MOUNT VERNON — For some, tattoos are nothing more than shoddy work; for others, they are an artistic form of expression that’s well defined. Professional, quality and experience, said Tony Campise and Marie Stevens, owners of Hard Knox Tattoo, sets them apart from other tattoo and piercing shops. The company specializes in custom tattoos, but offers template design and flash style.
Campise has been doing tattoos for over nine years. Prior to tattooing in Mount Vernon, he worked for World Famous Columbus Tattoo Co. under Kevin Lee. His respect for tattooing came while he was traveling in the Navy for six years; as he began his civilian life, he said, he found joy in the art.
“I started building my own collection of tattoos, and getting to know people in the business and began to learn the technique,” said Campise. “What really got me into it was a friend of mine who used to cut my hair. She told me about a tattoo company, Pair-a-dice, who was trying to open up a tattoo school.”
In between his two “real” jobs, Campise found the time to communicate with artisans of Pair-a-dice until eventually he was hired as an apprentice. He said his first project was a piece of pigskin on which he used to practice.
“After that, I spent about four to five years going from one shop to another tattooing as I would travel with my ‘other’ job,” said Campise. “So no matter where I moved to, I would get into a tattoo shop and learn as much as I could.”
Campise moved to Mount Vernon to be closer to family, but said it was strictly gas prices that encouraged him open up his own shop here. Economically, he said, he saved time and money from not having to commute to Columbus every day, or be forced to move his family closer to the state capital.
Campise said that through his wealth of experiences he learned not just the art, but how to properly apply tattoo to skin.
“A lot of people come in here and look at it like art, and it is art, but it’s also an invasive medical procedure and I’m not a doctor, so I spent a lot of my time studying the things I need to do and know so that I don’t mess people up,” he said.
Campise believes his quality of work and his attention to details separate him from other tattoo artists.
“As far as tattooing goes, I’ve always felt that each individual tattooist has their own set of rules, whether they are shop rules or not. As an artist and a tattooist, you provide a service for the people that should have a certain level of integrity,” said Campise. “So we have education, and we’ve spent our time researching and studying new ideas and concepts so that we can bring new techniques and clean methods to the table.”
One of the major things Campise and Stevens hope to achieve with their business is breaking the stereotype of tattoo shops that they are unaffordable and have a “dirty biker” mystique.
“We are trying to bring that Columbus level of expertise and that shop aura and experience to Mount Vernon, and try to take the commute out of people,” said Campise. “We are about art, quality and integrity — we just want to be honest and fair with everyone.”
Hard Knox also does piercings. Stevens, who specializes in piercing, has apprenticed for three years in piercing, and has worked with several shops in Columbus, including Body Language, as well as in Mount Vernon. She specializes in not only basic piercing but also surface and microdermal. A full-time student at Ohio State University, Stevens said her study in biology and human anatomy has allowed her to see piercing and tattooing in a whole different perspective — not just art but science as well.
“After I started going through my apprenticeship, I was really intrigued by [piercing] about how the body chemistry works,” said Stevens.
With her schooling, she said, she understands the need for proper before and after care.
She asks clients about their allergies and health history, and asks them to eat something at least a half hour before coming in.
“What I’ve learned from other people was how to pierce and sanitize, but as for how the body works and what the body needs in order for your piercing to be healthy, I’ve learned that from my classes,” said Stevens.
Proper identification is required and each client must fill out a medical form before any procedure. Hard Knox Tattoo is located 33 Public Square, Mount Vernon.