Bulletin Board Diaries: Wave's Raditattoo Me Parlor
This Bulletin Board Diaries entry comes to us from a coffee shop in Oakwood, where a business card caught our attention, not so much for the service it promised but for the name of the business itself.
“The shop's name is Wave’s Raditattoo Me Tattoo and Repair Shop. We specialize in pretty much all forms of tattooing,” says tattoo artist and owner of the Belmont shop, Wave Judd.
Judd and his story are as much about redemption as it is about the art he creates for his clients.
“Come on in make yourself comfortable,” Wave says as he locks the front door.
The parlor on Watervliet Ave. is a clean and well-lit shop. It features several large comfortable chairs for clients, and on the walls are photos of tattoos created by Wave. There are also shelves of multicolored ink containers and other tools of the trade. In the center of the room is a Seventies-era set of black leather barrel furniture.
Judd is what you might expect from a tattoo artist to be. He’s a tall, brawny man sporting a goatee, large sideburns and, you guessed it, lots of tattoos.
A Budding Artist
“Wave is short for Waverly, an old family name,” he says.
The artist says the art he’s creating today stems from his early love of drawing. It wasn’t a talent that was encouraged in the “separatist, German-Baptist community” he grew up in.
“We didn't have pictures and drawings and such in our churches or our homes. We didn't have artwork hanging on anyone's walls,” he says.
Yet, armed with interest and imagination young Waverly found his own inspiration.
“I would draw anything that I could see. I would draw the faces off of the toilet paper packages, from like Charmin [tissue paper] when they used to have really nice, you know, baby pictures that were painted,” he says.
He says he also created renderings of the birds and other animals he found in nature around him.
“Then I got into doing more boy kind of stuff, like Army scenes and, you know, Roman gladiators,” he says, drawings he copied from a set of encyclopedias his grandmother had.
Wave says the community he grew up in also didn’t have any televisions or radios. It wasn’t until he started public school in the second grade that he got to experience those.
School is also where he made friends outside of his community, but he says it was hard to keep new friends because, when he was invited over to their houses, he was too fascinated by their television sets to focus on play. So they soon stopped inviting him over.
It was a pattern Wave says would later have detrimental implications.
The Personal Nature of Tattoos
On one of several visits I paid to Wave’s shop, he was busy adding details and highlighting to some tattoo designs he’d already done for a friend and client named Billy Knotts.
Billy shares some of Wave’s burly qualities, with a dark, full beard, and sporting a variety of tattoos on his back, arms, legs and chest.
Billy says he came to Wave after hearing about discounts the artist was offering for people who wanted to cover up their so-called “hate tattoos,” images associated with neo-nazis, the KKK and other groups.
Although he didn’t have any tattoos like those himself, Billy says the offering signaled to him that Wave was the kind of artist he wanted to work with.
“I just thought that that was really cool that someone in this field would offer that,” he told me. “I judge character off that and so I liked him right away.”
Wave sterilizes the tools he’ll use for the tattooing, smears a variety of ink colors onto a pallet, and preps Billy’s arm with an astringent.
During the process, Wave goes through numerous pairs of latex gloves. As a former nurses aid, he says he knows a sterile environment is critical in the tattooing process.
Sitting in the tattoo chair, Billy shares more about his connection to the tattoo visible on his arm. It’s one that symbolizes his five years in the Marine Corps, he says.
Covering most of his right forearm is a representation of the heavy metal music icon, Iron Maiden Eddie. The skeletal specter is drawn wearing Billy’s military uniform. Wave lifted the image from a photo of the serviceman and used it in the tattoo’s design.
On Billy’s wrist are the capital letters I-G-Y and the number six. Billy says the IGY6 tattoo is especially familiar to many veterans and servicemembers. It’s a signal to other vets and service members that says, ‘I got your back.’ In front of the IGY6 is a semicolon. Among some people in the tattooing community, the semicolon has become a symbol of suicide awareness.
“It's usually on the the right hand somewhere where, when you go to shake someone's hand, it's visible,” Billy says.
An Artist’s 'Trial by Fire'
Tattoos like Billy's are deeply personal to the people wearing them, Wave says. They can be celebrations and commemorations of births, deaths, and other big life events.
They can also reflect changes someone has experienced on the inside, like getting rid of those hate tattoos.
“Physical abuse scars from different relationships, or covering up prison tattoos, it's a real liberating thing for a person,” Wave says. “It gives them almost a rebirth of sorts.”
It's something Wave relates to. He's experienced a similar rebirth in his own life. His isolationist upbringing, he says, led to some really bad decision making after he graduated high school. On his own, he says he tended to gravitate to others like him; and to people who had secrets to keep.
“I got involved with a group of people that moved marijuana from one side of the country to the other. I was utilized as a mule and found myself doing some federal time for a couple of years.”
Wave spent two years in federal prison and says during that time he lost all his outside friends and connections.
However, those two years in prison also allowed Wave to hit a sort of reset button. And, it was behind bars that he rediscovered his love of creating art.
“I spent my entire time working for other inmates, drawing pictures of their families for them to send home, and to hang in their cells,” he says. “I actually was good enough that I was making money and sending it home to my kids.”
Wave admits the art he created for his fellow inmates was also a matter of his own survival.
Upon his release, Wave worked a variety of jobs before his interest in tattooing was sparked. Three years ago he decided to open his own shop and says, now, making art full-time and helping other people express themselves through their tattoos allows him to form some real and sincere connections --- something he didn’t experience growing up.
"You know, a lot of people in my family, and my history have passed and not had any kind of impact or footprint on the world," he says, "and I feel like as an artist that’s kind of my calling to actually do something that is sustainable and to have something that has a legacy of art."
As our interview draws to a close, Wave opens a desk drawer and pulls out a plastic bag filled with a dozen or so pencil stubs, worn-down erasers and small rolls of paper.
Dumping them out on the table, he tells me these are the tools he used to create those drawings he sold to the other prison inmates.
"I keep them as a reminder that this is what it took for me to find being an artist."