When my wife and I decided we wanted to get tattoos, we were more than a little overwhelmed. As tattoo novices, the process seemed foreign to us, and the options seemed limitless. The Champaign-Urbana area has so many tattoo parlors, and we’d heard good things about many of them. After consulting some friends who had recently had work done, we decided to use NewLife Tattoos on Green Street, just outside of the heart of Campustown.

We stopped by NewLife a few days before we wanted to get our work done, and met with Lunchbox, one of the shop’s three tattoo artists. Lunchbox eased some of our concerns about the process, and even offered to do both pieces for the $80 shop minimum because the tattoos we wanted were quite small. A few days later, we returned as walk-ins and got the process started by approving final drawings and signing a few papers. The whole transaction was a fantastic experience and we were incredibly happy with Lunchbox’s work.

I was able to catch up with Lunchbox later and ask a few questions about his experience as a tattoo artist. As a photographer, I was intrigued by the role of the tattoo artist as both creator of art and someone providing a service.

Mccoy: What is your favorite part about being a tattoo artist?

Lunchbox: My favorite part about being a tattoo artist is the diversity of people that I get to meet every day. Also, it is a real honor that people allow me to either tattoo or pierce them. Trusting me and allowing me to be part of the experience with you is very rewarding to me.

Smile Politely: Is it hard for you to do tattoos that aren't rewarding artistically?

Lunchbox: Every tattoo is rewarding to me. I provide a service of tattooing. I am here to make customers happy with the tattoos or piercings I do for them. I do not need to make myself feel good; I only need to make the customers feel good. I don't need to do a big fancy tattoo to make myself feel rewarded artistically. Sometimes art has nothing to do with the craft of applying good, clean, solid tattoos.

SP: Are you ever asked to do a tattoo that supports something your strongly disagree with?

Lunchbox: I have a very open mind when it comes to tattooing images on people. I try not to bring my thoughts and beliefs upon each tattoo. It is not my body and adults have to live with the choices they make. Sounds harsh, but they make the decision to come through our door. I can't be judgmental of each tattoo I am asked to do.

SP: Do ever refuse to tattoo something?

Lunchbox: When it comes to refusing to tattoo something, I have said no before, but it is because the image would not work well as a tattoo. Not every style of art translates to a tattoo.

SP: You keep difficult hours. Is it hard to juggle family life and work? Do you foresee doing tattoos well into the future?

Lunchbox: Yes, my hours are not very conventional and it does make it tough sometimes to keep a balance of work and family.  I have a 3-month-old daughter now and working as late as I do sometimes, I don't get to see her for very long when I get home on the weekends. Thankfully, I have a loving and supporting wife.

SP: If feels like everybody I’ve run into since I got tattooed has either been tattooed by you, or one of the other guys in the shop. It seems like you are kind of a local celebrity. Do you run into people you’ve tattooed a lot when you are out around town?

Lunchbox: I don't know about a local celebrity. I am just a normal guy that draws pictures on people for a living. I have applied tattoos at NewLife for close to 11 years and the shop is 14 years old, so we have been blessed with thousands of amazing customers that keep coming back or telling family and friends about us to help keep our dreams alive. It has been an amazing journey to be part of NewLife and its success.

NewLife Tattoos is open for walk-ins and appointments during the week, and walk-ins only on weekends. You can find out more about the shop at their website. Additional photos provided by Caitlin McCoy.