Life in our Foothills April 2022 – Old Crows Custom Tattoo

Published 12:39 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Creating Art in the Most Unlikely Places


I had never stepped foot into a tattoo parlor until recently. It never crossed my mind. Never! I guess “parlor” is a name I conjured up in my head, but Old Crows Custom Tattoo is obviously not that. That parlor moniker has long since been replaced with “studio,” and studio is exactly what this place is.

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When you walk in, you’ll find a very open workspace with stations for several artists. And there’s no mistaking that each of the professionals in this place is a serious artist. Their work is impressive. While a few people come looking for a simple design as a one-and-done, most people are coming for a second, third, fourth…and more of a piece of skin art.


Old Crows is owned by Jesse Arnold and Kelly Martin. Jesse is the head artist and Kelly handles the front desk including booking clients and serving as marketing guru. On the day I visited, two other artists were there: Chris Batson and Johnathan Underwood. All had clients coming in that day. This place has an outstanding reputation, and each artist has his own following that are devotees. The tattoo artists all have regional clients as well as from states far away. Of course, new would-be customers regularly step in ready for their first venture into this world. 


If a new client doesn’t have an artist in mind, Kelly suggests they check out the shop’s Facebook and Instagram pages to see hundreds of examples by each artist. She posts photos of virtually every piece of art that leaves that shop…be it on an arm, leg, face, or someplace else that might be a little bit intimate. 


There are some reasons a client would be turned down. The first is being underaged. You must be over 18 years old even if parents are willing to give written permission. They do make sure the would-be human canvases don’t have a skin condition or are currently on blood thinners. And you can forget it if you walk in inebriated, even if you plunk down the cash on the counter. All customers will sign a waiver before work begins. 


A tattoo studio gets inspected by the local health department before the shop can open, and the individual artists get a visit from the inspector every year. Each artist must have a permit. Before an artist starts work, they do a thorough cleaning of their workspace. Things are cleaned and sanitized, gloves are worn, sharps are disposed of properly. You’d think you were in a doctor’s office with the exception that the wall art here is much more interesting.


In North Carolina, a would-be tattoo artist must apprentice with a licensed and established artist for over 1,000 hours before being able to get a permit. All the current Old Crows artists have been tattooing for years. But for these artists, their training started way before that. They all loved art as kids. Owner Jesse, as a child, was apparently fond of drawing on the walls in the hallway of his house. His mom always knew he was going to do something with art.


The day I was there, a client walked in with an idea in mind and left a couple of hours later proudly displaying his permanent piece of art. Some folks come in with nothing in mind but want a tattoo. And there’s a reason the word “custom” is in the shop’s name. If you can think of it, you can get it tattooed. Some work might first be transferred with a stencil whereas other work is completely freehand. There is a $50 minimum charge, and the high end all depends on how large and how complex of a design is desired. Each artist sets his own price. 


There is no typical client. Some people come in looking for their first one at age 80 and others the minute they legally can. Tattoo artist Chris Batson, as an 18-year-old, had no desire to get a tattoo. But a group of friends convinced him to join them for a little ride and ended up at a tattoo studio. He now considers that some positive peer pressure.


It was a huge move and leap of faith for Jesse and Kelly to open Old Crows Custom Tattoo. Kelly had been working as a dog groomer in Landrum and Jesse was working at another shop. Both of their professions were considered “non-essential” during the early days of the pandemic. They spent a few months at home, and with all that time on their hands and with time to reflect, they started to think big and dream bigger. Why not take charge of their lives and open their own shop? They sold a car, sold a camper, signed a lease, and opened their doors in December 2020. They brainstormed a lot of possibilities for a shop name, but sitting outside the shop one day and hearing crows making an uproar gave them the idea. They both liked crows and in a way they “sometimes” consider themselves old crows. 


Kelly says, “Each day we’re open we’re making new stories and new memories.” When a client walks out the door, they are carrying that story with them. And most will be back to add another chapter.


Business Info:


Old Crows Custom Tattoo is in Valley Plaza Suites (Suites 1 & 2) in the Lynn community between Columbus and Tryon. Address is 2060 Lynn Road, Columbus, NC. Phone: 828/ 440-1502. The shop is open Monday by appointment only and opens Tuesday through Saturday at 11. Check their Facebook and Instagram pages for photos of their artwork and hours of operation. 


Photos by Mark Levin