Signing the body electric

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Tattoo artist extraordinaire Brandon Heffron is a man of few words who prefers that his artwork do the talking. Serious and focused, he dips the tip of a needle into red vegetable dye. The needle is attached to an electric tattoo instrument that Heffron carefully guides along a woman’s calf, leaving a lush, red swirl in its path.

This is a laborious process of applying the ink, wiping away the excess and reapplying more ink to get the look and hue just right. The only constant is the whirr of the machine.

Heffron’s process is similar to that of most artists in that he starts with a design, then carefully arranges his palette of dyes or inks. Instead of brushes, he uses sterilized needles and an electric tattoo instrument. However, the most notable difference is that the canvas upon which his artwork is created is skin.

“It doesn’t hurt much,” said the young woman receiving the tattoo, wincing a bit. “OK, maybe just a little,” she said clutching a pillow and turning her head away.

The woman’s husband, also a client of Heffron’s, stood by watching and said, “She figured it would be easy since she’s had a couple Caesareans.”

“This is a different kind of pain,” she said.

Whatever pain she — and others who sport tattoos — experience, it’s not enough to deter them. Many find that one is not enough; thus, tattooists like Heffron have a lot of repeat business.

When asked about her new tattoo design, the woman replied, “It’s the Holy Spirit. When people see it, it will start conversations and serve as a chance to witness.”

She explained that she, her husband and children attend a nondenominational evangelical church.

“I’m a Christian,” Heffron added. He stopped applying the tattoo for a moment to display his right arm and a realistic image of Adam and Eve that depicted the Fall. “This gets people talking and gives me a chance to discuss my faith.”

Those with negative preconceptions about tattoo establishments, tattoo artists and their clientele will find that Heffron quietly blows them out of the water. As the owner of Beloved Studios, at Como and Snelling, he’s booked with a steady stream of clients.

“About 80 percent of my new clients are referrals,” he said.

For one thing, this is a clean, cheery, well-lit tattoo studio, not the stereotypical tattoo parlor depicted in movies. It includes a gallery of Heffron’s drawings and paintings, along with awards from tattoo competitions. Heffron also paints murals.

“Tattooing is competitive,” admitted Heffron, a self-taught artist who grew up in White Bear Lake and has been tattooing for nine years. “But it’s fun,” he said. “I liked it right from the beginning and would tattoo friends and whoever. I like the art side of it. It’s a way for me to make a living doing artwork.”

Heffron’s clients are evenly divided by gender. As for age range, he said, “My oldest client was a grandmother in her 70s.”

Heffron admits there is a stigma attached to tattoo establishments, and he was in for a battle when he tried opening a studio in Little Canada. He had been working in White Bear Lake at another studio and wanted to branch out on his own.

Figuring that Little Canada would be an ideal location, since he and his wife live there, Heffron presented his plan to the City Council, but some members and residents thought otherwise.

“They had questions about ‘moral issues,’” said Heffron. “The location was near a residential area, and they were concerned about kids seeing it. I told them about what I wanted to do and what I was all about, but a lot of them put tattoo studios in the same category as strip clubs. They were afraid of people wanting gang symbols and of property values going down.”

Even though Heffron assured the council that he was a born-again Christian and supplied references attesting to his character, in the end he had to look elsewhere to set up his business.

Fortunately, his father-in-law was training at Karate Junction on the corner of Como and Snelling and noticed that the building next door was available. Heffron opened his studio there four months ago and has been busy ever since. Although getting everything set up was an involved process, this time he encountered no neighborhood objections.

Heffron credits his faith for his development as an artist. “I was living a wild, party lifestyle,” he said, “and then about three years ago a friend took me to his church.” That event turned his life around.

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