GALLIPOLIS — When Joshua LaBello, owner of Envy Ink Tattoos in Gallipolis, was 13 years old, he forgot his mother’s birthday, and as an indirect result, she enrolled him in some drawing classes.
“I realized that my brother and sister were presenting her with gifts, and I sneaked a photograph of her down to my room and drew a quick portrait. She thought it must’ve taken hours, and when I told her it only took 15 minutes, she was so mad.”
But she recognized his potential and began to explore local art opportunities.
“I had been an artist ever since I could hold a crayon,” LaBello said. “And I went as far as I could in the public school. My middle school art teacher Michael Vigue told me something I have never forgotten, ‘Draw what you see, not what you think you see.’”
“I took classes at the French Art Colony, which were incredibly useful. They were taught by Brad Painter. As I grew up, I started doing portraits professionally, some comic book work — mostly biographies — and caricatures.”
But LaBello, like many artists, found it a struggle to consistently earn a living through his art. He came to the idea of tattooing by way of a suggestion made by a family member.
“My brother-in-law suggested I become a tattoo artist because I’d had such a thorough grounding in visual art. So, I put together a portfolio of my best work and went down to a local shop. The owner turned me away without even reviewing my work.
“So I went a couple of towns away and lucked in with a new shop and a master tattooist without an apprentice. He looked at my portfolio and hired me on the spot. After a few days, though, he noticed that I didn’t have any tattoos. From that point on, he yelled at me every day to design one for myself.”
LaBello still has no tattoos.
“But strangely enough, we noticed that clients were drawn to me because I was so clean cut,” LaBello said.
LaBello added that he owes much of his knowledge of the tattoo industry and his fundamental skills to this early experience.
“He taught me how a professional tattoo shop is supposed to run, from the medical side to the artistry,” said LaBello. “A tattoo is a minor surgical procedure, and I take that very seriously.”
Recently the shop set the scene for a gathering of creative people — artists, musicians, writers, poets—to meet, discuss their work, and encourage each other’s new endeavors.
“The idea was inspired by the 17th century Salon model,” LaBello said, “in which people came together to inspire each other to create more art.
“The initial reason I did this was actually selfishness. I wanted to meet more artists — and I have heard several people complain that there’s a lack of culture in this small town. But I think that we are the culture. It’s up to us to make the most of that,” noted LaBello.
LaBello added that the first gathering was a success, drawing in a crowd that filled the tattoo shop almost to capacity; in fact, as the Salon’s Facebook page garners attention, he may be forced to choose another venue in the future.
“We’ll see.” LaBello said. “New people have been posting their in-progress works on the Facebook page. As an artist, I love to see other artists’ creative processes.”
“Many times, art and writing are lonely pursuits,” said LaBello. “All of these people are right next door. We just don’t know each other yet.”