying to get pierced or tattooed all the time—bringing in their older siblings. I'll look at their IDs and give them a 'yeah, right.'"
Every tattoo contract at the shop is accompanied by photocopies of the signee's identification, and if they're minors, Blades has a record of the guardian's ID too.
If the ever-spreading spotlight on tattooing has you interested in it as a career choice, Blades cautions it's not easy.
"We get people coming in looking for apprenticeships all of the time—you have to be dedicated and know that you're not going to make anything," he said. "Too many people get in this business for the money—for us, it has to be about the art."
Care and precision set a piece of artwork apart from just another bad tattoo, in Blades' eyes.
"It could be shaky line work, it could be blotchy color—a lot of bad tattoos happen when people just don't take their time," he said. "When you run a finger over a tattoo that's healed up, it should feel like nothing's there—if you feel little bumps, those are scars and it means something went wrong."
Blades said that the popularity of tattooing has increased dramatically in recent years.
"It used to just be bikers and criminals—if you had a tattoo, that's who you were," Blades said. "Nowadays everybody's got a tattoo. Some of the older people still don't accept it, my grandfather hates it, but most of the people my age, even my parents age—they've accepted it. I mean, my aunts and uncles are all tatted up."
Do you have a tattoo? Have you ever thought about getting one? Do you see tattooing as a form of self-expression? Share your thoughts in the comments!