Editor's note: This is the first installment of a new monthly series. "blINK" will feature a different local tattoo artist on the last Thursday of each month. For more information, contact the Showcase department at 570-326-1551 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most people would not be surprised that one in five adult Americans have a tattoo. The idea of tattooing has turned from being "taboo" to an appreciated art form - a way that individuals can express themselves. The fact that permanently inking your body has become more of an accepted form of art has also given way to amazing artists to showcase their talents on not only skin, but other mediums.
Tattoo artist Aaron Bellve, employed at Totem Tattoo, 2 E. Third St., is one of those artists who has not confined his canvas to just skin.
Aaron Bellve, tattoo artist at Totem Tattoo, 2 E. Third St., tattoos a pin-up girl on Cheryl Kwasney, of Williamsport.
Bellve began his tattoo apprenticeship under "Buffalo Bill" Tarr in 2000. "I've gotten a wealth of knowledge and inspiration from my mentor," Bellve said.
Originally from Sunbury, Bellve was commuting to Williamsport while going to school for graphic design when he got the opportunity to begin an apprenticeship.
"A lot of it is paying your dues, you're making a name for yourself," he said, explaining that an apprenticeship is about learning from the start. "It was the work that no one wanted to do. But it teaches you to distinguish between what's good and what's bad." In tattooing, Bellve draws inspiration from those who came before him, admiring Amund Dietzel, Bob Wicks, Bert Grimm and George Bigmore - artists who Bellve calls the forefathers of tattooing.
Bellve also makes sure he is well rounded in all styles, rather than choosing to tattoo just one style. "You never know what is going to walk through the door. I try not to be cornered into one style because people ask for everything."
During downtime, if there is any, Bellve said he works on lettering, something he enjoys perfecting and that he has seen a rise in popularity with customers.
"Lettering has become very popular - quotes and lyrics and individual words that people can relate to," he said.
Bellve also noticed the expected negative side of the popularity of tattooing.
"I think what has surprised me the most is how willing people are to recycle existing tattoos they find online. Thanks to Google image searches, people are getting a fairly narrow source of inspiration. Out of thousands of tattoos and millions of other sources for reference, I keep seeing the same few pictures again and again," he said. "I'm glad people are getting what they want, but I'd love to see it take a turn toward the individual again."
Growing up in Sunbury, Bellve describes in his bio on his website a feeling he knew from early on: he wasn't going to fit in like the other kids. "Like generations of little outsiders before me, I found my place in the drawings I made - fueled by cartoons, comic books, skateboard graphics and graffiti," he wrote.
Bellve said tattooing sort of chose him as well. "I got into it when it wasn't flooded with a lot of people trying to be cool, when it was a lot of outcasts, people that kind of forged their own path. In that way, it chose me as much as I chose it," he said. "It just seemed like a fit. It was as much about a way of living as it was about art and tattoos."
While well rounded in tattoo styles, Bellve keeps his artwork to things that inspire him, drawing inspiration from personal experiences, interactions with people and the world around him. "There's no shortage of fuel for this sort of thing," he said. "I can be an intensely ranting kind of person, so a lot of that energy has been funneled into painting."
He's shown his artwork in galleries locally, including Converge Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St.; Harvest Artisan Cooperative and Gallery, and the Williamsport Frame Shop, both at 46 1/2 W. Fourth St.
"Suzy (Herlehy) has always been great about motivating me and letting me show exactly what I wanted to - and hustling to get things framed and presented when I?pulled things together at the very last minute. Every time,"?Bellve said of the opportunies he's had to show in the community. Outside of Williamsport, Bellve's artwork has also been shown at Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Bellve also said many of his paintings revolve around human rights issues and dignity in mental health, those which he said have been some of his best-received paintings.
His paintings range from brightly colored, traditional-looking images, to using a dry point engraving technique to create prints. He described the engraving on his website as images being engraved into a copper plate by hand with a diamond tipped scribe, which produces only a limited amount of editions of the artwork.
Bellve keeps a creative workspace as well to nourish inspiration in his artwork. "I tend to work in space with an old feel, surrounded by warm colors," he said, which is evident in his artwork. "I might have a glass of whiskey at the table while I draw and work out ideas, not as often when I paint though. The type of painting I usually do is fairly technical and unforgiving. There is always music, the playlist is pretty much determined by the mood I'm in or what I'm trying to get at with the painting. I like a broad range of music, but it is usually pretty dark and mellow when I paint."
Bellve's determination not to limit himself has let him stretch out into different mediums and gives possibilities tremendous range, whether through tattooing or art.
"I tend not to look to existing tattoos when I'm designing my work because I don't want to see more versions of the same thing. I want to fuel my own ideas rather than reinterpret someone else's. That's why a lot of tattooing is caught up in trends; if you keep a limited scope, you just make copies of copies."
For more information on Bellve's artwork, visit www.abellve.com.