Sitting in Standard Electric Tattooing, the tiny shop owned by Jarod and Holly Hackney at 19 W. 9th Street in downtown Lawrence, you very quickly get an idea of what the pair does best when it comes to their art. There's a stack of vintage science fiction paperbacks on a shelf, flash sheets featuring classic designs, interpretations of scenes from iconic horror movies like Suspiria, and – dominating the back eastern wall – a canvas featuring a print of Japanese artist Hokusai's “The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”
“I think, sometimes, it's easier to say what we don't specialize in,” says Holly, when I ask how all of this factors into what styles the husband and wife duo work in when they're tattooing. “We love doing traditional. We love doing black and gray. We love doing fine-line black and gray. We don't like doing a lot of watercolor. We don't do portraiture. We maybe do a little neo-traditional? It just depends.”
Jarod, thanks to an early mentor, ended up falling into black and gray. He'd worked at several different establishments in Lawrence, Wichita, and Overland Park over the eight years before the couple opened Standard Electric in August of 2016, but he credits his time at J. P. Cruise Professional Tattooing in Wichita, and the shop's owner, Josh Cruise in really helping him find his particular niche.
“It was the best thing that could happen to me,” Jarod recalls.”He really kind of retrained me really quickly, and I ended up falling into black and gray. That was where I really blossomed, because you can turn anything into black and gray. As a matter of fact, in tattooing, all tattoos start out with black and gray before you put the color on top of it.”
He brings up the fact that he had always been an all-around guy, prior to that experience, taking all the simple tattoos which walked in the door, but he quickly realized that the easiest tattoos are also the easiest to do wrong.
“The ones you can see from across the room – where if it's not a perfect heart or a star behind an ear, it's warped, and everyone can see it,” Jarod says, pointing to the fact that these are shapes people have known by heart since kindergarten. “So, I learned to go really technical.”
Holly, prior to apprenticing under her husband, had worked in education since she was 19. She quickly learned that working for the school district, opening a new business, and apprenticing – to say nothing of the couple's three children – was more than she could handle.
“We opened this place in August, and by October, I quit my job,” relates Holly. “Just to focus on tattooing, because it was just way too much. Basically, I dropped everything so I could just focus on appreciating, because it was just really overwhelming, it was really emotional, it was really fucking hard – really taxing.”
She says all of this with a smile and a laugh, and you can tell just how much the couple enjoys working together after just a couple minutes sitting with the pair. It's a good thing, too, because taking on their own business was a real learning experience, especially for Jarod, who'd always worked in a shop wherein all he had to worry about was coming in and working at tattooing.
“I didn't realize how much of an office a tattoo shop was,” he explains. “It's like, 'Oh, we gotta have a stapler.' 'Oh, we gotta have staples.' 'Oh, this stapler sucks. We gotta get a new one.' 'Where's all the scissors?' It just kept going and going and going. I never thought I'd be ordering clipboards and things like that.”
Sorting out the practicalities of the shop on the tattooing side was easy, because the pair knew what they needed on that end – gloves, ink, disinfectant wipes, and so on – but things like tape? Who knew you needed to buy tape?
“Working in a big shop, you can just bounce around and it's like, 'Dude, you got those medium gloves for me?' offers Jarod as just one example among many of the things beyond one's personal station that become something to consider when you're the boss.
Thankfully, one of the things which happened a little more smoothly was when the Hackneys decided to order their shirts from Blue Collar Press. A prior experience with a different press shortly after opening Standard Electric had resulted in less than stellar results, with the design looking fine on smaller sizes, but when blown up to extra-large, it ended up being unfortunately small.
“We weren't too impressed with them,” says Holly. “We just ended up giving them away. So, we knew the second time around, we wanted to do it right – that we liked the shirts and the quality and everything.”
They point to the fact that the Bourgeois Pig, just down the block, has really wonderful stickers, and an inquiry into who'd made them was the Hackneys' first introduction to the Blue Collar name. So, when it came time to order their next set of shirts, they had a name and a sense of quality to start with. Holly credits the online ordering process on the Blue Collar website as being a breeze and helping make their second batch of shirts far more appealing.
“I just shot over an email, and I shot over our design,” she says. It helped that the Hackneys knew what shirts and colors they wanted, thanks to really doing some research on their end, but the ability to email a local company with everything they wanted, approving the price, and then receiving an invoice and a timeline as being wonderfully easy and simple.
“[Blue Collar] made it really painless,” Holly concludes. She reaches under the desk to pull out a tri-blend t-shirt so that we can ooh and ah over how nice the shirt looks and feels. The experience has been so positive, the pair is looking to using the press for future merch, like stickers and enamel pins. While they offer up free buttons to clients, they'd like to have something a little more fancy.
“We do hat buttons, but when it comes to enamel, with the backing on them?” Jarod looks off into the middle distance, kind of dreaming at the prospect. “That's my jam.”
Story: Nick Spacek
Photos: Austin Snell