A Unique Canvas
Wright Finds Outlet For Artistic Passion
(This first appeared in the Herald of Randolph Oct. 6, 2016)
Ben Wright keeps every sketch he’s ever made. He has hundreds, if not thousands by now: cartoon characters and pointilist designs and myriad roses, stored in binders, and pinned haphazardly to a bulletin board. Wright, a 33-year-old Randolph native, has found his niche using a less traditional medium: skin.
Wright is refining his craft and building up his clientèle at Flat’s Tattooing along Merchant’s Row in Randolph, where he works two days a week.
He fills out his work week at Cockadoodle Pizza in Bethel to pay the bills. And he makes art on the side—work that runs the gamut from colored pencil tattoo sketches to watercolor landscapes and bottle cap murals.
“I’ve always been artistic and tattooing is a nice way to get my art out there on someone— permanently, forever,” he said. “And still make some income from it.”
Wright sat on a stool in his own tattooing room at the back of the shop, rock mu- sic playing in the background. He wears a beard and plenty of his own tattoos, each representing a moment, event, or memory. As he’s gotten older, he’s getting choosier about his ink.
“I still have a lot of skin left, but it’s slowly going away,” he said.
Inkling of a Career
Wright, the youngest of three boys, grew up “always drawing.
“It kept us entertained in very boring adult situations,” he explained.
He studied graphic arts at the tech center before graduating from RUHS in 2002, and he always doodled in his spare time.
Looking back, Wright never saw art, much less tattooing, as a career path; instead, after taking time off after high school, he studied civil and environmental engineering at Vermont Technical College.
At 26, he started working alongside a friend of his, Meredith Martin, who at the time owned Shady Lady Tattoo Parlor in Randolph.
He learned shop maintenance, how to sterilize equipment, and the basics of tattooing, and eventually completing the required 200-hour apprenticeship.
Wright got his license in 2010 and started working under Guy Flatley two years ago, building up from one day a week as he learned.
He’s still finding his own style, experimenting with bright colors “that really pop out at you” and stippling, as well as more traditional forms.
A sign has been hung on the wall, just inside the door of Flat’s Tattooing of Vermont: “Tattoos Ben wants to do.” Currently, he’s posted a colored Vermont design, a stippled black and white elephant, a bat image as inspiration for undecided customers.
Wright’s finding his niche, not just as tattooist, but as an artist.
“Getting older, a lot of times, you kind of put [art] away, like ‘that’s just something you did as a kid.’”
More recently, he said, “I got to the point where what’s really keeping me going is art.”
Wright uses an iron coil tattoo machine, determining the frequency and pressure of the whirring needle. It varies, depending on the skin, body part, and the elasticity of the skin.
He can feel and hear the nuances of the machine, and has learned to ensure that ink penetrates deep enough to be dark, but not so much that the ink pools or damages the skin.
The shop buys organic, veganfriendly ink. At $10 a two-ounce bottle, the costs add up, though Wright noted it pays off in the quality and color of the tattoo.
“You learn over the years what works best for you,” he said.
Tattooing, he said, is an exercise in self-confidence.
Early on, he was nagged by a fear of mistakes; after all, he pointed out, tattooists work with a permanent medium on an irreplaceable canvas.
He found that fear impedes success.
“You go on the internet and you see what other people are tattooing or creating and you try to mimic it, but you can’t and it gets really frustrating,” he said.
Fear “is something you have to get over. You have to get your own confidence, because once you have it inside you, it will show in your work.”
Building a Clientèle
He’s found a market in central Vermont, though customers’ willingness to-pay isn’t always high.
The shop tries to keep prices low—a $60 minimum, with increases depending on size, color, and required time—but finding customers can be challenging in a rural state, he said.
“It’s discouraging, people want your talent and work for $40,” he said.
Nevertheless, he’s getting busier and busier at Flat’s, and is finding other ways to do art.
He has prints of his acrylic paintings up for display and in Cockadoodle Pizza, as well as at Flat’s. His work is up at an art show at the Bethel Town Hall.
“I’m definitely the youngest and the most weird stuff there, probably.”
He throws around ideas of how to expand his future in the arts. His dream job is retirement and painting, he joked, though at 32, retirement is a long way off. A friend and he have discussed ideas for a vinyl record and tattoo store, though those are little more than fantasy at this point.
More likely, he’ll stay in the tattoo business, building his customer base, refining his work.
Wright used to see art as one career path of many; now, he can’t see himself doing anything else.
“Now it’s not a choice,” he said with a shrug. “I could probably distract myself with other stuff, but I’m always going to find time to paint or sit down or draw.
“This is my life, this is what it is.”