FW ink: Tales from the tattoo trade

Joey Meyer, a Federal Way tattoo artist with Seven Deuce Tattoo, works on customer Robert Johnson last week. - Joshua Lynch/The Mirror
Joey Meyer, a Federal Way tattoo artist with Seven Deuce Tattoo, works on customer Robert Johnson last week.
— image credit: Joshua Lynch/The Mirror

If you see a person with a tattoo in Federal Way, it may have been done by one of three friends.

“Anyone who has tattoos around here probably got them from us,” said tattoo artist J.P. Phipps. “We’ve really monopolized Federal Way.”

Nick Suko, J.P. Phipps and Joey Meyer, all graduates of Decatur High School, are tattoo artists at Federal Way’s only tattoo shop, Seven Deuce Tattoo. The three have remained friends since high school. They all pursued tattooing careers in various cities and, three years ago, joined forces to form the tattoo shop in north Federal Way.

“It was the coolest thing to be able to come home and work here,” said tattoo artist Joey Meyer, who lives in the Twin Lakes neighborhood.

The men frequently see people sporting their tattoos while out and about in Federal Way.

“When we go out at night to bars or something, there’s always somebody,” Meyer said.

Popular television shows such as TLC’s “Miami Ink” have increased the popularity of tattoos. Tattoos are also becoming more socially acceptable, Phipps said.

“I hear more ‘sweet’ or ‘awesome tattoos’ than ‘Oh my God what is that circus show,’” said Phipps, who currently has more than 100 tattoos.

Phipps estimates he’s done 15,000 tattoos in his career. He chose tattooing because he wanted a career where he could get paid to apply his art skills.

Over the years, Phipps has seen trends come and go. Tribal band tattoos, extremely popular 10 years ago, are falling out of favor. More popular today are Japanese-inspired designs such as cherry blossoms, dragons and koi fish.

Part of Phipps’ work includes tattooing over old tattoos or mistakes.

“We call it polishing a turd because some of them are really crappy tattoos,” he said.

He frequently tattoos over names of ex-lovers. While he doesn’t recommend getting a lover’s name as a tattoo, he certainly understands. He still wears the name of an ex-girlfriend from high school on his back.

“She broke up with me the next semester,” he said.

Among the most common tattoo mistakes are spelling errors, Phipps said. He recently tattooed a man’s neck with his young daughter’s name. The man returned later because he had forgotten that the daughter’s name was spelled with two l’s.

Lower back tattoos, commonly referred to as “tramp stamps,” remain popular even among men, Phipps said. Tattoos along the rib cage are becoming more popular among women. The ribcage is also among the most painful places to get tattooed, Phipps said, adding that women tend to handle the pain of getting tattooed much better than man.

“Girls are much tougher. I’d rather tattoo an 18-year-old girl than a big 25-year-old jock guy,” he said. “It’s way more likely that a guy would pass out than a girl. Girls don’t complain. They don’t move.”

Phipps said that women seem to have a higher tolerance for pain than men. He described the sensation of getting a tattoo as “hot and scratchy.”

“It’s the equivalent to getting scratched on a sunburn,” he said.

Phipps’s theory about pain tolerance was tested last week when Robert Johnson, 20, and Leah C., 53, both had their first tattoos done on Wednesday. Johnson was pale-faced and sweating through the first 15 minutes of his tattoo and, at one point, had to stop because he was near passing out.

“Oh yeah, it hurts,” he said.

In a chair nearby, Leah laughed and joked during her tattoo.

“It’s not pleasant, but it doesn’t hurt,” she said. “It’s a pinch and a vibration. It’s a little weird. I’d still rather have this than get my teeth filled.”

Phipps said he’s done tattoos on people ranging in age from 18 to 91. The shop has a policy against tattooing anyone under 18, even if they have a parent’s permission.

“First of all, it’s illegal,” Meyer said. “Second of all, that kid is not going to like that tattoo in a few years.”

According to a 2003 Harris Poll, 15 percent of Americans have at least one tattoo. Tattoos are more common on the West Coast and equally common among men and women. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to have a tattoo.

Contact Margo Hoffman: or (253) 925-5565.

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