• Nashville Skyline by Brett Engle

Exploring Nashville's Tattoo Culture

Written by Ysmay.

Tattoos are an ever-growing part of the cultural mainstream. Tattoos are no longer for those who are in prison or "edgy." Soccer moms, lawyers, doctors, and even political activists have tattoos. According to a report from Pew Research, four out of ten millennials have tattoos. Nashville is no different.

Tim SenaTim SenaNashville tattoo artist Tim Sena says many people in Nashville are tattooed. "Even though Nashville is located in the south, it is a very diverse city and seems to be a melting pot for all types of people," says Tim, "The artistic environment brings a collaboration of thoughts, creativity and style into one place. Many people in Nashville are tattooed and they seem to get a wide variety of tattoos from simple lettering to full color sleeves. Nashville's gypsy culture brings many tattooed people and tattoo artists in and out of the city."

Doy Gardner, co-owner of Black 13 Tattoos, says, "I feel like tattooing is widely acceptable in Nashville. Most people have a general interest in tattooing so its always the topic of conversation when we are out in public. To be a southern city, Nashville is very diverse due to the amount of people that live here that aren't originally from the south. It's getting more rare everyday to find someone that doesn't have at least one tattoo no matter where you live."

And for some, the tattoos start early. Tim Sena got his first tattoo when he was eighteen. "My best friend and I drove about 70 miles to the tattoo shop to get tattooed and he bought it for me as a birthday gift. It was my last name on my back."

It was when he was eighteen that Tim developed a love for tattooing. He was living in Phoenix, Arizona with a tattoo artist who started bestowing tattoos upon Tim. "He offered many times to begin teaching me how to tattoo," says Tim. "At that point I wasn't really interested in becoming a tattooist, so I rejected his offer many times. Over time I genuinely got more and more interest in tattooing as an art form and began an apprentice relationship with him. Over the years I have learned techniques and other information from multiple artist but have also been self taught. I have been tattooing for five years."

Tim does a lot of black and gray fineline tattooing (as popularized by Freddy Negrete), and says it's because he grew up in New Mexico, where the Hispanic culture flourishes. "Black and grey style tattooing is very popular within that culture. I always wanted to create tattoos in color, but my clients mostly preferred this style of tattooing, so I developed a love for it."

Tim sees clients by appointment only at his own shop in Nashville.

Doy Gardner and Josh Woods own Black 13 Tattoos in Cummins Station. Black 13 opened in July 2008, and as Doy says, "The goal behind B13 is to have artists that excel at different styles so we can always meet clients needs. We have artists that do color, black and grey, traditional, realism, cartoony, etc. Whatever you want!"

Doy moved to Nashville in 1999 to follow his passion - music - after making a life in Alabama. "So far its been amazing to be in Nashville. Nashville is super open to all the arts, and the city has defiantly embraced what we do. We have won multiple 'Best Of' awards in the city since 2008 and couldn't be happier with the reception from the city. We also like to host annual events and be involved in different local charities and benefits."

"Throughout my music career," says Doy, "I began to think about what I would do if music ever slowed down. I've always had a interest and passion for tattooing, but never wanted to be a tattooer. I saw the need in Nashville for a different approach to a shop from a customers perspective, and being friends with a few different artists, I got to see needs from an artists perspective. I met Josh Woods while he was working with a mutual friend in 2007 in Atlanta and we realized we had similar ideas and decided to partner together in Nashville. By 2007 music was starting to slow down and I felt Nashville was a great city and could use a more "high end" approach to tattooing. We wanted to create something that brought people in from out of town along with a shop that not only focused on incredible artwork, but incredible customer service. Josh is one of 8 artists, and I focus on every other aspect of the business."

Tattoo inks throughout the years have been evolving to accommodate the needs and demands of the consumers. Black 13 embraces this. "We use Eternal Inks and they are natural/vegan based," says Doy Gardner. "A lot of ink companies are going that route these days to avoid any concerns with customers health, allergic reactions, etc. We haven't noticed any lack of quality with our inks based off their composition. Inks are progressing all the time so they hold up great!"

There has always been a certain social stigma surrounding tattoos, getting them and giving them, but in Nashville, Tim tells us that's not really the case. "Because Nashville is that place where a wide variety of people live, and the diverse culture that exists here, it seems to be a 'cultural norm' to see people that are tattooed," says Tim. "Many people who live here aren't from Nashville. I think this may relieve the stigma that would exist in other cities because of the local perception of tattooed people. Most people are comfortable with expressing themselves through tattoos visibly on their body."

"Tattooing has grown everywhere," Doy Gardner tells us. "Things are being done now that people never imagined possible within tattooing. For Nashville, I think people are becoming more aware of extensive tattooing and the amount of talent that is out there, not only in Nashville, but everywhere. I hope that we are bringing more attention to how a shop should be run and how a customer should be treated."


The goal behind B13 is to have artists that excel if different styles so
we can always meet clients needs. We have artists that do color, black and
grey, traditional, realism, cartoony, etc. Whatever you want!
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